27 JULY 2018
The Pakistan test
Imran Khan has no time to lose in unveiling his leadership style and rhetoric as PM
Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has exceeded expectations in emerging from Wednesday’s election within touching distance of a majority. The former cricketer will come to the Prime Minister’s office at the end of a bitter year, and his first test will be to assert a legitimate claim to power. The campaign for these federal and provincial elections in Pakistan has been called the “dirtiest” in its history, and the announcement of the results is already tainted by allegations of rigging and military interference. In fact, the removal of Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister last summer and later from the electoral arena over a conviction on corruption charges had given the impression that the dice were loaded in Mr. Khan’s favour. The former cricketer will be watched for how he emerges from the shadow of the campaign and the election itself. His immediate task is to negotiate assistance from the International Monetary Fund to stave off a balance of payments crisis. Pakistan has already sought more loans from China, with no sign that the costs of infrastructure projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be recovered soon. His next set of challenges emerge from the region, where he will be expected to make good on promises made by Pakistan to Washington and Kabul to crack down on terror and bring the Taliban to the table for talks. Mr. Khan has long held that the U.S. must first pull out troops from Afghanistan, and was called “Taliban Khan” for suggesting that Taliban militants were fighting for “independence”. The next steps will take place amid great scrutiny of the tenor of his engagement with Donald Trump’s administration, given the U.S. President’s tough talk against Pakistan.
Mr. Khan will also have to tackle terror groups inside Pakistan, those that target Pakistani forces and those trained with Pakistan’s support to target its neighbours. It is here that Prime Minister Khan will be most tested; these groups function with impunity, and it remains to be seen whether his softness during the campaign against them will carry over into the prime ministership. Significantly, he spent the most time on ties with India when listing his foreign policy priorities. While his comments on alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir will not be viewed kindly in New Delhi, those on resolving disputes through dialogue must be regarded seriously. So far, he had distanced himself from what he called the “soft approach” of the Sharif government towards India. But after the election result, Mr. Khan claimed that no Pakistani leader had engaged more with India than he had. He offered to take two steps forward if India reciprocates. For the moment, he will also be aware of other odds that are stacked against him; not the least being that of becoming the first Pakistani PM to complete a full term.
India has brought down HIV incidence, but it must do more in removing social stigma
A new report from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) bears good news for the global war against the syndrome. Between 2010 and 2017, several countries made rapid progress in reducing HIV incidence and getting antiretroviral therapy to patients. Today, three out of four people with HIV know their status, and 21.7 million get treatment. While the largest reduction in incidence came from eastern and southern Africa, Asia also made gains.India, in particular, brought down the number of new cases and deaths by 27% and 56%, respectively, between 2010 and 2017. As the UNAIDS report says, some satisfaction is warranted. This applies also to India, which has done a few things right. For example, tuberculosis is the biggest killer of HIV patients across the world. India is now able to treat over 90% of notified TB patients for HIV. Social stigma surrounding AIDS-infected people in India, while high, is declining slowly too. Survey data show that in the last decade, the number of people unwilling to buy vegetables from a person with HIV came down from over 30% to 27.6%. But even as India celebrates such progress, it is important to be mindful of the scale of the challenge. With 2.1 million cases, India is among the largest burden countries in the world. And there are critical gaps in its strategy.
The UNAIDS report points out that a country’s laws can legitimise stigma and give licence to the harassment of groups at the highest risk of HIV. These include men who have sex with other men, people who inject drugs, and sex workers.Indian laws don’t do well on this count. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act criminalises several aspects of sex work, while Section 377 of the IPC criminalises gay sex. Studies show that fear of prosecution under such laws prevents homosexual men, drug-users and sex workers from seeking HIV screening and treatment. As a result, these groups lag behind average treatment rates, although their requirements are higher. According to a 2017 UNAIDS report, for example, awareness of their HIV status among men who have sex with other men was 41% in India; 52% of those who knew their status were receiving treatment, and of these, 83% had suppressed viral levels. These are troubling patterns. If India is serious about tackling HIV, it must find ways to reach such groups. Short of changing the law, the Centre can consider targeted interventions. An experiment in Karnataka, between 2004 and 2011, finds favourable mention in the report. It shows thatsensitising police personnel and educating female sex workers can greatly reduce arbitrary police raids and arrests.As the UNAIDS report emphasises, the right to health is universal. India must take note of this to ensure that no one is left behind in the fight against HIV.