AUSTERITY DRIVE AND NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE
- 03 Nov - 09 Nov, 2018
With British interest in Afghanistan having reduced to almost zero, Pakistan does not often get into the news in Britain except when it is playing cricket against England. There was some coverage of Imran Khan’s election as Prime Minister three months ago but there had been no coverage of the election itself and obviously no build up to the election. But all that changed this week with all TV channels and print media outlets reporting in considerable detail the decision of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to acquit Asia Bibi of alleged blasphemy charges. Although there did not seem to be an appreciation of just how big this decision was in the context of the socio-political climate in Pakistan, it was nevertheless seen with considerable positivity and some newspapers even described it as a step, albeit a small one, towards Pakistan becoming a more liberal society. Perhaps the highest point came when the incident was mentioned in the House of Commons with special praise singled for Pakistan’s Chief Justice Mr. Justice Saqib Nisar, although the way the name was pronounced you would never have guessed who it was they were referring to! I cannot recall any instance when the Chief Justice of any other country has been mentioned in the House of Commons.
However, there is now a feeling that this may not quite be the end of the controversy and that Asia Bibi’s safety may not be guaranteed. In fact, a report in The Guardian has described the agreement between the government and the TLP as the government ‘giving in’ to many of the TLP’s demands. It says the government has pledged not to oppose a court petition to reverse Asia’s release and to work to put her name on the Exit Control List. It has carried a quote from Mr. Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association saying that placing Asia on the ECL would be ‘like signing her death warrant.’ It has also carried a quote from the Pakistani journalist Musharraf Zaidi describing the government’s agreement as a ‘historic capitulation’.
One can only hope for the best and that all the goodwill that Pakistan has won somehow remains intact.
However, it would perhaps be fair to say that at the moment Asia Bibi is not the primary concern of the British public and that most people here would not even know of recent events in Pakistan, although that could change if the situation in Pakistan changes dramatically.
Till such time as that happens – and one hopes it never does – the big news of the day is that there are now real hopes that the UK and Ireland may find it possible to come to an agreement on the issue of the Irish border with Brexit, which would mean that the British Prime Minister could well come back from Europe with some sort of a deal in her briefcase. That deal may or may not please those on the two ends of the Brexit spectrum, that is those who would prefer to leave without any deal and those who do not want the UK to leave the EU at all. And if both groups at the two ends decide not to vote for the government’s deal, Mrs. May could have a serious problem on her hands unless Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, can steer the bulk of the Labour Party to vote with the government.
The Labour Party is caught on the horns of a dilemma here in which there is no easy way out. If it votes with the government that will not go down well at all with his Labour voters, an overwhelming majority of whom do not want the country to exit the EU. On the other hand, Labour fears that by voting down the government deal it would alienate those members of the public who want the UK to leave the EU on both sides of the political divide but who are fed up with the government’s austerity measures which, over the years, have slashed public spending and reduced many public services to almost crisis point. The situation is further compounded by Jeremy Corbyn’s ambiguous approach to the problem, leading many to conclude that he is at heart a Leaver although he does not want to come out and say so because so many Labour supporters, some polls suggest more than 80 per cent, want the UK to stay in the EU. But any support for the deal, driven by Mr. Corbyn, could well mean that his days as Labour leader are numbered.
Leaders have to lead from the front and regrettably, that has not happened during these days, some of the most important in the post-war history of this country. The Prime Minister was a Remainer during the lead to the Brexit referendum but has now thrown her weight behind the Leave movement with a gusto that makes one wonder what she actually believes in. The Leader of the Opposition was a Remainer too during the referendum, but his commitment to remaining appears to be pretty thin now. In times like these, leadership conviction to a cause is of paramount importance and one wishes there was some of that around. •