Dawn Editorial 10th July 2023

Drugged drone

IT seems we keep pace with avant-garde methods to circulate evil. Having used every other way on land and sea — from drug mules to ships — we have now turned to the latest technology. On Friday, a drone laden with six kilograms of drugs worth millions crash-landed in Lahore’s Halloki area in Kahna town. Footage shows a large cluster of yellow packs attached to the narco-flying machine. Even though international law and law enforcers are not entirely prepared for drug drones, an inquiry to chart out its course such as the point of take-off, operation and planned station was announced by the police. Certainly, it is difficult for smugglers to compete with law-enforcement methods, but they do manage to stay a few steps ahead of their chasers, by sea, land, air and now mid-air.

The fresh component of drug operations will make it challenging for the police and the Anti-Narcotics Force to hunt down drug networks and more crucially, to prove possession if the illicit substance carrier is being operated remotely. The ANF will have little choice but to prosecute an accused for aiding and abetting the offence, which is a potentially weak argument. The force has to match trafficking inventions with a new drone policy that cuts in on narco-submersibles, already detected in Spain, so that illegal, unmanned flyers are proscribed and their operators punished. Lyari’s ephedrine scorcher proves that the forbidden substance business flourishes with political and police patronage. Therefore, its source and support will neutralise any strategy. The drug trade is a fatal war on humanity and mass awareness is the way to fast-track the undoing of the powerful. However, the sudden appearance of a drug drone should not be startling. In fact, the ANF should raise pertinent questions: how long have these been in use? It should know that when these fail — in this case, crash — the smuggler will always have a new ploy up his sleeve.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2023

Ukraine’s Nato bid

WHEN Nato leaders meet in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday, they will be confronted with an uncomfortable question: how far should the transatlantic alliance go in extending membership to Ukraine? Certainly, the Ukrainians, led by their President Volodymyr Zelensky, are lobbying Nato members intensely in order to secure the coveted membership to the club. Yet many powerful members of the Western camp, while issuing statements about ‘unity’ and ‘solidarity’ with Ukraine, know that accepting Kyiv into the alliance would mean a direct war with Russia — a conflagration that would be far more devastating than the current conflict, and would likely lead to war in much of Europe. Officially, the Western states say that Ukrainian membership can only be considered once the war with Russia is over. But deep down they know that letting Kyiv into the club now or later would mean crossing swords with a nuclear-armed Moscow one day, as Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty speaks of collective defence: were Ukraine to become a Nato member and hostilities with Russia continued, other Nato states would be obliged to come to Kyiv’s defence directly. That is not an attractive thought for most Western capitals.

For sure, the Western bloc is playing a cunning game in Ukraine. The Nato states are taking advantage of Russia’s ill-advised invasion of its western neighbour to wear down Moscow. For example, the US has just allowed the delivery of cluster munitions to Kyiv, even though many within the American administration acknowledge that these weapons “create a risk of civilian harm”. Germany has opposed the decision, as has the UN secretary general. The cluster bombs are the latest in a series of sophisticated Western weapons that have reached the Ukrainian battlefield to supposedly teach Russia a ‘lesson’. While these weapons deliveries do raise the chances of a direct clash between the West and Russia, a formal invitation to Ukraine to join Nato would be a considerable escalation. Therefore, it would be highly inadvisable for the military bloc to issue the invitation to Kyiv in Vilnius. The fact is that the growing threat of Nato and its arsenal near Russia’s borders was a major trigger for Vladimir Putin’s invasion. Extending an invitation to Ukraine would only deepen the crisis, and threaten the security of Europe and the wider region.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2023

Food concerns

THE government has put into gear a new strategy, backed by the army and financed by the food-deficit Gulf countries and China, to tackle critical issues of low agricultural productivity, food insecurity and food imports.

The Land Information and Management System–Centre of Excellence, launched on Friday, will focus on transforming how farming is done in Pakistan with a view to optimising agricultural output for improving domestic food security and creating exportable surplus for the Gulf states and China.

It is being financed by Saudi assistance of $500m. The GIS-based initiative aims at enhancing modern agro-farming, and utilising 22m acres of uncultivated state land. The government is expecting huge investments in agriculture from the Gulf and China under LIMS.

It is perhaps the first multipronged strategy designed to simultaneously target urgent challenges related to agriculture: growing food insecurity, a surging food and agricultural import bill and diminishing export surplus. The success of the new scheme is projected to address these issues to a large extent.

While the LIMS initiative is a step in the right direction, its scope is likely to remain confined to the foreign-funded agriculture projects under it — mostly for producing exportable surplus for investing nations. With food insecurity rising in the country — the World Food Programme has said that 37pc of Pakistanis are food-insecure and one-fifth of them are facing a severe food crisis — it is imperative for policymakers to quickly design strategies to deal with long-standing, deeper structural issues such as climate impact, soil erosion, land fragmentation, lower crop yields, etc, All these are pulling down Pakistan’s important agriculture sector.

This becomes even more critical as the population is projected to grow to 367.8m by 2050. The surging population has already put unbearable pressure on the food system, and food insecurity in the country is billed to worsen in the coming years unless remedial steps are taken now.

With the country’s agriculture sector characterised mostly by smallholder farmers, the rise in the demand for food has to be met either through an increase in yield or expansion in cultivable cropland. Pakistan needs to work on both as climate change, resulting in droughts, floods, uncertain weather patterns, etc, is likely to increase the already considerable stress on the food supply system.

There is no doubt that the government needs to encourage the utilisation of uncultivated state land to boost crop output. Besides investing in swathes of wasteland to make them cultivable, it must also put a stop to the encroachment of agricultural lands by sprawling housing schemes.

A lot is required to be done to ensure food security and create exportable agricultural surplus. The LIMS initiative is only the first step. The next one should focus on strengthening the capacity of agricultural research institutions to increase yields.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2023

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