Dawn Editorials 30th May 2023

Trees in the shade?

FOR years, successive tree plantation policies have come up short. Nevertheless, the latest effort to go green comes from the Sindh Forest Department; it has announced the Sindh Sustainable Forest Management Policy (Amended) 2023 — purified of clauses that encouraged ‘agricultural activity’ on “forestland in riverine area”. The scheme takes aim at cultivation, which denudes sizeable expanses of green cover, resulting in sequential devastation and climate crises. Last month, satellite images of Sindh’s riverine forests uncovered a sad 80pc depletion in the province, in places such as Matiari, Surjani, Sadhuja Reserved Forest, etc. Interestingly, the scheme was reported in the same week as news of the timber mafia pulling down trees across Pakistan; it even struck decades-old trees in Hazro near Attock as well as countless eucalyptus trees along the Hazro-Gondal road allegedly in connivance with forest department personnel.

Activists have pointed to the Forest Act 1927 as an alarming statute — rife with ambiguities and in dire need of revision, it provides free rein to mafia crimes. Meanwhile, villagers lament decreased riverside bird variety and habitation and damaged livelihoods as trees provide fodder for bees and their livestock. Collective influence must be brought to bear on authorities to apply plans with urgency and to stamp out environment crimes. Lawmakers, civil society and climate advocates must take the lead in the protection and proliferation of such crucial natural resources. Forests have an integral role in the carbon cycle. When harmed or hacked, carbon absorption isn’t merely disturbed, it ceases and carbon reserves in the felled tree are discharged as CO2 as the wood is either set alight or left to decompose. Finding a way out of a thicket of corruption and complacency is a long road. Any attempt at improving forest cover cannot succeed with impediments like poverty, unemployment and lack of energy alternatives. Pakistan’s trees have to grow beyond paper to thwart disaster.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2023

Erdogan’s victory

THOUGH he managed to win the presidential run-off by a whisker, Recep Tayyip Erdogan will stay in Turkiye’s driving seat for the next five years, cementing his two-decade-old rule. The campaign was a tough one, though the opposition coalition, led by the Kemalist CHP, was unable to dethrone the ruling AKP. What was particularly of concern were the toxic remarks of some of the contenders targeting Turkiye’s Syrian refugees, as well as ‘terrorism’, which is a euphemism for the country’s Kurdish separatist movement. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the runner-up in the presidential poll, despite his stated secularist and liberal credentials, started targeting migrants in a last-ditch attempt to capture the ultranationalist vote. But now that the dust has settled, Mr Erdogan has his work cut out for him, particularly in delivering for all of Turkiye’s citizens, and working to stabilise the tanking economy.

It is not wrong to say that Mr Erdogan has emerged as Turkiye’s most powerful leader since Mustafa Kemal. Though parts of the Western media have painted him as an autocrat, the Turkish president’s record is mixed and includes some major achievements, as well as flawed decisions. For one, Mr Erdogan and his party managed to establish civilian supremacy in a country that regularly witnessed military interventions. In this respect, there are many similarities between Turkiye and Pakistan. Over the decades, the Turkish military has, directly and indirectly, sent four civilian governments packing. And like Pakistan, Turkiye shares the dubious distinction of sending an elected prime minister — Adnan Menderes — to the gallows. The AKP managed to checkmate the generals and ensure that they stay within their constitutional bounds. An anti-Erdogan coup was also attempted in 2016, which was thwarted, though the Turkish leader used the opportunity to make short work of his opponents, particularly members of the Gulenist movement, whom Mr Erdogan blamed for the aborted putsch. Tens of thousands were subsequently arrested and purged. Mr Erdogan was also a major supporter of regime change in Syria, a policy which backfired and resulted in millions of Syrian refugees crossing over into Turkiye. From hereon, the Turkish leader should foster a climate of political reconciliation, and work to fix the ailing economy. Inflation is going through the roof and the lira is plummeting, which means that the Turkish voter will be expecting solutions to resolve the painful economic crisis.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2023

Judicial quarrels

THE rift within the Supreme Court shows no signs of healing. With the incumbent and incoming chief justices still seemingly jousting over issues big and small, plaintiffs and petitioners can only pray that they do not get trampled like the proverbial grass during an elephant fight.

The schism in the top court has distracted the institution’s focus away from its core responsibilities, leaving a vacuum in the trichotomy of power. This bodes ill for a country suffering protracted social and political unrest.

The superior judiciary is supposed to be the voice of wisdom and restraint in testing times: instead, it is displaying an inability to get over what is seen as personal differences to agree on a basic modus vivendi.

The matter of elections to the KP and Punjab assemblies has been the judiciary’s biggest challenge this year. It is disturbing how little progress it has seen despite the chief justice himself presiding over the relevant cases. The continuing inability of the court to enforce a straightforward rule enshrined in the Constitution has depleted the institution’s prestige and power.

Deadlines have come and gone, yet a decisive resolution remains elusive. It was clear from the beginning that there never was a legally defensible reason to delay elections beyond the 90-day deadline.

A quick, clear ruling on the matter could have spared the country the unrest seen in recent weeks. Instead, the judiciary showed weakness by failing to contain or, subsequently, address its divisions, which the government and its enablers have treated as a carte blanche to subvert the law. It has remained unable to regain its footing after that initial blow.

Those caught on the wrong side of today’s powers have been complaining about a gradual breakdown of the legal order. While Pakistani rulers, the PTI included, have displayed a general contempt towards rules and laws, it cannot be denied that the judiciary’s present inability to stand firm and united has greatly emboldened lawbreakers and made them seem invincible.

As a result, the judiciary has been questioned at every level in recent days by an executive acting as if it is untouchable. Release orders, bails, habeas corpus rulings, and so on have been treated with disdain, signalling the rapid breakdown of the idea of the separation of powers as envisioned in our Constitution and the quiet ushering in of a more authoritarian system of governance.

Those at the very top of the judiciary must realise that their space and power are being encroached upon while they quarrel. A full court meeting must be called post haste to chart a path forward. The judges must talk over their differences and close ranks. The institution is quickly being compromised; they may not have long to act.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2023

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