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Express Tribune Editorials – 26th April 2016

Climate change — and Pakistan

It is a race against time and time is running out fast. There may be those who still question that climate change is caused by human activity, but nobody anywhere in the world can deny that climate change is upon us, and its effects are going to vary from the merely inconvenient to the catastrophic with every gradation in between. Pakistan is one of the states at the forefront of climate change. The Himalayan glacial melt is going to affect the Indus river system that is the national backbone, floods are of increasing severity and frequency, and their effects long-lasting, and extremes of temperature push humans to the very limits of sustainability. Heat kills more and more every year. Thus it is that we welcome the signing of the Paris climate change agreement at the UN General Assembly. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the Assembly that Pakistan would establish a climate change council and a climate change authority, and that five per cent of the annual budget was dedicated to climate change activities.

As a vulnerable developing nation, the challenges are magnified for Pakistan, which is already grappling with a range of national emergencies from terrorism to the crisis in education and food insecurity. A chronically dysfunctional system of taxation means that the state is forever poor and corruption eats away at resources everywhere. Budgeting to combat climate change indicates a need for trillions of dollars worldwide to be allocated, and most of that needs to be spent in the developing nations, which are the most at risk. The Paris agreement is unique in that it has produced such a rapid response from potential signatories. The leaders of 175 countries have signed and the agreement could come into force years ahead of schedule. Much as we welcome this, there are caveats, most particularly around the ability to ring-fence dedicated finances for addressing climate change and protecting these from leakage, and the capacity to implement the necessary changes for effective interventions. This is a bullet that cannot be dodged. Act now.

PTV — in need of an overhaul

In the past 15 years or so, the electronic media in the country has seen exponential growth with countless TV channels now gracing the airwaves. The programming on the state-run PTV, however, appears to be unaffected by these changes and we continue to witness the same poor production quality, which has not changed in years. It has now come to light that in the past two years alone, with the advent of the PML-N government, the channel has suffered losses worth Rs1.12 billion. Nearly 70 per cent of PTV’s expenditure is reportedly on human resources, while a mere 30 per cent is on programming. It seems that either PTV suffers from the same affliction plaguing other state-run entities, that of overstaffing, or its employees are being paid disproportionately high salaries, not reflected in the quality of programming produced.

PTV has never been allowed to run independently and on the news front; it has only ever acted as a mouthpiece of the government of the day. This has led the channel to have negligible credibility and a poor reputation for impartiality. It is a shame that even when it comes to entertainment programming, the channel fares poorly. PTV does not even stand among the top 10 channels of the country, despite the fact that it has the advantage of huge penetration and can be watched in areas that are out of reach of other broadcasters. In the past, PTV has given us the best of Pakistani drama, and many of its productions are remembered decades after they first aired. It is hard to recall any drama production of PTV of recent times that could be compared to the programming of yore. It is high time that the traditional way of the powers-that-be, of viewing PTV as property of the government of the day, is reformed. Perhaps it is time to consider running it along the lines of the BBC, which despite being a state-run broadcaster, functions independently to a large degree. PTV runs on taxpayers’ money and it is important that it reflect the tastes and views of a broad cross-section of society.

Politics a-stir

The weekend of April 23-24, 2016 saw something of a stirring in the political ranks. Rallies in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore by the PTI, the Jamaat-Islami (JI) and the newly formed Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) all had a core theme of accountability. Primarily accountability relating to the Panama Papers (which it is worth noting entered the world as a criminal hack, not a leak) — and what if any taint may attach to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his extended family. The JI and the PTI made no mention of accountability in their own ranks, and the PSP starting from a political Ground Zero maintained that accountability must start from the grass roots — which nobody is about to argue with but hardly constitutes a policy statement. The PTI has announced a countrywide campaign against corruption to purge the country of dishonest politicians, the JI has announced something similar and the PSP, as yet a party without members of any elected body federal or provincial, is still at the nappies-and-bottle stage politically.

Mass street rallies such as this are the bread-and-butter of politics in Pakistan but they are also a way of looking busy while doing very little. The real work of change in an elected democracy has to be done in the assemblies, in parliament, in the tedious and unglamorous committee work and debates, and it is parliament that has been pushed to the sidelines. Change has to come about via constitutional means, it has to be codified in resolutions and legislation, and the entities of state at federal and provincial levels are the change agents, not street-corner rallies no matter how large or small. Party leaders of the current generation are not parliamentarians. They lead no great debates in any of the Houses, there is no debate worthy of the name and beyond ritualised mudslinging, there is a void at the heart of the democratic experiment. The chronic immaturity that dogs the development of the state overall is played out on parks and squares nationwide. Time to move on Pakistan — or be forever the Peter Pan state that never grows up.

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