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Daily Times Editorials – 27th April 2016

The stalemate of Pakistan and India

As the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India meet on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference, there appears to be a beacon of hope for those who want peace between the two belligerent countries. Although chances are that this meeting will not amount to much, nevertheless, it might result in the initiation of dialogue between the two countries that had been suspended ever since the Pathankot incident. This is good news since the recent capture of the alleged Indian spy, Kulbhushan Yadav, had further slowed the stuttering line of communication between the two countries. As Pakistan pressed for the international recognition of the alleged Indian subversive activities on Pakistani soil India denied all allegations on Yadav, which directly make the Indian state complicit in perpetuation of terror in Pakistan. India claims that Yadav is a retired Indian naval officer, and now a businessman who was nabbed by Pakistani agencies on Iranian soil. It is true that such serious allegations by the two countries complicate the already intricate dynamic of Pakistan-India relationship. As the foreign secretaries initiate talks on the initiation of comprehensive bilateral dialogue, they should not let any negative event of the last few months act as an impediment, which would result in nothing but another clichéd stalemate.

Unfortunately, if past incidences are any indication, Pakistan and India have adopted recalcitrant positions on much less serious issues and over the most pedantic technicalities, and this needs to change if any meaningful progress is to be made in improving relations between the two states.

The conflict between Pakistan and India stems from a territorial dispute, which has been transformed into an ideological war in the collective memory of the people of the two countries. For two states to be engaged in ideological warfare means that the existence of one undermines or negates the existence of the other. For example, the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran can be appropriately called an ideological war as the revolutionary character of Shia Islam poses a threat to the conservative Wahabi moorings of the Saudi Kingdom. Hence, it is absurd to think that the Hindu majority neighbour of Pakistan poses an existential threat to Pakistan, as Islam and Hinduism are two fundamentally different religions. Moreover, if religion has not been a determining factor in most of Pakistan’s other bilateral relations then why is it assigned such a primal role when dealing with India? Pakistan has been able to maintain its strongest alliance with China, a country with a majority of atheists and Buddhists.

The main impediment to the improving of relations between Pakistan and India is the heightened public sentiment against each other that has been produced through decades of government propaganda of the two states. As the Kashmir dispute has been elevated to a sacred position, the two states have been trapped into a stalemate of their own doing, as any progress on the issue is seen as capitulation by their respective populaces. Hence, this environment of distrust needs to be done away with in order to lay the groundwork for future cordial relations between the two states. It is indeed true that the big issues such as Kashmir, cross-border terrorism, Siachen, and Sir Creek need to be addressed, but they need to be buttressed by public support in favour of their resolution. Hence, the foreign secretaries should also come up with mechanisms that would increase people-to-people contact, one way of doing that would be making the mechanism of obtaining visa easy and quick. Moreover, cross-border cultural events should take place more frequently along with greater cooperation in the field of educational exchange. As people of the two states would frequently come into contact with each other, their bonds of empathy would strengthen as their obtuse stances of real and perceived animosity subside. The people of the two countries greatly enjoy the rivalry of the two states on the field of cricket, and this needs to be promoted by hosting sporting events more frequently. It is indeed true that sports can act as bridge of peace between Pakistan and India, and the two states need to make use of every available means of improving relations.

Meanwhile, the two states should move away from their intransigent positions over the Kashmir dispute and cross-border terrorism. Indian reluctance to not talk about Kashmir coupled with its emphasis to discuss the issue of cross border terrorism is often met by Pakistani resoluteness to talk about Kashmir. The two states should initiate dialogue and talk about all of the issues but they should also be prepared to meet each other halfway. India should realise that Pakistan is too important to ignore, and instead of dismissing its grievances with nonchalance it should try to find a solution. Pakistan should also acknowledge the fact that India is an emerging power, and it should seek rapprochement with the state as it not only promises great potential in the form of bilateral trade but also peace and security in the region.

Pakistan and climate change

On April 22, 2016, representatives from more than 175 countries showed extraordinary support to the international initiative on climate change. In addition to inking the Paris Climate Agreement at a ceremony held at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, world leaders also declared their resolve to combat the relentless rise in global temperatures. The historic occasion was also acknowledged by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, who described the accord as a “landmark in the history of our planet” to the international community.

The ceremonial acknowledgement was celebrated in a grand manner, which rightly suited the nature of this achievement. Nevertheless, now that the high-fiving is done with comes the hard stage: implementation of the promised reforms. The agreement calls for all countries to extensively work on their environmental agendas so that the emissions of global-warming, greenhouse gases can be reduced. Not only will it require the signatories to dramatically reform their economic policies, but also cost them a hefty investment of billions of dollars in researching new green energy techniques. Government of Pakistan should be applauded for taking the right call at the right time by signing the Paris Agreement. Amidst the present havoc the climate change is unleashing on the country, the authorities’ decision to address this catastrophe was both timely and much-needed. The manner in which heat waves are being predicted to hit Pakistan with an increased intensity every summer has further aggravated the threat of frequent flooding and melting glaciers. Hence, Nisar’s statement signals a stark shift in the official priority from ensuring an economic growth to developing a sustainable growth. Whether Pakistan amongst other developing countries will honour its pledge to reduce emissions or not solely depends on the administration’s dedication to the agreement. If Pakistan aspires to be a trustworthy partner in the global collaboration formed last week, it has to immediately initiate projects to actively pursue the declared goals.

The agreement requires Pakistan to periodically report its progress on achieving its targets so that they can be updated in 2020. Therefore, both federal and provincial assemblies should now start discoursing over Pakistan’s climate change policy, which will need both detailed strategies and concrete regulations with regard to the industrial sector. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had rightly pointed out in his opening address, the world community has indeed showed its willingness to sign an indispensable covenant to save their own future. However, the faster this willingness converts into solid action by individual governments, the more successful this endeavour will become. The dilemmas of the energy sector will also prove to be a major obstacle to Pakistan’s commitment. A significant gap already exists between the local electricity demand and the existing capacity of the hydropower units. In such times when thermal power is being regarded by many as the only viable solution of power crisis, the Paris Agreement has now coerced governments to act contrariwise and cut down such projects.

Debates over adaptations to climatic changes are already bouncing off many outlets, weighing their feasibility in the already economically distressed Pakistan. Yet again, it is not only the need of the international community but Pakistan’s own climatic emergencies that a comprehensive set of policies must be put into place. It is hoped that the Paris Agreement will also make Pakistan’s civil society to jump aboard the sustainability bandwagon so that they also influence the government machinery to start the green policies rolling.

Undeclared assets of politicians

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) released the assets list of the members of the National Assembly (MNAs) and Senators last week, which highlighted the total financial assets declared by political representatives, including Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan. According to this list, the PM is amongst the few billionaires with declared assets of approximately two billion rupees. Others in the billionaires club include Imran Khan, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, and federal minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Jamshed Dasti has the lowest amount of declared assets of approximately Rs. 3,000.

A couple of interesting things to note in this list was that Speaker of National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq’s financial assets were missing, and that PM Sharif’s wealth increased tenfold since 2011. Moreover, the PM does not hold any movable or immovable assets abroad; certain assets are declared in the name of his close relatives; and his London-based sons send a certain amount of money to his accounts in Pakistan. In light of the Panama Papers fiasco and the recent steps taken by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, the assets’ list of politicians already looks doubtful, as many of them seem to have hid certain assets from the accountability institutions such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The lavish lifestyle availed by some national leaders and other political entities do not match the assets they’ve declared with the ECP. For instance, the PM’s family owns a large business group but some of their companies have been running on hefty loans from banks for years. The PM was also found to be wearing a Louis Moinet watch worth 4.6 million dollars back in June 2013, and has a number of luxury cars ‘gifted’ to him and his family members. The offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands held by the PM’s children were initially disowned by them, and even Hassan Nawaz gave a vague answer regarding the companies, according to his October 1999 interview with the BBC’s Tim Sebastian.

As for Imran Khan, his assets are worth a little more than a billion rupees, and most of the income was generated in his cricketing days, and cricket commentaries that he did after retirement. Khan is the owner of a 300-kanal house in Bani Gala, Islamabad, ostensibly gifted by his former wife, Jemima Goldsmith. Other politicians such as Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman do not even own a single vehicle but still manage to roam around in luxury, bulletproof SUVs. The lavish lifestyles of most politicians who claim to be working for the public is a stark validation that for Pakistan’s political elite perks and privileges of holding political office are more important than doing tangible public service.

Those politicians who misuse their power for corrupt practices must be held accountable for their undeclared financial assets, as the country is already bleeding in terms of the economy due to hefty amount of loans from international banks. The alleged $200 billion in Swiss accounts stashed by some influential Pakistanis must also be returned to Pakistan, in order for Pakistan to get a helping hand — in the form of return of its own money — to enter a new phase of economic prosperity. Accountability must be prioritised for the long-term benefit of the economy. This is an ideal situation but the reality is how and when will it happen. The people of Pakistan await that day.

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