Dawn Editorial 18th July 2023

Shrinking spaces

OF late, an uptick in incidents tied to religious intolerance has reignited concerns regarding the state of minorities’ rights and worsened feelings of insecurity among practitioners of minority faiths. Reports of the desecration or destruction of places of worship frequented by non-Muslims — although now a regular feature in our news cycle — seem to have picked up in frequency in recent months. More violence can be expected as deteriorating economic conditions precipitate social anxieties, which can create an atmosphere of heightened intolerance. It is in this context that two recent incidents involving ‘attacks’ on Hindu temples have caused alarm in their local communities. On Saturday morning, the Hindu community in Karachi’s Soldier Bazaar neighbourhood woke up to find that there had been an attempt to raze a temple built more than a century ago. Then, in the early hours of Sunday, a Hindu place of worship in Kashmore, Sindh, came under assault by suspected dacoits, armed with rocket-propelled grenades.

Though the Karachi incident was attributed to a land dispute, and the Kashmore incident was later portrayed as ‘collateral damage’ from a clash over a protection racket, the locals affected by the two incidents have been left shaken and believe they were targeted. Article 20 of the Constitution promises every citizen the right to manage their religious institutions, and the state is bound, under Article 36, to safeguard the rights and interests of minority communities. While it may be that there were no religious motives for the targeting of these places of worship, the state still has a duty to assure the respective communities that it will safeguard their interests and ensure their well-being. No citizen should live under a cloud of fear simply because of the belief system they have chosen to adhere to. In a broader context, the state needs to be more proactive in protecting our minority communities, which seem to be facing constant restrictions on their ways of life.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2023

Pakistan-Iran security

ONE of the major irritants standing in the way of improved Pakistan-Iran relations is the presence of armed malign actors active along the common border of both states. These include criminals such as drug smugglers, as well as armed militants subscribing to both separatist and extremist ideologies.

Deadly confrontations between these elements and security forces are common, which often result in the loss of both Pakistani and Iranian personnel.

Therefore, it is understandable why border security was a dominant theme during army chief Gen Asim Munir’s recently concluded visit to Iran. The COAS met the Iranian president and foreign minister, as well as Tehran’s top generals representing both the regular army as well as the Pasdaran.

As per an ISPR statement, both sides “vowed to eradicate the menace of terrorism” along the common border by sharing intelligence and enhancing cooperation. This is the second high-level exchange between the leaderships of both states in recent months, as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and President Ebrahim Raisi met in May to inaugurate the Mand-Pishin ‘border sustenance market’.

Mr Raisi again reiterated the need for “safe economic borders” during his meeting with the COAS. However, whenever there are such top-level exchanges, spoilers are never far behind.

For example, following the Sharif-Raisi meeting Iran lost a number of security men in a terrorist attack in Saravan near the Pakistani border, while in April at least four Pakistani personnel were martyred in Kech in an attack by terrorists apparently operating from Iran.

The best way to monitor the border area and prevent terrorist and criminal violence is for both militaries and foreign ministries to liaise closely, as was promised in Tehran during the army chief’s visit.

Through intelligence sharing and better coordination the security situation in the border areas can improve, so that malign actors are not able to use either country’s soil to harm the other.

Militant groups and actors supported by hostile states will continue to try and vitiate the atmosphere, which is why the leaderships of both states must redouble their efforts to pacify the border region.

Alongside improving the security situation, promoting economic activity will also be beneficial for the underdeveloped parts of both Sistan-Baluchestan and Balochistan.

Through increased trade and people-to-people contacts, Pakistan-Iran relations can be deepened, provided that both states jointly tackle the problem of terrorism and violent crime.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2023

Rains again

SINCE the first monsoon spell began less than a month ago, weather-related incidents have already claimed around 90 lives across the country and caused significant damage to property, crops and livestock.

Punjab is the worst-hit region where more than 50 people died in rain-related events, followed by at least 20 deaths in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to flash floods and landslides.

National disaster agencies have warned of more rains, thunderstorms, landslides and high-level flooding in the rivers including the Sutlej, Ravi, Chenab and Jhelum in the coming weeks.

The rains are aggravating the already tough conditions faced by communities affected by the 2022 floods, at a time when the government is scrambling for funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction.Last summer’s floods killed over 1,700 people and washed away homes, crops, livestock, roads and bridges worth more than $30bn. The world promised to provide Pakistan $10bn, mostly in the shape of loans, at a conference in Geneva back in January to help the government’s efforts, but only a fraction of these pledges has been disbursed since ‘assistance’ for the flood-affected people was tied to the approval of the IMF bailout.

It still remains unclear if and when the pledged amount will materialise even after the IMF agreed to provide the $3bn funding facility. The heavy rains expected could slow down recovery in the areas where a large number of people displaced by last year’s deluge still live — without shelter, food, healthcare and jobs.

The International Rescue Committee has warned that the floods could affect 9.1m people this year, spreading disease and triggering more food shortages in a country where food insecurity is becoming an overriding concern.

Ranked among the top 10 most vulnerable countries on the Global Climate Risk Index even though it is responsible for less than 1pc of global greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan has suffered economic losses of $29bn in the last three decades due to climate-related disasters (excluding last year’s floods) that have affected 75m people. These estimates by the World Bank do not include the damages caused to biodiversity, ecosystems and coastlines.

Each new disaster forces thousands of children out of school, causes epidemics, and leads to severe food shortages. With the impact of climate change increasing in intensity, as evident from last year’s deluge, policymakers need to invest heavily in dealing with the scale of these disasters, with or without international help.

That said, the richer nations must realise that what is happening in Pakistan — or other countries on the front line of climate change — will not be limited to vulnerable states. They must not only pay for their contribution to global warming but also radically cut GHG emissions as agreed to at various international forums.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2023

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