Dawn Editorial 15th February 2024

Revitalising the Indus

IN a much-needed development for the overexploited and climate change-ravaged Indus river, the UN has included Pakistan’s Living Indus Initiative among its seven World Restoration Flagship programmes. The LII was born in 2022 out of a comprehensive consultation process, involving academia, experts, stakeholders, and provincial governments. Spearheaded by then climate minister Sherry Rehman, the initiative was ambitiously pegged as the country’s largest climate project, aimed at addressing the multifaceted environmental challenges plaguing the ‘mother of the nation’. The river’s ecological degradation has posed severe threats not only to biodiversity but also to the livelihoods of the millions who depend on it. The Indus has tragically come to be known as the second most polluted river in the world.

The LII, with its 25 priority interventions, targets a holistic restoration of the river basin. From nature-based resilience agriculture to combating industrial effluent and promoting green infrastructure, the initiative aims to revitalise the Indus, ensuring its sustainability for future generations. The UN’s involvement brings invaluable technical and financial assistance to the LII. With the UN’s backing, the LII is poised to restore over 30pc of the Indus basin by 2030. Central to the importance of the LII’s mission is the rich biodiversity of the Indus basin. It is home to 195 mammal species, at least 668 bird species, and over 150 fish species, including 22 endemic ones and the endangered Indus blind dolphin. These species, many of which are unique to the region, are in urgent need of concerted efforts to protect and restore their habitats. As we welcome the global recognition and support for the LII, it is imperative to remember the stakes involved. The health of the Indus river is intrinsically linked to the prosperity of Pakistan and the well-being of its people. It is one of our most critical natural resources and must be jealously protected. Our survival depends on it.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2024

PTI’s options

WITH post-election deal-making in high gear, all parties are weighing their options, and the PTI is no different, even though it faces circumstances decidedly different from those of other political formations. While PTI-backed candidates in the national and KP assemblies form the single biggest blocs, Imran Khan’s party is eager to shed its ‘independent’ status and link up with other parties in parliament. Amongst other reasons, the PTI wants to block defections, and to capture its share of women’s and minorities’ reserved seats. Party leaders had said they were looking to ally with the MWM and Jamaat-i-Islami in the national, KP and Punjab legislatures, but this will not be easy. For one, JI’s Liaquat Baloch said on Wednesday that his party was not interested in working with the PTI in KP. There is also the fact that after recounts, JI no longer has representation in the KP Assembly. Moreover, regarding the partnership with the MWM, though the latter is keen to work with Mr Khan, this can only be possible in the National Assembly as the MWM has secured one seat in the Lower House. In Punjab, it has no representation. In KP, the PTI has the numbers to form an independent bloc in the House, and potentially form the government. Regarding its hopes of securing women and minorities’ seats, this may not be possible as per the Elections Act.

Under the circumstances, where the PTI lacks street power to stage protests, its best option is to wage its battles to rectify ‘rigged’ results through the election tribunals and courts. There may be weight in many of its claims of discrepancies on election day; it must now prove these in court. In the National Assembly, the party could play a constructive role as a strong opposition force. It may claim to have a two-thirds majority, but as per the official results, it falls quite short of the numbers needed. There were indeed major flaws in the pre- and post-election process, as well as on polling day. Only if it is successful in overturning the ROs’ decisions in a significant number of seats and improving its numerical strength can the PTI think of ousting the PML-N-led government inside parliament. Otherwise, the PTI dream of again forming the government at the Centre will have to wait.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2024

Staged show

THE country barely survived the trailer; now, it appears, a full five-year show has been penned for PDM 2.0. There is little that can be considered new or improved, and there are very few changes in the cast: the PML-N will once again take the lead under Shehbaz Sharif, with the PPP content with reprising its supporting role.

There will be the usual favourites — parties that were first herded into the PTI government, and then into the PDM: MQM, PML-Q and BAP, as well as familiar faces from the IPP. The directors will continue calling the shots, especially on critical matters like the economy and foreign affairs.

Their ‘backing’ will be the glue that holds the rickety government together, with legislation likely to be reduced to an on-demand farce. This ragtag bunch of ‘patriotic’ politicians will soon resume their mission of ‘saving’ Pakistan, despite making a hash of it the first time around.

It will be grating not only to PTI sympathisers, who voted for change, but also PML-N supporters how this arrangement has come to pass. The latter were told that these elections would usher in Nawaz Sharif’s fourth term as PM. Instead, it seems like his party ended up using his name and stature to strengthen another candidate’s hand.

Mr Sharif may have had an idea he was not the ‘preferred choice’, which could be why he did not campaign as aggressively as he was expected to. The manner in which his victory in this election was announced also seemed designed to put him in a corner. It is puzzling, though, why the seasoned politician did not refuse to play once it became clear he was being manipulated.

His decision to, instead, give the government to Shehbaz Sharif was a sad reminder of all that he had achieved and was made to lose over his career. Still, he has ensured that his daughter will get a head start. The Sharifs have deemed Maryam Nawaz ready to take over as Punjab chief minister— a major responsibility. It remains to be seen how successful she is in regaining lost ground.

Meanwhile, the PPP has emerged as the most astute of the lot. It is likely to secure several constitutional posts despite refusing to carry the PML-N’s baggage.

The other parties will also be accommodated, most likely through various ministries: the PDM’s last term, too, had featured an obscenely bloated cabinet. But how will the alliance address the country’s challenges this time around?

It will not be easy to tackle economic despair, social fragmentation, deep political polarisation and having to please allies while governing with a dubious mandate. Another big challenge will be to demonstrate some stability to international lenders. Has it learned from experience, and will it do a better job?

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2024


February 21, 2024

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