Articles Regarding Pakistan

Resurrection of terror: 10 June, 2019 "The Nation"

The Pakistan Armed Forces, through their highly successful Operations Zarb e Azb and Rad ul Fassaad, have largely pacified the western and north-western stretches of Pakistan. This has created the desired environment for CPEC’s next developmental phase to start. Pakistan, arguably, is set for the road to economic recovery. However, irritants and hickups like the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and others keep propping up to create unwanted diversions for it.

The PTM’s emergence as a “saviour” of Pashtun rights, in the presence of total and comprehensive Pashtun representations in the KP Assembly, the National Assembly, the Senate and all other possible political fora and tiers at the tribal, local, provincial and national levels defy all sense and logic. Its grievances could have been addressed adequately at any one or more of these levels. Then why this proclivity towards rabble-rousing and militancy? Its militant agenda, jingoistic ethnic and anti-Army proclamations, aggressive political rhetoric and its astonishing domestic and international reach and support reflect its ulterior motives, ultimate objectives and perhaps its origins and raison d’eter, too!

What then is its actual intent?

Is it the resurrection of terror in FATA and Balochistan to destabilise Pakistan and consequently disrupt and destroy the CPEC-BRI? Is Pakistan, the CPEC-BRI, China or are all three the ultimate targets? Is the PTM a willing accomplice of hostile-to-Pakistan countries and their intelligence agencies or an unknowing, innocent conduit to either or all objectives? Or is it the proverbial Trojan Horse that will revive terror, subvert Pakistan and disrupt its economic recovery from within? This situation portends very serious and ominous strategic connotations for Pakistan. It must deal with it ardently and expeditiously.

At the strategic level, the development of the CPEC-BRI is seen with unrestrained concern and anxiety by the US-India Combine, whose individual interests converge unreservedly in a destabilized and economically weak Pakistan and a derailed CPEC-BRI. A successful CPEC, the flagship project of the BRI, will be seen as a forerunner of an economically viable BRI by the world, encouraging other Asian, African and European countries to sign up with it. This will expand China’s sphere of influence emphatically and decisively with massive economic, geostrategic and geopolitical dividends. The US considers this a direct threat, an affront to its singular position as the sole global political, economic and military Super Power. The issue will get further compounded with China’s presence on the Mekran Coast and, as expected, its militarization at some later stage. That would have very far-reaching geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic consequences directly impacting world oil trade through the Hormuz Straits/Persian Gulf and global East-West trade through the Indian Ocean, amongst others. China’s strategic reach will thus enlarge manifold and its emergence as a two-ocean state would create gargantuan challenges for the US in the Greater Middle East and Indo-Pacific Regions!

On the other hand, India has singularly failed to establish its hegemony over Pakistan even at the Indo-Pak sub-continent level much less at the South Asian or wider extra regional levels. These Indian failures and incapacities have been exemplified to India itself, especially to its Armed Forces and the world at large, at Balakot and thereafter. It knows that it cannot dominate nuclear Pakistan politically, diplomatically or militarily. So, the only option left to it is to disrupt Pakistan’s economic revival. To that end, India has always endeavoured to destabilize Pakistan through multi-dimensional means. At the international level, it has launched a diplomatic and media offensive, albeit unsuccessfully thus far, to isolate and demonize it as a state sponsor of terrorism. At the regional level, it has used Afghanistan and Iran (and their intelligence agencies) to export terror into Pakistan. At the bilateral level, it has created a perpetual warlike situation across the LOC and Working Boundary. Within Pakistan, it is recognized as the main sponsor and instigator of militant/terrorist attacks. The Indian policy is to so mire Pakistan in multiple diversions that it’s economic revival and recovery are conclusively stunted. This brings it to the CPEC which if successful would take Pakistan beyond its “prospective sphere of influence, domination, hegemony, dictation and obedience,” forever. Therefore, it is in India’s vital interests too, to scuttle the CPEC and by implication the BRI!

The interests of the US-India Combine thus stand unified; currently, the PTM provides them the desired platform to secure them!

The PTM phenomenon, despite its ostensibly modest origins from a backward area of Pakistan, has demonstrated a surprising reach at the local, national and international levels. Its sublime use of the electronic, print and social media and the vociferous support it gets from some western media houses is very intriguing. Its attacks on Army installations and personnel are meaningful. Its ability to organize protest meets all over Pakistan and in western capitals/cities like Geneva, London, New York, Brussels, Amsterdam etc is indeed unfathomable. All this has a striking albeit not-so-surprising similarity with what the BLA did a few months ago!

Where do these similarities, the funding, the international reach, the international media support, the organizational capacity, the communication networking, the administrative excellence and the wherewithal for all this effort originate from?

PTM’s demands are quite frivolous, indeed. Naquibullah Mehsud’s murder is sub-judice and should be pursued in the court of law. A truth and reconciliation commission is within the purview of the Federal/Provincial Government which may be approached. “Missing persons” have been turning up dead in terrorist attacks on Pakistan, its Armed Forces and its LEAs! The Army is already removing landmines. With no Check Posts, the unrestricted movement of terrorists and their deadly paraphernalia would ease the revival of terror there. Furthermore, withdrawing the Pakistan Army from the region echoes the demands of the TTP and its sponsors - the NDS-RAW Combine and other hostile intelligence agencies. Is the freedom of action to resurrect terror in Pakistan the real desired end state of this sponsored PTM phenomenon?

Pakistan must engage the PTM politically and concurrently proceed against all of its supporters who attacked Pakistan Army’s installations and killed/wounded its soldiers.

Is Pakistan prepared?: 10 June, 2019 "The News"

If safety protocols are ignored in the food value chain, starting from its production till consumption, it could lead to many disastrous diseases. Food-borne diseases pose a major threat to human population globally. Besides lack of nutrient concentration, the quality of food is the immediate cause of widespread infections in the world.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years. Moreover, children under five years of age carry 40 percent of the food-borne disease burden, with 125,000 deaths every year.

The UN decided in a resolution on December 20, 2018 that June 7 would be marked as World Food Safety Day, with an objective to create awareness regarding the impact of safe food on health. As a double burden, Pakistan also shows the same picture and indicators when it comes to early-years malnutrition. The Nutrition Survey 2011 shows that Pakistan is persistently faced with high, rather worsening, rates of malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies, particularly among women and children. With persisting malnutrition numbers, the lack of availability of safe food is compounding our problem.

One of the best safe measures to avoid the burden of diseases caused by poor quality food is the provision of packaged food, which shows the quality of food origin or the course of its development. Moreover, in addition to safety, packaging determines longevity of the food hence avoiding wastage.

The situation can easily be understood by taking the example of milk. Milk is considered one of the staple foods of Pakistan; and its safety and quality is very important to avoid burden of diseases caused by its poor quality. Statistics reveal that approximately 56 billion liters of milk is produced in Pakistan each year, out of which more than 90 percent is consumed in a loose and untreated state. This quality of milk poses major health threats. As milk is rich in nutrients, it is highly susceptible to bacterial contamination. Hence, it is highly recommended to process milk through pasteurization or ultra-heat treatment to eliminate bacteria and microorganisms and to provide it to consumers in some form of aseptic packaging that can maintain the quality of the milk till it is opened and consumed.

It is striking to note that in Pakistan only five percent of total milk produced is sold in hygienic packaged format, whereas the rest is sold loose without any quality checks. Considering the significance of providing safe and healthy milk, the prime minister has also highlighted the issue of general milk adulteration in his recent speeches and emphasized on the provision of safe milk to avoid preventable burden on health economics.

As food safety standards are regulated at the government level, the role of regulatory authorities becomes vital in this regard. However, it is recommended to take industry expertise on board to bring in necessary scientific knowledge for an inclusive approach. The Punjab Food Authority has already banned loose spices and made it obligatory to sell spices in packets with all basic necessary details written on them. The same action is needed for adulterated loose milk.

As an example, India has targeted selling 70 percent milk as packaged by 2025 under their National Dairy Plan. Turkey is another example to follow as their percentage of packaged milk grew from 30 percent of the total dairy sector in 2002 to 70 percent in 2012 and the government is fully supporting the sector through subsidizing dairy farming and providing a conducive tax regime (VAT exemption) to make it affordable for the people.

As a lesson learnt, Pakistan can also follow Turkey's pathway and adopt the right policies for the provision of healthy food in the form of safe milk. Budget 2019 is fast approaching; this is the right time for Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government to stand by his words to address the malnutrition prevailing in the country. Strong collaboration between governments, producers and consumers will be an added factor to certify food safety. Effective monitoring by regulatory authorities and strengthened lab facilities to check the quality, enforce harmonized food laws and control food adulteration will definitely make a significant impact to build a healthy nation.

The post-Modi possibilities: 10 June, 2019 "Business Recorder"

Modi once again. The possibility of a slogan became a reality. And it was expected. What was not expected was the landslide victory of BJP. Many analysts had felt that Modi’s right wing stance, his poor performance on agriculture and jobs and the victimization of minorities will slim his margin considerably. The opposite happened. The success of Modi’s campaign is going to be analyzed for a long time but the fact remains that Modi has come back with a big political bang and power. This bodes all sorts of tidings for the Indian domestic politics and its foreign policy. Most analysts feel and fear that the success of right wing stance will push India even further away from its fading secularism. 

Modi’s victory is significant in many ways. Firstly, it reinforces the global wave of right wing leadership. Post Trump era and Brexit have created a model of global discontent with the existing system. There is a rebellion against globalization that has created a very unequal world and that rebellion has been manifesting in rejecting globalization for localization through nationalism. The resentment form a large majority that has faced joblessness and inequality has taken the shape of closing minds and doors to outsiders who may be of different origin or religion. Australia and Italy are other countries which are seeing a resurgence of nationalistic voter trends. 

India’s elections are an interesting study. Unlike the west where jobs and employment have become a sore point for voters to reject foreign migrants etc, Indian voters chose to ignore these economic realities. Modi had failed to create the jobs he promised for youth. Poor farmers also felt let down. These were the two points on which the opposition was running their campaign. Modi was clever to realize that he could not defend this non-performance and decided to make these economic issues irrelevant and secondary for the voter. His campaign became a presidential race where he made National Security the biggest issue, over-riding all other issues. He presented a logic that was unbeatable, i.e., who can make India secure and communicated it through the “Chowkidar” campaign theme. For most Indians this nationalism was irrefutable. Modi contrasted well with Rahul’s reluctant, dynastic and weak political image and thus won a landslide victory. 

The questions are: Will Modi continue with this victory theme? Will Modi show some relent in his attitude in foreign policy especially towards Pakistan? Will Modi keep his anti-secular approach despite winning a comfortable majority? The answer is normally that only time will tell. However some analysis can be done based on the previous history and personality of Narendra Modi. As far as the victory theme is concerned Modi is most likely to stretch it till he can. Economy always takes time to spur up and jobs are not something that can be created on order. Thus the likelihood is that to buy time Modi will keep the national security rhetoric up till he can. This also has a bearing towards India’s relationship with Pakistan. 

Many analysts felt that Congress being secular in its approach would have presented a better opportunity for dialogue with Pakistan. However, an examination of both BJP and Congress party manifestos shows little change. While BJP did not mention a particular foreign policy, Congress manifesto clearly outlined “isolation of Pakistan as a center piece of their Pakistan policy with unilateral, limited military action against “terror groups” inside Pakistan when needed”. However, under Modi even though unwritten, the policy that has won him a landslide would logically continue. The Pakistani Prime Minister was quick to congratulate PM Modi reiterating the desire for peace and prosperity in the region. PM Modi was quick to respond and thank but we all know these are just standard operating procedures. 

That there will be a re-start of the communication is evident. The meeting between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Sushma Swaraj at Bishkek was an indicator of that. She did not walk out or avoid the Pakistani Foreign Minister, and informal sweets were exchanged to reduce the bitterness prevailing in the recent past. PM Modi decided not to include the Pakistani PM in the inauguration invite list. A meeting, nevertheless, is likely on the sidelines at Bishkek on 13th-14th of June. The initial indicators are all pointing to a historical pattern where India will just do the bare minimum to keep up with international protocol but will not have a meaningful dialogue to resolve pending issues especially Kashmir. 

What are Pakistan’s options to pre-emptively neutralize a stronger Modi narrative against Pakistan? This has been and will be a huge challenge. India has market might economically and a politically foil prop up ability against China. Under these circumstances Pakistan can adopt a three pronged approach: 

1. On the economic front Pakistan has to counter the economic scale of India with first of all putting its house in order and ensure sustainability in the next two years. In this period an all out push on the international diplomacy is required. China, CPEC and BRI are main collective market attractions for investors being lured to Pakistan and Pakistan needs to position itself as the gateway to all these roads and corridors. 

2. Politically Pakistan needs to take initiatives of leading in key regional alliances. OIC summit where the Middle East conflicts are being discussed is a forum where Pakistan has acted as the unity ambassador who can mediate between different factions. Similarly, Pakistan needs to look into Russia, Central Asia as supports for its international resolutions. 

3. Pakistan needs to build its no-tolerance for terrorism narrative strongly. With FATF actions being taken by the government, there are hopes that Pakistan may be able to avoid a placement in the black list and eventually get out of the grey list. All these actions need to be communicated through the right channels to the international influencers. 

These are challenging moments in a very fragmented international relations world. Pakistan can emerge favourably if a designed International Relations strategy is in place. The narrative during the Balakot incident of Pakistan being a peace ambassador needs to be propagated with the right diplomacy, lobbying, communication, media and social media tools. As they say, in every adversity lies an opportunity. 

Prioritizing the planet: 10 June, 2019 "Daily Times"

As Muslims across the world celebrated Eidal-Fitar on 5th June, the UN celebrated World Environment Day. Since 1974, every year, the day has been marked out in an attempt to encourage awareness and actions for the protection of our environment. But the day serves as little more than a decorative piece on the shelf of our guilty conscience. By now we are very familiar with ‘save the planet’ slogans. Global warming is no longer a new concept. Yet, how many of us are willing to take out the time and put in the effort to save the planet we inhabit, or at least prevent its destruction even further?

The Blue Macaw is officially extinct; the chirpy parrot named Blu popularized by the cartoon Rio will forever be a fantasy for our future generations. Giraffes have officially been recognized as endangered species. Small humans in large numbers managed to threaten the very existence of the world’s tallest mammal. I still remember seeing giraffes chew leaves off enormous trees in Kenya as a child. The sheer height of the animal is breathtaking. Soon children will only be able to see giraffe shaped stuffed toys. According to the International Union for Conservation (IUCN), the number of giraffes has been reduced by 40% over the last 30 years.

It is expected that in the next 100 years half of the world’s animal species will become extinct. Many are being hunted in large numbers while most are dying to due to large scale deforestation and severe pollution. And Pakistan is not exempted from the consequences of these grave environmental concerns. Sindh’s pangolin has now been added to the list of our native animals under threat. The anteater is being poached for it scales which are smuggled to meet the high demands in China. One kilogram of pangolin scales can be sold for over 150 USD. Last year in October the Sindh Wildlife Department seized 16 bags filled with pangolin scales during a raid. But protecting the pangolin is a very small aspect of a much larger problem.

Increasingly our fishermen are finding dead fish entangled in plastic bags and choked on plastic caps. Indus is now the second most polluted river in the world. By 2050 it is expected that there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s seas. A significant proportion of the environmental crisis stems from our seemingly innocent everyday activities. Pakistan consumes over 55 billion plastic bags in a year according to the Environmental Protection Department. Fossil-based plastics are non-biodegradable and can thus remain in the environment for up to 1,000 years. At the same time we are tearing down our forests faster than anyone else in Asia. According to a report by WWF,61,000 hectares of forest land have been converted to non-forest use since 1947. If deforestation continues at this rate, experts have warned that Pakistan will run out of forests within the next 50 years. But does it all matter?

Pakistan consumes over 55 billion plastic bags in a year according to the Environmental Protection Department. Fossil-based plastics are non-biodegradable and can thus remain in the environment for up to 1,000 years. At the same time we are tearing down our forests faster than anyone else in Asia

If the plants and animals continue to vanish, eventually the entire ecosystem will collapse. An Australian think-tank, Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, has already set the beginning of the end of human civilization as 2050. So something needs to be done. But in a country where violence against children and women is on the rise, the former Prime Minister is sitting in jail, and the electricity bills just keep growing, protecting the environment is not a thought that often crosses a citizen’s mind. When the issue does come under discussion, the immediate reaction seems to be pointing fingers at the government-be it federal or provincial. All responsibility is dumped upon the government. But do we as citizens owe nothing to a land we call home?

Governments (federal and provincial) no doubt should put measures in place which will help Pakistan prosper for they are elected for that very purpose. Protecting the environment comes under this umbrella. Subsequently, KPK has banned the use of plastic bags and Prime Minister Imran Khan is forever encouraging citizens to plant trees. Perhaps the initiative can be strengthened by the government enacting a legislation compelling citizens to plant trees as has recently been done in Philippines. A new Filipino law requires all students to plant 10 trees in order to graduate.

But why does it always have to be the carrot or the stick? Why can we not proactively take some responsibility ourselves, without laws compelling us to? I have often seen people sitting in cars pull down their windows and throw trash on to the streets. Time and again I have faced the same ridiculous argument: ‘What difference will it make, everyone does it.’ But every droplet makes an ocean. The government can keep cleaning but the beaches will always be filthy if we continue to litter. If you can use the dustbins in London and Dubai why leave the parks and stadiums in your own country littered with trash? Why not plant a tree? Why not refuse using plastic spoons and cups? Why not put your grocery in a reusable bag made of cloth?

Individuals and corporations seeking to make a change can have an immense impact even if the governments fail to act. Some local businesses have recently adopted more environment-friendly practices and their efforts are laudable. Espresso, a famous coffee house chain in Pakistan, has switched to recycled paper straws instead of plastic straws. Why can’t others follow suit? Last year the clothing store Sapphire introduced environment-friendly biodegradable bags which were infused with plant seeds. These bags could be buried in soil and watered to grow plants. Why can’t other brands in Pakistan work to promote such environment friendly practices? A little effort by each individual can go a long way. We can prevent the planet from being destroyed further. We just need to get our priorities right.