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Daily Times Editorials

Daily Times Editorials – 2nd May 2016

Pakistan against the climatic crises

Last year, Paris made headlines around the world for two reasons: the devastating terror attack on its civilians, which claimed 130 lives and left hundreds wounded; and the success of its climate conference in draughting a first-ever universal agreement on climate change. Both terrorism, as well as climatic changes, are increasingly establishing themselves as mighty threats to the existence of many countries including Pakistan. Nevertheless, neither Pakistani society nor its administration appears serious in its treatment of this conjecture on global warming. Climate change experts must have had this general oblivion towards the unchecked monster in mind, when they met the National Assembly Standing Committee on Climate Change. They briefed the parliamentary panel about the greater intensity of security threats posed to the Pakistani economical and societal futures by the ongoing environmental degradation when compared to the growing radicalism. These experts are not alone in prioritising the existential threat of climate change. Many strong voices, including the US President Barack Obama, were seen united in their resolve to pursue the Paris Agreement last week. Nevertheless, countries like Pakistan need to achieve much more than participate in such grandeur, if they aspire to get the climatic ball rolling. It is to the country’s misfortune, however, that its public opinion on climate issues remains strongly overshadowed by other security threats. According to a survey recently conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 25 percent of respondents in Pakistan seemed “very concerned” about global warming. Such widespread prevalence of ignorance is particularly detrimental for a country already struggling with a potential ticking time bomb of global climate change. The experts suggested the government bodies kick off mass awareness projects about global warming to counter the public nonchalance, in addition to designing special curricular units for school students. Moreover, the rapid deforestation in Pakistan has already started taking its toll on the local environment. In lieu of supplementing the existing green spaces across the country with additional plantations, expansive urbanisation has further dropped off its forest share to a mere four percent. Consequently, the concrete jungle has now converted many major cities including Karachi into urban heat islands–man-made furnaces, which further intensify the heat wave conditions. The high deforestation rate is also considered responsible for the ongoing destructive pattern of massive floods in succession to severe droughts in Pakistan. However, a significant legislation on these critical crises still remains a distant dream. The committee applauded the eco-friendly initiatives taken by the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in its pursuit of becoming a “green” province. Not only has its administration designed a mega reforestation project, with an aim to plant one billion samplings, it also plans to soon table a legislation outlawing the production of plastic bags. The federal government should also pay heed to the impending environmental crises and implement its pledged targets on an immediate basis. A much-needed first step in this direction should be setting forth legislations that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to authorising concrete regulations to mitigate emissions by the industrial sector, the administration should also institute an extensive afforestation campaign across the country. The civic society can also supplement governmental afforestation efforts by following the example undertaken by a small community of Piplantri village in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Over the past few years, their unprecedented crusade of planting 111 trees every time a girl is born has increased the local green cover by over a quarter million trees. In order to effectively combat both environmental as well as power crises, Pakistan should also develop its hydel power units by installing a greater number of small dams all over the country. Yet again, no significant progress can be achieved by the government unless it revolutionises the mindset of its citizens. The environmental issues are constantly being sidelined in favour of other pressing grievances. However, if the giant of climate changes is still not dealt with, it will further exacerbate all existing administrative problems. It is hoped that both people and the leadership of Pakistan soon start valuing their environment more significantly so that they can jointly strive towards its preservation.

Should the prime minister resign?

After an uncharacteristically subdued response of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) over the Panama Papers’ controversy, PPP’s co-chairman, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, finally lashed out at Prime Minister, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, and demanded that he stepped down. Meanwhile, there has been much hue and cry raised by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief, Imran Khan, as he remains convinced that the prime minister has been caught in alleged money laundering and embezzlement of public funds. The prime minister, on the other hand, has maintained that there is no wrongdoing on his part, and he will resign if he is found guilty by the inquiry commission that has been formed to investigate this matter. To muddy matters even more, military has become more active in the aftermath of the Panama Papers as its statement of “across the board accountability” and the sacking of army officers over alleged corruption, can be construed as thinly veiled threats to the democratically elected government. In a country in which democracy is yet to entrench itself, and the spectre of authoritarianism looms as an ever-present threat, it is important to not lose sight of the larger need for democratic continuity.

Pakistan’s history of democratic development has been a turbulent one, as for most of the time since its inception Pakistan has been under the rule of military dictators. The institutional deficiencies that this has created have largely been the main impediment towards Pakistan’s development. Not only have military governments further entrenched patronage politics, but they have also always failed at achieving the goals that they ostensibly set out to deliver. This is because they fall victim to a crisis of legitimacy, and with their departure all of their reforms are shunned as they have with them the label of authoritarianism. This means that democratic governments have to start from scratch, and all of the institutional damage that has been left in the wake of authoritarianism has to be corrected. Pakistan has only recently started to tread on this path, and this tenuous democracy has had to deal with the preponderance of the military in certain key policy areas. Nevertheless, since democratic governments have the power of the people behind them, they can gradually broaden their sphere of influence. The politics of the 1990s have shown us that confusion in parliament caused by snap elections and resignations of prime ministers only serve to strengthen the position of the ‘establishment’ while injecting uncertainty and chaos in the system. Hence, it is essential that the same mistakes not be repeated, and governments be allowed to complete their terms.

The haphazard nature of the politics of the 1990s was made possible because political parties at that time were willing to take political office at any cost, and this more often than not involved undermining each other. Khan’s PTI, disturbingly, has taken on this role as his ‘dharna’ (sit-in) politics have shown that he would go to extreme lengths and use every opportunity to demand the resignation of the prime minister. On the other hand, the PPP has shown a commitment to the democratic system and with it support for the current government’s right for political office. However, Bilawal’s statement points to a turning point in the PPP stance, as it appears to confront the prime minister with hyperbolic hostility that is the trademark of political system of Pakistan. It is true that a robust opposition is the cornerstone of an effective democracy, and it is its role to keep the government on its toes, however, demanding that the prime minister resign before the verdict of the inquiry commission is announced would only serve to weaken the democratic system. It is true that the PML-N has not exactly been the torchbearer of democracy, but it also must be realised that it is in the prime minister’s interest to be responsive to the public as he has to turn to them for their vote. The prime minister has shown this responsiveness as he recently suggested that the inquiry commission could start its proceedings from him and his family. It may not be so absurd to suggest that this concession was not out of feelings of selflessness but rather out of the need for public approval. At the end of the day, the Panama Papers have not revealed anything new as the prime minister and his family have been facing these allegations for a long time, and voters were cognisant of them when they voted for the party in the 2013 elections. Hence, faith in democracy must not be lost as democratic development promises gradual improvement but for that it needs continuity. And for the sake of continuity, the system must be protected and the prime minister must be allowed to resume office as long as he is not proven guilty.

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