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Express Tribune Editorials – 3rd May 2016

Disappearing forests

The forests of Pakistan are disappearing faster than you can say ‘matchstick.’ The National Assembly has roused itself from its perennial torpor regarding matters environmental and assorted members have poked sharp sticks at the forest wing of the Climate Change Ministry, saying that it has failed to control deforestation at provincial level. At a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Climate Change, parliamentarians said that the illegal logging that was widespread in all afforested areas of the country was simply impossible without the active collusion of forestry department officials. The lawmakers rejected the claims by forestry officials that the logging was all controlled by “mafias” along with local politicians and described the evidence presented as “unconvincing”. It is a racing certainty that ‘mafias’ and local politicians are involved, but it is the central role in illegal logging played by those supposedly there to conserve and protect our trees that concerned the parliamentarians.

Any regular visitor to the forests of Pakistan over the last 20 years will have not failed to notice the loss of trees. Noticed the increased sliding in areas of bare slopes that regularly block the roads in periods of heavy rain. Noticed the silted rivers and streams. Noticed the increase in urban flooding and land erosion generally. The damage done to the natural environment is valued at countless billions of rupees, there is no quick fix and accelerating effects of climate change nationally are only going to get worse. The buck stops for this one at the ministry for climate change, and it is up to the ministry to intervene hard and fast if the brakes are to be put on what is turning into a national disaster. Trees are not replaced overnight, and even the ambitious planting programme in Khybher-Pakhtunkhwa can take up to two generations — fifty years — to reach its full potential even if it is comprehensively implemented. Deforestation is yet another self-inflicted wound.

Quiet changes in Iran

The run-off elections in Iran have served a sotto-voce notice on the hardliners in and out of parliament that their day whilst not yet over, is not indefinite. The moderates and reformists have gained a working majority in the Iranian parliament for the first time in over a decade. The supporters of President Hassan Rouhani won 42 per cent of the 290 seats, which is a whisker short of an outright majority but sufficient to pass the legislation he wants to get on the books. The so-called ‘Independents’ took almost 30 per cent of the seats and a high percentage of them are also said to be reform-minded. Most significantly, women fared particularly well taking 17 seats, more than at any time since the 1979 election. Eleven of the women are considered to be ‘moderates.’

The result is perhaps all the more surprising, at least in terms of the moderate and reformist gain, when it is remembered that most well-known reformists had been banned from running in the elections and there was a complete lack of media coverage of the moderate campaign prior to the elections. The moderates ran their campaign in the place where their core constituency spends its time — on the internet. The younger generation and women in particular have voted for change, but it is not coming overnight. A result such as this against a background of profound hardline resistance to change is itself an indicator that the people of Iran are more than ready to put the Day of the Cleric, if not behind them, then on the back burner at least. The win could be short-lived if President Rouhani is unable to deliver on his electoral promises, and much will turn on the degree of implementation of the myriad clauses and sub-agreements in the nuclear non-proliferation deal struck last year. Not all sanctions have been lifted and there are still unelected groups that are against any sort of deal and will try to derail President Rouhani. Iran has had an election, not a revolution. Moderation won — and now has to make the victory stick.

The rumble in the political playpen

The air is thick with flying teddies in the political playpen. Rattles and cuddly toys are hurled right and left. Yes, the cream of Pakistani politics is having one of its periodic regressions to infancy and abandoned, for now, the always-lukewarm experiment with parliamentary democracy. The trigger for all this rambunctiousness is the Panama Papers, which look set to provide endless fun in the playpen for months to come. The aforesaid papers raise any number of questions for the ruling family (let us not delude ourselves, Pakistan is an extension of the family business so far as the Sharifs are concerned, the politics is something of a distraction), which are unlikely to be answered this side of hell freezing over.

Rather than rising above the fray, the prime minister has waded in along with members of his cabinet. Government ministers have been less than charitable about the Shaukat Khanum hospital, a charitable institution founded by Imran Khan, the leader of the PTI. For its part, the PTI has maintained a discreet silence about the fact that one of its own starlets, Jahangir Tareen, is a man with a clutch of offshore companies himself, an exercise in shoddy hypocrisy if ever there was one. The also-ran in the bust-up in the nursery is the PPP, but it is not above throwing the soft furnishings around either. Nobody has bothered to mention the other 200-odd Pakistanis also squirreling away their assets offshore.

Any pretence of political maturity has been abandoned pro tem in favour of a sterile exercise in political point-scoring played out nightly on TV chat shows where a revolving cast of talking heads blather at one another to no great effect. The PML-N could have wrapped itself in the cloak of dignity and the prime minister at an individual level could have made a greater show of transparency rather than creating the cloak of invisibility that was the proposed catch-all inquiry that nobody with an ounce of prescience was going to sign up for. Now is the summer of our discontent, the ‘adulting’ button on the playpen set to ‘paused’.

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