Sunday, May 10, 2020

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Opinion: Has Trump Decided We Will Follow Sweden and Just Not Told Us?

 By Thomas L. Friedman

 The president brings instability and confusion to a crisis.

Having a pandemic is really bad. Having a pandemic and a civil war together is really, really bad. Welcome to Donald Trump’s America 2020.
If you feel dizzy from watching Trump signal left — issuing guidelines for how states should properly emerge from pandemic lockdowns — while turning right — urging people to liberate their states from lockdowns, ignore his own guidelines and even dispute the value of testing — you’re not alone.
Since Trump’s pronouncements are simultaneously convoluted, contradictory and dishonest, here’s my guess at what he is saying:
“The Greatest Generation preserved American liberty and capitalism by taking Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day — in the face of a barrage of Nazi shelling that could and did kill many of them. I am calling on our generation to preserve American liberty and capitalism today by going shopping in the malls of Omaha, Nebraska, in the face of a coronavirus pandemic that will likely only kill 1 percent of you, if you do get infected. So be brave — get back to work and take back your old life.”
Yes, if you total up all of Trump’s recent words and deeds, he is saying to the American people: between the two basic models for dealing with the pandemic in the world — China’s rigorous top-down, test, track, trace and quarantine model — while waiting for a vaccine to provide herd immunity — and Sweden’s more bottom up, protect-the-most-vulnerable-and-let-the-rest-get-back-to-work-and-get-the-infection-and-develop-natural-herd-immunity model, your president has decided for Sweden’s approach.
He just hasn’t told the country or his coronavirus task force or maybe even himself.
But this is the only conclusion you can draw from all the ways Trump has backed off from his own government guidelines and backed up his end-the-lockdown followers, who, like most of the country, have grown both weary of the guidelines and desperate to get back to work and paychecks.
But, in keeping with my D-Day analogy, Trump has basically decided to dispatch Americans into this battle against this coronavirus without the equivalent of maps, armor, helmets, guns or any coordinated strategy to minimize their casualty count. He’s also dispatching them without national leadership — so it’s every platoon, or state, for themselves, maximizing the chances of virus spread between people who want to go shopping and those who still want to shelter in place.
He’s also dispatching them without a national plan to protect the most vulnerable, particularly the elderly, and without setting the example that everyone should wear face masks and practice social distancing whenever they are at work or in a public setting. Finally, he’s dispatching them without a plan of retreat if way too many vulnerable people are infected and harmed as we take to the malls of Omaha and beyond.
Other than all that, Trump is just like F.D.R.
I fear that when these shortcomings become apparent, it could trigger a low-grade civil war between those who will ask their neighbors: “Who gave you the right to ignore the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and heedlessly go to a bar, work or restaurant and then spread coronavirus to someone’s grandparents or your own?” And those who will ask their neighbors: “Who gave you the right to keep the economy closed in a pandemic and trigger mass unemployment, which could cost many more lives than are saved, especially when alternative strategies, like Sweden’s, might work?” A new Mason-Dixon line could emerge between those states led by governors who want to equip their people with the maximum protective gear and safety guidelines and those governors who are keen to reopen their states for business as usual — gear and guidelines be damned. According to a new poll from Pew Research Center, more than two-thirds of Americans worry that their respective states are reopening too quickly, while pro-Trump protesters have taken to the streets to demand that businesses get people back to work now.
So, I can imagine the possibility of the governor of Maryland, who has been very careful about lifting lockdowns, banning cars coming north on Interstate 95 with Georgia license plates. And this is not just my imagination. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem “sent letters Friday to the leaders of both the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe demanding that checkpoints designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus on tribal land be removed” — or risk legal action, reported Saturday. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has rejected the ultimatum. Stay tuned.
The tragedy of all of this is that a better president would never have allowed us to get to this edge of pandemic civil strife.
A real president would be simultaneously framing the issues for the nation and then arguing for and guiding us on the least painful course. He’d start by explaining that we are up against a challenge no one in our generation has ever faced — the challenge of a global pandemic in which Mother Nature is silently, invisibly, exponentially and mercilessly spreading a coronavirus among us. And, unlike a human foe, you can’t defeat Mother Nature, negotiate with her or spin her. All you can do is adapt in the least harmful way possible to whatever she throws at you. And when it’s a pandemic, it means there are only hellish moral and economic trade-offs — no matter which path you choose. Too closed, she’ll kill your jobs. Too open, she’ll kill your vulnerable.
The job of leadership is to choose the path that offers the most sustainable way to balance lives and livelihoods and then create and stick to the conditions that make it workable. So, as I said, China has chosen the pathway of locking down and then opening its economy, but with strict social distancing, masks everywhere and highly intrusive testing, tracking, tracing and quarantining anyone with coronavirus to prevent further spread — while it waits for a vaccine to create herd immunity.
Sweden has chosen moderate social distancing, keeping a lot of its economy open, while trying to protect the most vulnerable and letting those least vulnerable — those most likely to experience coronavirus either asymptomatically or as a mild or tough flu — continue to work, get the virus and develop immunity to it. Then, when enough of them are immune, they can sound the all-clear for the vulnerable. That’s Sweden’s strategy, but it is too early to say it’s the right answer.
If you listened to Trump last week you heard a president who was all over the place. One day he talked as though he wanted to follow Sweden in getting a lot of people back to work, even if many more will get infected by coronavirus. Another day, he boasted that we’re testing just like China — only more so. Another day he disputed the need for testing at all.
In brief: Trump talks like China, envies Sweden, prepares for neither and insists that his strategy is superior to both.
But the fact is he is not prepared to impose the kind of strict surveillance tracing and quarantining system that makes China’s reopening work. And he is not ready to consider strategies — like moving vulnerable people living in crowded homes to empty hotels or surrounding every nursing home with a public health testing units — that might make a Swedish-style opening less dangerous.
So, I fear that we are heading for a roiling mess. Our coronavirus infections will be exacerbated by Trump’s incompetence, while our hyper-political partisanship will be fed by his malevolence. After all, his whole political strategy is to divide us into red and blue, Republicans and Democrats, open-now advocates and go-slow advocates. That’s the only politics he practices.
In sum, Covid-19 is sapping our economic and physical health, while Trump is undermining our institutions and national unity. We desperately need a vaccine — and a 2020 election outcome — that can give us herd immunity to this virus and this president.

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Pakistan - Truth about child marriage

 By Areeba Butt
I know that government, international bodies and development actors have left no stone unturned to make a solid case to end child marriage. It is established that such marriages are interlinked with economic and social constraints and hit socio-economic health of societies. But to me the families who go through child marriages take the brunt over generations. Here, I am to narrate experience of my own family across generations to lay emphasis on how families suffer and need to get rid of evil practice of child marriage.
My maternal grandmother was married at the age of 12, even though she belonged to a well-off family and was a favorite child of her parents. During a tender age of 12 years, when a child is supposed to be playing with her dolls, my grandmother was burdened with a huge responsibility for which she was not physically, mentally or even emotionally ready at all. Due to younger age, she faced many issues including difficulties to cope with household duties and her relations with her husband became strained.
She was raised in a much pampered environment since birth. It was a grueling experience for her to take orders and get on with instructions of her in-laws on each and every aspect.
My grandfather had also to go through a lot. He was pursuing his matriculation at the age of 17. Marriage brought a sudden increase in his financial duties and he had to give up his lifestyle for behaving more like a family man. He was driven into a situation where he had to manage his family despite that he wasn’t mentally prepared for it.
My mother was married at the age of 17, but both her sisters got married at the age of 25. There is a similarity between my mother and grandmother, they both were out of school at the time of marriage while my aunts were still pursuing education.
During my grandmother’s times, education was not deemed necessary but my mother had to leave her school due to the non-availability of any schools nearby. On the other hand, my aunts were lucky enough to find education right in their locality, so due to continuity education they were grown-ups at the time of marriage.
Luckily, my parents had a very positive impact of this tough legacy. They allowed both of their daughters to study enough so we could make decisions of our lives. My sister graduated from Asian University of Women Bangladesh and no doubt my parents especially my father had to struggle a lot to convince our close relatives on this matter. Our relatives considered it completely unnecessary for a girl to get higher education or to have a professional career. According to my parents, my sister can marry at the right age considering her husband and in-laws as well as children, her career and future. Due to the efforts of our father both of us came up as independent and confident girls making our careers just the way we wanted to be.
Given my personal experience and learning, I consider effort of keeping children in school can ultimately reduce the number of child marriages. Government should make arrangements to provide formal education and efforts should be made to convince parents for keeping children in school at least for their basic education.
I feel I am personally connected to the issue of child marriage and its negative impact on family life. This is why I am volunteering to promote an online petition for a youth development organization Bargad. The petition is pursuing amendment to the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) to raise the legal age for marriage for girls to 18 in our country.

#Pakistan - Minorities’ plight

RELIGION is central to the identity of the vast majority of Pakistanis, regardless of which faith or sect they belong to. But while the principle of freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution, contradictions abound, and Pakistan’s minorities often live under a cloud of fear and insecurity, particularly if they belong to disadvantaged classes or castes, or are continuously scapegoated and demonised by the powerful. Instead of receiving protection, vulnerable groups are ignored or thrown under the bus, over and over again, as they navigate layers of systemic discrimination and deeply rooted cultural biases, making some feel like lesser citizens in their country of birth. To ensure minorities receive their due rights and protections, the cabinet recently approved the reconstitution of the National Commission for Minorities, but the move has already met with a series of setbacks and controversies.
First, the federal government withdrew the decision to include Ahmadis in the list of religious minorities — a decision vociferously defended by the minister for religious affairs — further denying the community any form of representation. In a country where people define themselves (and others) by their religious beliefs, where does this leave an already marginalised community? What exactly is their status?
Then, in a five-page report to the Supreme Court, the one-man commission of Dr Shoaib Suddle detailed further obstacles created by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in the setting up of the NMC. The problems surrounding the formation of the body simply reflects how far we are from becoming a truly equitable society in letter and spirit. While we rightfully condemn the cruel treatment that minorities — particularly Muslim minorities — in many other parts of the world are subjected to, we turn a blind eye to the abuse taking place under our watch or go into denial and get defensive about our own poor track record. The father of this nation said that religion is not the business of the state, but throughout Pakistan’s history, the state has made religion its business at every turn. Unfortunately, to distract from their failings and weaknesses, or to fulfil their own strategic and worldly ambitions, the powerful make opportunistic choices, while the ‘silent majority’ unthinkingly become accomplices to oppression. If nobody stands up for what is right, or wants for others the same freedom and security they seek for themselves, we will keep spiralling down a very dangerous path.

Pakistan: Minorities Commission Excludes Ahmadi Religious Group

Pakistan’s government has declined to include the Ahmadi religious group in its National Commission for Minorities, drawing attention to the group whose Muslim self-identification is rejected by many Muslims.
In a note seen by Reuters, Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs said Ahmadis should not be included in the commission “given the religious and historical sensitivity of the issue.” Pakistan’s constitution does not recognize the Ahmadis as Muslim.
However, Ahmadis consider themselves part of Islam. The movement was founded in 1889 in British-ruled India. They consider their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad a “subordinate prophet.” Other Muslims see this as a violation of the tenet that Muhammad was the last prophet.
There are about 500,000 Ahmadis in Pakistan and up to 20 million adherents worldwide. Some observers estimate the Ahmadi population in Pakistan is higher, but persecution encourages Ahmadis to hide their identity.
Pakistan’s religious freedom record has been a matter of international concern.
The 2020 report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has said Ahmadis continue to face “severe persecution from authorities as well as societal harassment due to their beliefs.”
Both government authorities and mobs target their places of worship. In October 2019, the report said, police in Punjab partially demolished a 70-year-old Ahmadiyya mosque.
Pakistan’s National Commission for Minorities gives some status, voice, and protections to minorities in a country where over 90% of people identify as Muslim.
A Hindu has been nominated to chair the minorities commission, whose members include representatives of Christian, Kalash, Sikh, and Zoroastrian communities. Government officials and the head of Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology also have commission seats.
State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan, a vocal opponent of including the Ahmadis on the commission, has referred to them as agents of chaos.
“If they want to avail constitutional rights they must accept the constitution first,” he told Reuters. “The Pakistani constitution considers them non-Muslims.”
Usman Ahmad, an Ahmadi representative, told Reuters it is a “complete myth” that they did not accept the constitution. He added that many people disagree with parts of the constitution but still have rights under it.   
He said his community is used to exclusion and has never accepted classification as non-Muslim.
“We’ve never joined such commissions that require us to accept our non-Muslim status,” he said.
Minister of Information Shibli Faraz has said the rights of all people were fully respected in the handling of the commission.
“Every country has the sovereign right to make judgments according to its ground realities,” he told Reuters.
Khan, the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, had posted to Twitter, then deleted, a comment “There is only one punishment for insulting the Prophet – chopping off the head.” He said he believed in “legal procedures and court proceedings” for those accused of blasphemy. Twitter told him to delete the post, Reuters reports.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy laws, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.
The laws, introduced in the 1980s, are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities. While non-Muslims constitute only 3 percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.
Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.
The Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was one such critic of the law who was assassinated in January 2011.
 Just months later, in March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, the first Federal Minister For Minorities Affairs and the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, was assassinated by extremists who characterized him as a blasphemer. Bhatti had criticized the law and defended Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 for blasphemy.
Bibi spent nine years on death row, but left Pakistan for Canada in 2019 at the age of 53 after her death sentence was overturned in October 2018.
The verdict and her subsequent release from prison sparked protests from Islamic hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws.
In Punjab last year, a mob attacked a Christian community after a mosque broadcast over loudspeaker a claim that the Christians had insulted Islam. In another incident in Karachi, false blasphemy accusations against four Christian women prompted mob violence that forced nearly 200 Christian families to flee their homes, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said.
The situation in Pakistan has attention from some prominent Catholics.
In a Jan. 21, 2020 letter written on behalf of Philadelphia’s Pakistani Catholic community, then-Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput encouraged Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to shape a culture of religious freedom
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s latest annual report said religious freedom conditions in Pakistan continued to deteriorate last year, citing “The systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, and authorities’ failure to address forced conversions of religious minorities—including Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs—to Islam.”
The bipartisan federal commission advises the U.S. government on policy. Its report recommended that the U.S. government name Pakistan a country of particular concern for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
In December 2018, for the first time, the U.S. State Department designated Pakistan a “Country of Particular Concern.” The designation, which can trigger sanctions under U.S. law, had been recommended by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom in 2017 and 2018.
The latest commission report recommended that Pakistan be re-designated a “Country of Particular Concern,” given “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

#coronavirusinpakistan - Herd immunity? - #Pakistan pursuing an unannounced policy of ‘herd immunity’ -

BASED on the remarks of two key officials at the helm of pandemic control in the country, it appears that the federal government is pursuing an unannounced policy of ‘herd immunity’.
The first indication of this came from SAPM Dr Zafar Mirza, who in an interview with DawnNews earlier this week conceded that “it will be better for the future if coronavirus spreads at a certain level so people can become immune”.
Also read: Sweden opted for ‘herd immunity’ against a total lockdown. Is it paying the price?
The second, albeit less categorical, message came from federal minister and NCOC chair Asad Umar during a talk show. Although he said it is not a policy decision, he justified it by saying that the logical conclusion of the pandemic is either a vaccine or a situation where 70pc of the population contracts the virus and achieves herd immunity. That these remarks have come as the government prepares to ease lockdown restrictions — despite the spike in death and infection curves — is extremely troubling.
In theoretical terms, herd immunity is a concept based on the body’s immune resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population. It is achieved when a significantly high proportion of individuals are vaccinated against it and therefore develop immunity. When enough people are vaccinated, a virus is unable to spread through the population.
However, the reality is that there is no vaccine for the coronavirus as yet. In the absence of a vaccine, immunity to the virus can likely only be achieved if an individual contracts it and survives, developing antibodies in his or her system.
If, by Mr Umar’s calculation, three-fourths of the population contracts Covid-19, the results in Pakistan would be catastrophic. At present, 2.2pc of those testing positive in the country die. Even if that grim percentage is halved, if 140m people contract Covid-19, we would be looking at at least 1.4m deaths. It would require the immuno-compromised to be sacrificed for the sake of the economy — a notion which is unacceptable and inhumane.
Despite what Mr Umar appears to be suggesting, the herd immunity approach is being pursued by very few countries. The UK’s initial decision was to take this approach, but the lack of restrictions and the rapid spike in cases and deaths forced a rethink. Currently, it is only being pursued by Sweden, which is drawing flak from scientists across the world.
The government needs to say clearly that it is not pursuing the policy of herd immunity as it eases the lockdown.