Dawn Editorial 7th July 2023

Fixed matches

MUCH like the rug was pulled from under the PTI-led government in Azad Kashmir, the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly now seems to be in the crosshairs of those who want to drive out the last vestiges of the beleaguered party from all corridors of power. The PTI’s chief minister in the region was recently dismissed on a fake degree charge. A subsequent vote to elect his replacement has been blocked by force in circumstances that can only be described as a farce. After the manner in which a ‘regime change’ was effected in neighbouring AJK, as well as the manner in which the mayoral elections were conducted further down south in Karachi, there seems to be little point in discussing which party has how many seats and what the calculus of power looks like in GB. It already seems a given that whatever the powerful wish to happen is what is eventually going to happen. The ‘short-circuiting’ of the GB government is a fair indication of the direction the entire country can soon expect to be frog-marched in come general elections; those who stand to benefit have a vested interest in looking the other way.

Is this how the country is to be run, then? Could there be a greater insult to the people of Pakistan, who would still very much like to be in charge of their own destiny? The custodians of the federal government should remember that it does not take long for times to change. In ripping up the rulebook in their blind zeal to completely neutralise an opposing political force, they are digging a very deep hole for themselves. The precedents they are setting will greatly enfeeble Pakistan’s already weak democracy, and may one day be used to destroy these same parties. When that happens, no charter of democracy will save them from retribution. They must demonstrate that while power is temporary, the rules will always stay permanent.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2023

Urban flooding

PAKISTAN is no stranger to urban flooding. All Pakistani cities — from Karachi to Lahore to Peshawar — have faced urban flooding during the monsoons for several decades.

However, in recent years, climate change has brought with it more intense and uncertain weather patterns, exposing urban populations to increased risk of loss of life, livelihood, and property, with instances of urban flooding on the rise.

If the massive deluge that drowned most parts of Karachi for several days in August 2020 wasn’t proof enough, the unfortunate loss of at least 26 lives in Lahore, and elsewhere in Punjab, in the last two days of downpour clearly shows that the scale of the threat posed to city dwellers by pluvial flooding — which occurs when the surface water accumulating from intense rainfall saturates urban drainage systems, and excess water can’t be absorbed — is increasing with time.

The problem is compounded by unplanned urbanisation and unregulated development, growing city sprawls, inadequate storm water drainage systems, sewerage lines clogged by solid waste and encroachments, alteration of natural drainage routes owing to haphazard construction, and poor urban governance. While the natural factors are to blame for intense and uncertain rainfall, the disaster is purely manmade.

With the number of people living in the urban areas increasing rapidly — owing to a high population growth rate and migration from the rural areas — and cities projected to house half the Pakistani population by 2050, the rising incidence of urban flooding presents a major challenge to planners.

The solution demands a paradigm shift in existing urban development policies that must look much beyond building roads, bridges and signal-free corridors for car owners and encouraging city sprawls for the wealthy.

Each city requires a master plan to augment the water-carrying capacity of its sewerage and storm water drainage systems in view of the increasing intensity of rainfall, to protect green spaces, drain excess rainwater, discourage urban sprawl, improve solid waste disposal and management, enhance the capacity of civic agencies, and so on.

Most importantly, the country’s collapsing cities need vibrant and financially and administratively autonomous elected local governments for better urban management and planning.

Without tackling the myriad problems our cities are facing in a holistic manner and improving urban governance, the piecemeal measures are unlikely to eliminate menace of pluvial flooding anytime soon.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2023

Jenin incursion

ANOTHER day, another massacre. This is the violent reality that perpetually confronts the Palestinian people. While the Israeli war machine usually reserves its barbaric wrath for the impoverished coastal enclave of Gaza, this time it was the West Bank city of Jenin that was subjected to state-sponsored violence. Trouble had been brewing since last month, when Tel Aviv had dispatched helicopter gunships to the West Bank in a brazen escalation of tensions. But on Monday, the Israelis launched a brutal two-day assault targeting the Jenin refugee camp, ostensibly to hunt down Palestinian fighters. What ensued is typical of the one-sided violence that has marked this decades-old conflict, with Arab civilians facing the unrestrained cruelty of Israel’s military.

Perhaps it should be a relief that ‘only’ 12 Palestinians were killed — including several children — as over 1,000 Israeli troops descended upon Jenin. Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed, while Jenin’s infrastructure, including water, electricity and sewerage networks, lies in ruins. According to the UN, intentional attacks directed at civilians not taking part in hostilities come under the ambit of war crimes. Unfortunately, the UN’s human rights chief issued a tepid statement, meekly urging Israel to “minimise” the use of lethal force. Washington’s reaction to the blitz was expected, with a spokesperson defending Tel Aviv’s “right to defend its people”. Clearly, for those who trumpet the sanctity of the international ‘rules-based order’, there are different rules for different situations. When geopolitical enemies indulge in atrocities, there are howls of protest and sanctimonious calls to sanction and punish the perpetrators. But when friends, such as Israel, butcher civilians and flatten residential areas, the ‘right’ of these comrades to defend themselves is underscored.

Israel is mistaken if it thinks such brutal actions will dim the Palestinian spirit of resistance. In fact, each time Tel Aviv strikes, Arab fighters vow to strike back, and often deliver on their promises, thus perpetuating the circle of violence. The two-state solution, or whatever remains of it, has little chance of success when the Israeli establishment considers Palestinians as subhuman, worthy of extermination and collective punishment. Shockingly, Israel’s extremist national security minister was quoted as saying recently that ‘terrorists’ (his ugly euphemism for Palestinians) must be ‘eliminated’ “if necessary even [in the] thousands”. This ominous threat sounds like a plan for a mass anti-Arab pogrom. The international community apparently lost interest in a viable Palestinian state a long time ago. Yet, can those with a conscience globally at least speak up for the Palestinians’ right to life and dignity? To be recognised as human beings and not be subjected to wanton Israeli violence? Or will Palestinian civilians continue to be endlessly killed and maimed in Israel’s elusive quest for ‘security’, as they remain silent?

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2023

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