Articles Regarding Pakistan

Thar: A drought-stricken district: 14 September, 2018 "Daily Times"

The drought has become a frequent phenomenon in Pakistan, especially in Sindh due to the climate change and an increase in pollution.

It is one of the factors responsible for poor growth performance in the country. Droughts occur if there is no rain during the monsoon season. Taluka of District Tharparkar suffered a severe drought in 2013 and 2014, which resulted in many crops dying in the area, further leading to food shortages.

The people of Tharparkar live on agriculture, livestock, and daily wages. An estimate of 30 to 40 percent of people are dependant on agriculture and cattle, respectively.

Due to food and water shortage, a large number of children died in Mithi Hospital who belonged to different parts of the district. Moreover, the whole district might succumb to famine crisis, unless immediate is action is taken to prevent it.

The Thar Desert is located 300 kilometers east of Karachi and runs up to the border of India. It is dominated by subsistence farmers who depend on beans, wheat and sesame seeds for survival.

This year again, Thar is suffering from droughts forcing people to migrate. Their livestock is also a victim of the climate, water shortage makes the animals weaker and prone to diseases. Reverse Osmosis (RO) is not properly working and more than 50 percent of water plants are out of order.

The Sindh Government in their cabinet meeting on last Monday declared Thar as a drought-stricken district  and issued notifications to combat the situation. Thar is located in a remote area which barely has access to basic facilities, thus the government and the NGOs need to provide extra provisions to the people.

In Tharparkar, the government has an opportunity to help the people before there is a major outbreak of disease. In order to do so, they need to implement policies that will increase the population’s resilience and livelihood, and thus reduce their vulnerability to climate change

According to sources, almost 323,435 families in Tharparkar and 43,240 families in Umerkot have been affected by the changing climate conditions. The government has decided to give out 50 kilograms of wheat to each family, every month.

The Chief Minister of Sindh told the Revenue Minister and the Education Minister to visit the people of Thar and devise strategies to help them; the same order was issued to the Secretary of Health and Food.

Thari people are the supporters of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the party won all the seats in the area except one. Therefore, the MPAs, MNAs, and the Sindh government are keen on helping them. Vaccinations, food packages, and other utilities are provided to them.

However, the majority is bereft of these necessities, especially those who belong to Mithi, Nangerparker, Diplo, Dahili, Islamkot, and Chachro. Moreover, the people from the aforementioned places are migrating to areas, where water is available to them and their livestock. In 2014, it was estimated that 35 to 45 percent of the people were migrating from these areas.

In Tharparkar, the government has an opportunity to help the people before there is a major outbreak of disease. In order to do so, they need to implement policies that will increase the population’s resilience and livelihood, and thus reduce their vulnerability to climate change.

Pakistan and the Middle East crisis: 14 September, 2018 "Daily Times"

Pakistan’s foreign policy generally centres on its relations with its immediate neighbours, especially India and Afghanistan, and with larger powers such as the United States and China. But Pakistan’s relations with the Middle East are evolving at a faster pace, with important implications for its security and economy. How Pakistan will react to the worsening regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as the current dispute between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), will have a major impact on stability in the near future.

The Middle East itself has experienced continuous political turmoil for decades. There are many contentious issues such as ethnic diversity, the individual interests of various sects, no reasonable delimitation of the boundaries between nations, the political and economic aspects of various superpower interests, the existing political structures in the ineffective form of dictatorial regimes, emigration, and wars, to name a few. All this has led to the distortion of ordinary life in these countries.

Many dictatorial powers in this region have oppressed people for decades and after years of cruelty, the people finally had had enough. They decided to rise up, leading to the overthrow of many dictators. This has since come to be known as the Arab Spring. Gaddafi, Morsi and Saddam were some of the notable names that lost power, yet the governments that took their place are still struggling to stamp their authority due to various political biases within the country.

The ethnic diversity that can be found here leads to divisions between the different communities and not even nationalism can unite them. This can be attributed to an error in the demarcation of borders by the colonial powers. Therefore, small autonomous groups can be found spread over different geographic areas.

The regime in Syria has led to the interruption of normal life for its citizens and, as a result, many people are choosing to flee these countries, travelling to Europe in large numbers in pursuit of a better life. On a global scale, Russia supports the regime in power in Syria, while the United States opposes it, and as both are considerably powerful countries, this has led to an impasse that is making it difficult to find a solution to this crisis. On the other side, the people fleeing the country are becoming a burden to their new nations, many of whom fear that the security will get worse with such a large influx of unregistered refugees.

More than 21,900 civilians have lost their lives to sectarian violence since 2003, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. In the 1990s, Pakistan became the first line of deference in a sectarian proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, while both countries offered financial and logistical support to Sunni and Shiite groups, respectively, as part of a wider struggle for influence in the Muslim world

Pakistan’s policy in the Middle East has largely been aimed at limiting the national consequences of sectarian tensions resulting from the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Pakistan is a Sunni-majority country, but Shiites account for about 20 percent of the total population.

The country has the second largest Shia population in the world after Iran. It also has a history of sectarian violence that includes violent clashes and spates of assassinations between Sunni and Shiite groups. More than 21,900 civilians have lost their lives to sectarian violence since 2003, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. In the 1990s, Pakistan became the first line of deference in a sectarian proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, while both countries offered financial and logistical support to Sunni and Shiite groups, respectively, as part of a wider struggle for influence in the Muslim world.

Because of this history, Pakistan is still wary of being dragged into power struggles along sectarian lines, as they are currently developing in the Middle East. The political and economic resurgence of Iran after the implementation of the nuclear agreement in 2016, and Iran’s willingness to participate in the power struggle in the recent conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen makes such a result possible in the foreseeable future.

Surprisingly, Pakistan seems to have acted intelligently during the Middle East crisis. They refused to take sides, and their parliament voted not to provide troops to the military alliance formed to fight terrorism in the region, as the alliance seems more anti-Iran than anything else. Pakistan did grant General Raheel Shareef permission to become head of the military alliance in 2017, but this appointment is more symbolic in nature than practical. The country has also offered to play a mediating role in order to end the latest Gulf crisis between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

However, Pakistan’s neutral position has also had an impact on its relations with the other countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, who expressed their aversion to Pakistan’s position in the military alliance. But they do not understand that Pakistan cannot afford to impede relations with Iran due to various geopolitical and economic factors and that they are home to millions of Shiite Muslims and such an alliance would lead to tensions between the different sects. In addition, Iran’s improving relationship with India, and its threat to CPEC could also not be ignored. In light of these factors, Pakistan’s decision was perhaps the best we could hope for in the given circumstances.

And on flows the river: 14 September, 2018 "The News"

The year 1979 was geopolitically seismic. America’s permanent haunt, Iran, and its sovereign, Raza Shah Pehlavi were overthrown in days by a rare revolution of the modern times. People rebelled, siding with Imam Khomeini in what was to be recognised as the Ayatollahs’ coup.

In the same month and year, another seismic exercise took place when the Soviet Union broke out of the shackles placed by cold-war adversaries by marching into Afghanistan – for centuries a buffer state between the British Crown and the Russian Czars – and occupied it. The West’s geostrategic gambit lay exposed and breached. Pakistan became the frontline in the ensuing American war to stem the Soviet advance, and an alternate to Iran as America’s station of war.

We gladly let ourselves into this service. This was nothing new. We had been an American ally, of our own will, since 1950, and it was natural to us to stand with the Americans and against the Soviet Union. Thus ensued the ‘80s. Pakistan had, after losing half its country to the Indians in an inspired insurrection, decided to choose the nuclear path to thwart war and keep a resurgent India off, just as India had decided to follow the route to deterring China to whom it had lost a war in 1962. Around the mid-80s it largely became known that Pakistan was a screwdriver-turn away from weaponising. India had already exploded a device in 1974. The Americans, as a declared principle of nuclear non-proliferation and surely as a strategic imperative, abhorred nations taking the weapons route. To them Pakistan was errant but their strategic compulsion to thwart the Soviets needed them to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. The US stemmed the Soviets, and Pakistan went to a turn-away only from weaponising. By the time the Soviets were vanquished, Pakistan was a nuclear power.

The Soviets vacated Afghanistan in February, 1989; the Berlin Wall came down in November the same year, and the process of the Soviet Union’s disintegration began. Pakistan was slapped with the first of the sanctions via the Pressler Amendment in October 1990 after the Soviets were truly out and withered. The Glenn and Symington amendments levied further sanctions in succession and sought further guarantees against Pakistan going nuclear, even though the deed had been done. This was the US catching up on its principles after having trumped them for its more pressing strategic security aims. Come 9/11 and the world changed as did America’s principles. The sanctions went out the window and a waiver to the Glenn, Symington and Pressler sanctions came on September 21, 2001. Pakistan was once again the apple of American eyes.

The period between 1990 and 2001 was the toughest for Pakistan. It not only marked an unstable domestic political environment but was laced with a lacklustre economy and tentative military preparedness under American military sanctions. In the bargain it subsumed a non-democratic government even as it looked the other way on nuclear and other matters such as militancy which had begun to find eminence in the politico-strategic environment of the region.

The war is still on though the 9/11 perpetrators lay buried. Newer evolutions have emerged even as the US continues to find reason to extend its stay beyond the invitation. That makes the strategic state more complex for the region but perhaps just at the right level for the US to continue project its presence. There is little at stake for it and the US mostly derives benefits even if it complains incessantly of how the continuing war denies it the chance to serve peace. In this scenario, its relationship with Pakistan is of choice, downgraded from the state of desperate need. Hence, the cavalier approach.

Secretary Pompeo was only testing waters here. Any hope of a resurrection of a relationship beyond it in the existing strategic environment remains misplaced and unexplained. India was an entirely another matter and most Pakistani analysts remain patently misguided when they descend to comparing the two relationships. With India, the American relationship is a developing story, ascending on the ascent and based on need.

With Pakistan, it is a dying relationship barely held in place on flimsy grounds in Afghanistan. The war there will only stop when the US wants it to; in the meanwhile, there is no harm for it in tasking Pakistan to work hard at making it happen. That keeps everyone busy. Those invested in unrestrained access to China in Pakistan are duly served as well. The carrot of the IMF remains another goodie in the bag in reward for good behaviour. But that’s them, the US. Pakistan is struggling to find other routes to its statehood even as it hopes that it can hold onto an open American window, just in case.

Commentators sought esoteric comparisons to how the two visits of Secretary Pompeo to Pakistan and India had gone. It helps to delve deep in the substance of the Indo-US dialogue to which Pompeo and his cabinet colleague James Mattis went. Such communication and security agreements were signed between Pakistan and the US years back because that is how commonality of equipment can be attained. How it shapes up shall be seen. So what does such state of affairs between the US and Pakistan mean? Precious little. Come another geostrategic cataclysm and all bets are off the superpower’s strangling management of its relations with nations of interest. Till it happens, and one may hope it doesn’t, it is just good to bide time and work on internal resolution of a conflicted domestic environment – without the shadow of the US, as indeed of any other big power. It is about time we gave up on big brothers looking over our shoulders. Now may be that fortuitous moment, de facto.

The foreign policy of a nation is like a river. It must flow along the lay of the land; it changes course over centuries, and if a change is imposed it invariably causes a disruption to the ecology around and may not sustain for too long. If a change is indeed intended to sustain, it must be based around dykes and ramparts strong enough to stand the fury of the natural flow. Yes, the water flow in the river changes seasonally, and when charged additionally with rains and snowmelt, but better plans will still contain it in its banks. When the river flows over and spills beyond the banks it is largely out of failure to contain its fury. Over millennia, though, rivers flow in a continuum, keeping their course.

Relations between nations are like the flow in a river. Sometimes they ebb and flow; at other times, they may only be a stream. How nature will divest a newer paradigm no one can predict, but what remains sure is that soon the streams will give way to a deluge and restore the river to its full glory. It is important to know how to contain such a deluge within its banks. When the flow is lean, though, time is to be bided; the river must keep its flow, even if a stream.