Sunday, December 8, 2019
Every socialist country in the past 20+ years has had huge increases in living standards, education, quality of life, literacy rates, decreasing poverty, decreasing mortality rates, etc
By Samy Magdy
Group says the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned rebels was allegedly responsible for 72 attacks, while the rebels, known as Houthis, were blamed for at least 52 attacks.Over 130 attacks on medical facilities in Yemen's civil war could constitute war crimes by all parties to the conflict, a database project said on Thursday. The Yemen Archive said that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned rebels was allegedly responsible for 72 attacks, while the rebels, known as Houthis, were blamed for at least 52 attacks. Yemen's bloody war, which has been fought to a stalemate, has led to one of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The latest Saudi-led coalition attack on a medical facility occurred on March 26, when a missile struck a gas station at the entrance of a hospital in the district of Kitaf in the Houthi stronghold of Saada province, killing four children and a health worker, the report said. The group said three members of the UN Security Council may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen. The U.S., U.K. and France were arming Saudi Arabia while it was inflicting suffering on Yemeni civilians, it added. "For the sake of every Yemeni family, we demand an immediate end to attacks on medical facilities and all civilian infrastructure," said Abdulrahman Jaloud, director of the Denmark-based group. Airstrikes and rocket-propelled grenade attacks on hospitals have left patients and medical staff running for their lives, the Yemen Archive said. One hospital alone in the key port city of Hodeida has been shelled on three separate occasions by Houthi forces, destroying vital medical equipment and setting fire to one of the hospital's floors, it added. The Yemen Archive attributed three attacks to al-Qaida militants and the remaining six to other or unidentifiable sources. The Yemen Archive is an open-source platform that documents human rights violations in Yemen. The conflict in the Arab world's poorest nation began with the 2014 takeover of northern and central Yemen by the Houthis, driving out the internationally recognized government from the capital, Sanaa. Months later, in March 2015, a U.S.-supported, Saudi-led coalition launched its air campaign to prevent the rebels from overrunning the country's south. Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians. The Houthis have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and have targeted vessels in the Red Sea. Civilians have suffered the most in the conflict, which has killed over 100,000 people, destroyed Yemen's infrastructure, displaced millions, and pushed the country's 30 million people to the brink of famine. https://www.thespec.com/news-story/9703194-war-crimes-over-130-attacks-on-medical-facilities-in-yemen-war-denmark-based-group-says/
By David E. Sanger Before issuing his own condolences, the president channeled the Saudi king’s and avoided any discussion of the hard questions about why the U.S. is training Saudi officers. When a Saudi Air Force officer opened fire on his classmates at a naval base in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday, he killed three, wounded eight and exposed anew the strange dynamic between President Trump and the Saudi leadership: The president’s first instinct was to tamp down any suggestion that the Saudi government needed to be held to account. Hours later, Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that he had received a condolence call from King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who clearly sought to ensure that the episode did not further fracture their relationship. On Saturday, leaving the White House for a trip here for a Republican fund-raiser and a speech on Israeli-American relations, Mr. Trump told reporters that “they are devastated in Saudi Arabia,” noting that “the king will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones.” He never used the word “terrorism.” What was missing was any assurance that the Saudis would aid in the investigation, help identify the suspect’s motives, or answer the many questions about the vetting process for a coveted slot at one of the country’s premier schools for training allied officers. Or, more broadly, why the United States continues to train members of the Saudi military even as that same military faces credible accusations of repeated human rights abuses in Yemen, including the dropping of munitions that maximize civilian casualties. “The attack is a disaster for an already deeply strained relationship,” Bruce Riedel, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and a former C.I.A. officer who has dealt with generations of Saudi leaders, said on Saturday. It “focuses attention on Americans training Saudi Air Force officers who are engaged in numerous bombings of innocents in Yemen, which is the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world,” he said, noting that the Trump administration had long been fighting Congress as it seeks to end American support for that war. But even stranger, said Mr. Riedel, was “the president’s parroting of the Saudi line” before learning the results of an investigation into whether the gunman acted alone, or had allegiances to Al Qaeda or terrorist groups. For the White House, the calculus is simple: Saudi Arabia is not only critical to world oil supplies — though no longer critical to the United States’ — it is the only regional power able to counter Iran. The result, former members of the Trump administration say, has been a dismissal of any critiques that could weaken that bond. Mr. Trump was so quick and so eager to assure the Saudis that the relationship would continue before anyone knew how to categorize the shooting that it raised questions about how the administration would have responded if the suspect had been an Iranian, or an immigrant from Mexico. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump often cited the killing of a young woman in California by an undocumented immigrant as a reason to crack down on immigration and build a wall along the southern border. “Had an attack been carried out by any country on his Muslim ban, his reaction would have been very different,” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East negotiator and now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But when it comes to Saudi, the default position is to defend,” he said, “Driven by oil, money, weapons sales, a good deal of Saudi feting and flattery, Trump has created a virtually impenetrable zone of immunity for Saudi Arabia.” It was hardly the first time Mr. Trump had shown such tendencies. After the brutal killing in Istanbul of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and a legal American resident, Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down American intelligence findings that closely tied Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to the matter. The findings suggested he had connections to the members of the hit team sent to Turkey — and almost certainly played a role in ordering them to bring Mr. Khashoggi back to the country by force. Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Pompeo’s initial promises to follow the evidence wherever it led dissipated. Over the past year, Mr. Pompeo has expressed deep annoyance whenever the topic is raised. The United States was awaiting the results of a Saudi investigation, he often said, as if he expected that to offer a full accounting. And he told members of Congress that no matter the truth of what unfolded, the relationship between the kingdom and Washington was too important to be held hostage to one vicious, ill-thought-out act. No American assessment of what the Saudi leadership knew has ever been made public. Before the shooting on Friday, the White House was already fighting efforts in Congress to cut military aid to the Saudis, a reflection of anger over the Khashoggi murder and continuing war in Yemen. But the Pensacola attack underlined the continuing instinct to protect the relationship.“If Trump wants to convey condolences from Saudi King Salman, fine,” Mr. Miller wrote on Twitter after the shooting. “But you don’t do it on day — Americans are killed — untethered from a message of ironclad assurances from King to provide” whatever cooperation is necessary to understand the gunman and his motives. “Otherwise Trump sounds like what he has become — a Saudi apologist.’’After Mr. Pompeo announced that he had spoken with the Saudi foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, about the shooting, Martin Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel and longtime Middle East negotiator, tweeted: “Isn’t it interesting how quick Trump and Pompeo are to broadcast Saudi government condolences for the murder of three Americans and how slow they were to criticize the Saudi government’s murder” of Mr. Khashoggi. Still, the bond between the countries is weakening, as the erosion of support in Congress shows. A negotiation over providing nuclear technology to the Saudis, a huge push early in the administration, has stalled. The chances that the military support will remain at current levels appear slim. “The U.S.-Saudi relationship is on life support,” Mr. Riedel said, noting that it would be in jeopardy if a Democrat were to win the 2020 election. “Even Joe Biden is calling the Kingdom a ‘pariah’ that needs to be punished,” he said, referring to the former vice president, who had for decades supported a strong relationship with the Saudis. /2019/12/07/us/politics/trump-pensacola-saudi-arabia.html
By Max BootPresident Trump has long held a double standard when it comes to terrorist attacks: When the perpetrator is a white supremacist, he offers anodyne expressions of sympathy for the victims (often “thoughts and prayers”), while typically failing to label the attack an act of terrorism. When the perpetrator is a Muslim, however, he is vitriolic in his denunciations and his calls for a massive response, such as stopping all Muslims from entering the United States. After a car plowed into pedestrians in London on Aug. 14, 2018, for example, he tweeted: “Another terrorist attack in London... These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength!”
It turns out that Trump actually has a triple standard because he treats attacks by Saudis differently than those from other Muslim nations. On Friday, a Saudi air force officer studying at the Naval Air Station Pensacola shot dead three Americans and wounded eight others. Instead of expressing outrage or vowing vengeance, or even waiting for all the facts to come in, Trump sounded as if he were auditioning for the job of press secretary at the Saudi Embassy. He conveyed King Salman’s “sincere condolences” and his (highly questionable) assurances “that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people.” Trump then told reporters that the king “will take care of the families and loved ones of the victims.”
Sorry, but Americans don’t need blood money from the Saudis. What they need are honest answers to figure out what happened and why. It has been reported that the attacker had screened videos of previous mass shootings with fellow Saudi students at Pensacola; that before the attack he had posted online criticism of Israel and of America’s “invasion” of foreign countries, suggesting he may have been inspired by al-Qaeda; and that some of his fellow Saudi students filmed the attack. There is enough evidence for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R.-Fla.), a fervent Trump supporter who represents Pensacola, to label the attack an act of terrorism. But Trump, who never hesitates to throw out the “T” word after other attacks by Muslims, refuses to do so in this case.
This is, of course, only the latest example of Trump’s suspicious partiality to Saudi Arabia — the site of his first trip abroad as president. Trump has taken Saudi Arabia’s side as it has blockaded Qatar, the home of a large U.S. military base; caused a humanitarian tragedy with its bombing of Yemen; and even murdered and dismembered Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Congress was so outraged by Saudi atrocities — both against Yemen and Khashoggi — that it passed legislation to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Trump vetoed the bills. And even while abandoning the Kurds who fought with U.S. troops to defeat the Islamic State, Trump has sent thousands of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, a deployment that in the past has inflamed jihadist sentiment.
Why is Trump so sickeningly solicitous of a vicious dictatorship whose citizens have carried out numerous terrorist attacks against Americans, from Sept. 11, 2001, to Friday in Pensacola? In public, Trump talks about the supposed economic benefits of the relationship — even though the United States, which has now become energy-independent, no longer needs Saudi oil. “They give us a lot of jobs. They give us a lot of business,” Trump said in justifying his nonresponse to Khashoggi’s murder. As usual, Trump is wildly exaggerating: He claimed last year that the Saudis have agreed to buy $110 billion in U.S. weapons since he took office. The real figure was $14.5 billion.
One can’t help but suspect that Trump’s interest in Saudi Arabia is more personal. While Trump now denies any financial ties to Saudi Arabia, during a 2015 campaign rally, he said: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”Trump has continued to benefit from Saudi largesse as president. The Post reported that, at the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan, “revenue from room rentals went up 13 percent in the first three months of 2018” after “two years of decline.” The general manager of the hotel attributed its good fortune to “a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
That would be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has established a chummy relationship with his U.S. counterpart, “Crown Prince” Jared Kushner, whose family real estate company has its own ties to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. This is a friendship that allows the crown prince to literally get away with murder.
If we’ve learned anything from Trump’s attempted extortion of Ukraine, it’s that all politics and policy is personal for him. His policy is “Me First,” not “America First.” Trump’s suspicious relationship with Saudi Arabia is merely another example of what happens when a president decides to run the U.S. government as if it were a family-owned business whose only objective is to benefit his bottom line.
Pakistani film and television fraternity across the country remembered the famous and talented late actress Rani on her 73rd birth anniversary on Sunday. Rani was born on 8 December 1946 as Nasira in Mozang, Lahore to Malik Muhammed Shafi and Iqbal Begum in an Arain family. Rani was a film and television actress. She gained success in the late 1960s when she made a hit pair with famous actor and producer Waheed Murad. She remained one of the most successful actresses of subcontinent and became popular for her dance performances in films. Rani played various roles in both Urdu and Punjabi films. She started her film career in 1962 as Anwar Kamal Pasha, a veteran film director of the 1950s and 1960s offered her a role in the film “Mehboob”. For several years she was considered a jinxed actress as almost all of her movies between 1962-70 were badly flopped at box office but soon after the success of Hazar Dastan and Dever Bhabi, Rani became a leading actress. Some of her more notable films are Chann Makhna, Sajjan Pyara, Jind Jan, Duniya Matlib Di, Anjuman (1970 film), Tehzeeb (1971 film), Umrao Jaan Ada (1972), Naag Muni, Seeta Mariam Margaret and Surrayya Bhopali. She also acted in two TV serials Khowahish and Faraib in the early 1990s. Rani won her first Nigar Award for the film Mera ghar meri jannat in1968 and achieved second Nigar Award for the best actress for her role in the film Sona Chandi in 1983. Rani died of cancer on 27 May 1993 at the age of 46 in Karachi, just a few days after her daughter Rabia’s marriage. Shortly after Rani’s death, her mother who was seriously ill and never knew of her daughter’s death, also died. Rani and her mother were buried side by side in Lahore in Muslim Town Cemetery. Upcoming artists had paid tribute to the late actress by uploading clips of her famous movies and pictures of her enchanting beautiful eyes on social media,moreover they also urged the fans to pray for her eternal peace.
The report on the incidents of deaths caused by dog bites across Punjab, and the revelation within of over 80 percent of healthcare institutions lacking the crucial Anti-Rabies Vaccine (ARV) in the province paints a gloomy picture on the situation of healthcare. Bites by stray dogs have led to the deaths of 11 people in Punjab and injured over 3000 in the first ten months of this year. The provincial government is clearly clueless about this issue; the fact that most hospitals and other healthcare facilities do not have the ARV – this includes some teaching hospitals as well – means that this issue has completely slipped under the regime’s radar. This has information has now been brought to the attention of the Chief Minister of the province, but without a clear-cut animal control programme, one that might even need legislation to create a body that looks after such affairs, we can expect the government to appoint hired gunmen to start a massive culling drive, which has been seen before in cities like Karachi. However, culling dogs en masse is clearly not the answer. Providing ARVs to hospitals and other health centres urgently should be prioritised above all other steps, however. Hospitals should be mandated to carry ample amounts of the vaccine and this expense should be taken out from their budget, thin as it may be. The government can subsidise the medicine if that plays a factor in this, but for hospitals to not have a treatment for a disease that is very much treatable is almost criminal. Many will have to be put down, but in order to prevent the spread of rabies in Punjab, an animal control department is needed, one that ensures that stray dogs do not overbreed and are healthy enough to roam the streets, if that is the policy that the government continues moving forward. If the government is planning on removing stray dogs from cities step-by-step, it should know that a mass killing spree is not really the answer. Apart from the obvious brutality associated with such a step, stray dogs in cities do help in keeping vermin like rats and other pests controlled, which is not the case with cities in developed countries. There will be unexpected changes resulting from removing an entire species from our streets, which is why it is hoped that the government thinks about what it wants to do before making a concrete decision on the next step forward. https://nation.com.pk/06-Dec-2019/rabies-in-punjab
* PPP chairman says incumbent government encouraging only unemployment.Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto on Saturday said that infrastructure had to be focused on to fight the economic and governance crises, and only public government could do that. Addressing at the ceremony of seven mega-projects, Bilawal expressed that 10 million jobs had to be provided across the country to combat the economic crisis. “Provision of jobs is a tradition of PPP, and people will get jobs with the seven mega projects,” he said, adding that the incumbent government was encouraging only unemployment. Bilawal asserted that the federal government facilitated billionaires with tax amnesty scheme whereas the PPP launched a revolutionary Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) for the public. He went on to say that the ‘selected’ and incompetent government could not alleviate the problems of people. “The country has plunged into the tsunami of inflation, while small businessmen are stuck into the storm of taxes,” he added. The PPP chairman said that the bureaucracy was suffering at the hands of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the country. He maintained that Prime Minister Imran Khan had worsened the economy of Pakistan. On the other hand, Bilawal Bhutto expressed that Sibghatullah Shah Rashidi Road, Shaheed-e-Millat Road, and Sunset Boulevard Flyover were completed in just five months. “Seven mega projects have been completed today, which is vital for Karachi,” he added. He said that completion of all the projects was proof of all the hard work done by the provincial chief minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, and his team. “The PPP is doing developmental work in this environment,” he added. On the other hand, PPP Parliamentary Leader in Senate Sherry Rehman said that the vengeful government was only politicking over allegations and had nothing to give except abusive language. Talking to the media during her visit to Sukkur to attend the NAB hearing against former leader of the opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, the PPP leader said that several ministers and advisers of the government were facing charges in NAB inquiries but no action was being taken against them. She said that the government had made the parliament and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) dysfunctional, as the rulers were well aware of the fact that the ECP would send them packing in the foreign funding case. “They are only repeating ‘accountability, accountability’ … Which case has been proved against anyone in the country so far,” she questioned. “The history will tell the story of the game played in the name of democracy,” she further said. “The parliament has been locked down and the Election Commission made disabled.” She rejected the fake cases and accountability and affirmed that the rulers only believed in politics based on derogatory remarks. “No action has been taken against any minister. Why has Aleema Khan [PM Imran Khan’s sister] not been held accountable till now? Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government is itself a joke.” The foreign funding case is being probed since 2015, and they don’t want any question over it, she said. “Why they are not being made accountable over their foreign funding?” she further asked. She said the PTI government had taken more loans than any other party in the history of Pakistan. “Inflation has eroded the purchasing power and people are even unable to buy school uniforms for their children.”
It was a sunny, expectation-laden, afternoon at Lahore’s Istanbul Chowk on November 29. The procession that stood near Nasser Bagh at 3pm was already delayed by an hour. Soon, the promised march to the Charing Cross began. The now-familiar leaders of Progressive Students’ Collective stood atop a truck, holding big microphones in their hands. As the truck started moving, everyone gathered around. A big red banner with Students Solidarity March painted on it in white was carried by young women leading the march.
The color red dominated in a crowd which seemed bigger than everyone’s expectations. No wonder the students were charged. They were joined in the march by teachers, journalists, lawyers, old guard revolutionaries, civil society activists, working classes, political workers. All genders were represented in the inclusive crowd that the Mall has not seen in recent years. Not even in the Lawyers’ Movement. The non-Punjabi youth were conspicuous by their sizeable number. A rare occasion when the ‘burgers’ mingled with their public school counterparts in a public space.
Rejuvenated by slogans of resistance, A R Rehman’s Chale Chalo and other songs blaring from the music system installed on the truck lent goosebumps-causing moments to the marchers. Keeping pace with the truck, along one side of The Mall, closed for traffic; for once they outnumbered the policemen who guard such marches.
The students’ formal demands addressed more systemic issues like restoration of student unions, uniform curricula and education system, more budget for education and the demilitarisation of campuses.
The tragic collective memory of Mashal Khan’s brutal murder at the hands of his fellow students in Mardan, the continued incarceration of Junaid Hafeez in Multan on blasphemy allegations, and the stabbing to death of Professor Khalid Hameed in March at the hands of his student in Bahawalpur this year; provided an apt backdrop for the students to unite and do something about their lives. The consistent mobilisation of Progressive Students’ Collective over the last many years, the marches organised by the Pahstun Tahaffuz Movement last year, and the holding of Aurat Marches had all come together in creating this critical mass of students who came out to challenge the status quo.
By evening, it was clear that similar protests were being held in cities and towns across Pakistan, even in Gilgit-Baltistan, led by students who identify with progressive causes and were united under a Students Action Committee. Apparently, the misgivings and social media campaigns raised against them could not stop the marches from taking place.
The actual crackdown began a day later, with one Pashtun speaker, a former Punjab University student, picked from the university premises, and two days later charged with sedition. More cases against some known faces like Professor Ammar Jan, Farooq Tariq and Mashal Khan’s father Iqbal Lala and hundreds of unidentified protesters were registered. A political science teacher Akhtar Khan was also arrested under the Cybercrime Act in the aftermath of the march.A week later, however, it appears that the purpose of the march is served. The issues and concerns raised by the students and organisers have forced everyone to sit up and take notice. A debate has started at several forums, particularly about the need to revive student unions in educational institutions. The high-handed acts of the government apart, ministers and even the prime minister, have underscored the need to bring back student unions albeit with a few caveats attached.But the debate will not remain confined to unions alone; it will trace its antecedents in history as it is already doing and search for future courses of action. Students insist that if the 1968 student movement that shook the foundations of a military dictator is to be seen in the light of a world-wide movement, then today’s events should also be seen in the backdrop of student awakening across the world.
Their demand for a uniform education system will inevitably raise the legitimate question about the privatisation of education, the class-based and individual-centered citizenry it produced, and the death blow it inflicted on the public sector. Attention is being drawn to how the state has tried to realise its own extreme values through education, and has hence repressed the students. Though what the country has now, as a consequence, is students who understand the world in only black and white terms, through the lens of religion and narrow nationalism.
In the week before and after the march, organisers have spoken to media-people of all hues. They have not shirked any question and, in doing so, have educated us all. In the last few decades, the producers of media have projected the problems of middle classes as ‘the’ problems of the country. Obviously, collective action, equal distribution of wealth and opportunities, social equality through education, student unions seem such alien concepts today; even the colour red is a red rag to the middle class consumers of media.
A section of media sees in the march almost a ‘conspiracy’ to launch a new political party, and that too of the ‘left’. The suggestion being that that was clearly unforgivable.
As of now, the students are energised and ready to take on the mantel of leadership that they have been unjustly denied. There can be no academic freedom till students have the right to association, they think. The complexion of the march suggests that they are seeking solidarity from their seniors and thereby learning from history. The most remarkable role, indeed, has been that of teachers. Some who are trained abroad are concerned about the student issues here, and are equal partners with them in their struggle.
Unfortunately, the state is trying to scare them both, by lodging sedition cases against them.
There can’t by anything more heady, romantic and plain right than the youth seeking equality in the world they inhabit. If not now, when? Students sorting out their own issues through consensus can give this country and its democracy the confident and moral leadership it so badly needs. The sooner the state realises this, the better.
This means that hundreds of thousands of people will die across the country from minor injuries and treatable diseases due to the lack of any treatment. This also means that tens of thousands of health workers will lose their jobs and pensions and will be thrown into a life of extreme poverty and misery. The gravity of the situation has multiplied with the absence of any political party that stands against privatisation and supports the right of free healthcare for all.
In this dire situation, health workers of the Punjab and PakhtunKhwa province have come out in large numbers and have started a movement against this draconian measure of the Pakistani state. Red Workers Front is at the forefront of this struggle and has helped to bring together various unions, associations and groups of health workers in Punjab on the platform of Grand Health Alliance (GHA) to forge a united struggle against this oppressive measure. This strategy has also been replicated in PashtunKhwa, as well and GHA there is also carrying forward this struggle against the present regime.
Health conditions in Pakistan
With a population of 220 million, Pakistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks among the lowest in the human development index. The country is a nightmarish example of the horrors of capitalism and imperialist plunder. With an ever-widening gap between rich and poor and crumbling physical and social infrastructure, the country is a living hell for its working class. More than half of its population lives on less than one dollar per day. Although the masses have to suffer daily in every aspect of their lives, poor-quality and insufficient healthcare delivery is one of the most disturbing aspects of their existence.
The country spends less than two percent of its GDP on healthcare and a large portion of this spending is done by the private sector. This is not a problem for the rich and upper-middle-class, because they can afford the costly healthcare delivered by the five-star, hotel-style private hospitals - but the poor suffer and die untreated in hellish conditions. For 220 million people, the country has only 5,800 basic health units, 950 secondary care hospitals and just 22 tertiary care hospitals in the public sector. The extremely poor quality of these facilities notwithstanding, the sheer lack of quantity speaks volumes about the condition of healthcare available. There is only one bed for every 2,000 people in public hospitals. The patient-to-doctor ratio is 1:1500, and the patient-to-nursing-staff ratio is even worse. The country has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. Every year, some half a million children under five years of age die due to treatable diseases like dysentery, malaria, typhoid and RTI, because they don't have access to free or affordable healthcare. Every year, more than 50,000 women die during childbirth, because of the absence of maternal and child health facilities. Every year, more than 40,000 women die of breast cancer because they cannot even dream of affording the cost of treatment for this disease. More than 200,000 people die every year in road accidents because of the lack of public healthcare facilities. All this happens in a country where working masses bear one of the highest indirect tax burdens on their shoulders and around 75 percent of the annual federal budget is spent on debt servicing and military.
Pakistan’s meagre public healthcare facilities have been a shambles for years due to the lack of government funding, but under the recent IMF loan programme the government is trying to privatise even these dismal services for the poor. One of the basic motives lying behind this privatisation drive, on the part of the IMF and the government, is to reduce state expenditure for achieving so-called fiscal consolidation. That simply means that the government should be able to pay back its debt and interest to international and domestic lenders, while crushing the working masses under its heel in this process. Secondly, its purpose is to open up a profitable avenue of investment for private capital. For the privatisation of public hospitals, the government has proposed a draconian law called the MTI act, which it has imposed upon the Punjab Province through an undemocratic governor ordinance. In the province of PashtunKhwa (KPK), this MTI act was already partially imposed in 2015 by the then-PTI provincial government. Now, in KPK too, it is to be fully implemented and extended to all the public hospitals through a newly proposed RDHA act.
According to these acts, the status of public hospitals will be changed from public welfare to corporate institutions, which will be responsible for generating their own finances through elimination of free healthcare services and utilising the services of private health insurance companies. For this purpose, all public hospitals will be outsourced to private healthcare companies and contractors. Furthermore, the government will also receive a share of profits generated by these outsourced hospitals. While on the one hand, these brutal measures of capitalist exploitation will deprive millions of poor people from access to basic healthcare (as they are totally dependent on these public hospitals, whatever their shortcomings may be), on the other, this privatisation will also cause financial ruin for thousands of junior doctors, nurses and hospital workers working in them. A great majority will simply lose their jobs. The rest will lose their permanent employee status, along with their pensions, and will be converted into contractual, temporary or daily waged employees.
Movement against privatisation
It is under these circumstances that a powerful anti-privatisation movement of public sector health workers has arisen in Punjab and KPK. All the associations and unions of junior doctors, nurses and health workers of these two provinces have joined to form the Grand Health Alliance (GHA) in order to effectively fight against this onslaught of privatisation. Starting from roadside protests, anti-privatisation conventions and mass awareness campaigns, the GHA of both provinces was compelled to go for a strike in outpatient departments, elective radiology and laboratory services because of the repressive acts of the government, in which some workers were brutally attacked by police in KPK. The strike has now entered its 32nd day in KPK and 19th day in Punjab, and is still going strong despite all the state repression, intimidation, arrests, job terminations and poisonous propaganda through state-influenced media. Besides observing the strike, there have been repeated huge protests across all the major cities of both provinces in the past three weeks, in which tens of thousands of health workers have regularly participated despite all the measures of the state. After failing in crushing the movement through repression, the government has now resorted to the age-old, dirty tactics of trying to break the unity of health workers, and deceiving the movement through sham talks - but the workers are conscious enough that, for now, all these manoeuvres have failed.
Red Workers Front has stood shoulder to shoulder with the health workers throughout the movement. In fact, the idea of forming a GHA was first floated by the RWF in various meetings. One representative of RWF is also a member of the core committee of GHA Punjab. RWF has also helped to prepare campaigns through leaflets, brochures and posters produced by GHA Punjab. A three-minute, animated video was also launched for a mass campaign last week, explaining the disastrous impacts of this privatisation. This video also got an overwhelming response, as did the other campaign material.
Red Workers Front has also been carrying out a mass campaign for a country-wide general strike among the advanced layers of the working class for the last two years. The anti-privatisation movement of health workers has raised the opportunity to discuss the idea of a general strike against privatisation, with thousands of health workers. In fact, this idea has got a tremendous response, and important steps are being taken in this direction.
RWF is also trying to build bridges between GHA and workers’ unions and associations of various other public sector departments and institutions, which are on the hit list of privatisation. Until now, successful solidarity meetings have been arranged between the leaderships of GHA and railway unions, electricity workers (WAPDA), the school teachers’ union, the college professors and lecturers’ association and clerical staff associations. More solidarity meetings are planned with other unions, especially with telecommunication workers (PTCL), the utility stores corporation union and public insurance (State Life) workers’ unions.
We also appeal to the workers of the world for their solidarity with this anti-privatisation struggle of health workers in Pakistan. United, we are sure of a glorious victory over capitalist and imperialist forces in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Workers of the world, unite!