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Traumatic for both parents and society

In recent years, too many school children have died or got injured in school van accidents. Of late it has been noticed that accidents of school vans have increased abnormally. Only during the past three days there have been a number of such accidents in which many children have been killed or maimed for life. Mention must be made here of a horrible accident in Multan on Monday last in which a rashly driven oil tanker crushed a school van so badly that it was flattened under its wheels and four children and the van driver were killed on the spot, while 10 others were injured. Main reasons for this unfortunate increase in these accidents are bad roads, abnormal increase in the number of vehicles including school vans and a general tendency among drivers to violate traffic rules. Deaths of school going children are particularly traumatic for their families and for the society as a whole. Unfortunately, no special measures have been taken by the authorities anywhere in the country to avoid these accidents and save the lives of innocent children. There can be both urgent measures for safety of the school going children on the roads and long term steps to reduce such accidents. Firstly, school van drivers must be properly trained and licensed. They must be made to realize their special responsibilities, the school vans should have some special marking or color to alert the other drivers on the road. The traffic police must be there on full alert during the school hours in the morning and in the afternoon to ensure safety of the school vans and rickshaws. Other drivers, particularly those of heavy vehicles, should be instructed to take special care of school vans. Long term measures should also be initiated like prescribing special design and color of school buses or vans, opening more and better schools in every locality so that the parents do not have to send their children to far off places, and lastly, banning heavy vehicles on certain roads in the morning and afternoon school rush hours.

Sustained diplomatic engagement need of the hour

In the wake of dwindling Iran-Pakistan ties, both the countries need to have sustained diplomatic engagement to address the range of issues that could be causing friction. From the Kulbhushan Jadhav incident to Pakistan’s participation in the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance to helping stabilise an increasingly precarious Afghan state, there is much that needs to be addressed by both sides. Moreover, long-term projects, such as the Pak-Iran pipeline or electricity transfers, offer the opportunity to bring economic stability to a tense security relationship. Indeed, if truly creative solutions are wanted, the ports in Chabahar and Gwadar could greatly complement one another. Surely, whatever the path chosen, it must lead to stable, productive ties. As a matter of fact, Pakistan’s relations with Iran have come under considerable strain in recent months. There was already lingering mistrust after Pakistan did not complete its portion of the gas pipeline from Iran, reportedly due to US pressure. Matters weren’t helped when former army chief Gen (r) Raheel Sharif took up a position heading up Saudi Arabia’s military alliance against terrorism, which Iran views as a threat to itself. Ties hit a new low recently after 11 Iranian border guards were killed by the Iran-based militant group Jaish al-Adl. Iran claimed the militants escaped into Pakistan and went so far as to say that the Pakistani government thus bears the ultimate responsibility for the attack. The head of the Iranian armed forces, Mohammed Baqeri, then went even further in saying Tehran would hit bases in Pakistan if the government does not take action against the culprits. This threat escalates the issue to the point where it makes compromise more difficult and confrontation a real possibility. We have drawn Iranian ire in the past too, with their government threatening to launch raids into Pakistani territory but they have never gone so far as to blame the Pakistani government. There was an opportunity for a rapprochement when Iranian Foreign Minister Javed Zarif visited Islamabad on a previously unscheduled trip to discuss the attacks. Pakistan took some concrete steps to assuage Iranian concerns, including deploying extra troops along the border and reviving a hotline between border guards on both sides. There was also an agreement to set up operational committees to cooperate on border management and share intelligence on militant and human smuggling groups. Whether Zarif’s visit will have any impact on any immediate improvement in ties remains to be seen. The matter of Gen. Raheel Sharif and Pakistan’s decision to join the Saudi-led alliance was discussed and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif once again stressed that Pakistan would not be part of any action against Iran. But that in itself will not pacify Iran. It is locked in a battle for regional supremacy. Pakistan, naturally wanting good ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, finds itself in a difficult position. Ideally, we should stay out of the complicated civil wars raging in the Middle East and restrict ourselves to tackling only the militancy problem we face at home. Prospects for better relations lie in greater economic cooperation. Apart from reviving the gas pipeline – which Pakistan desperately needs for its own energy needs – we should consider developing road and rail projects with Iran. We have already been shut out of the Chabahar port deal between Iran, India and Afghanistan. What Pakistan needs to do is to concentrate on negotiating such deals with Iran and then working to resolve political differences.

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