India has refused to accept the proposal made by Punjab’s Environment minister Zakia Shahnawaz’s to collaborate under the umbrella of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on the issue of smog that has affected lives of the citizens on both sides of the border.
The provincial environment minister suggesteda strategy could be devised at the SAARC level to tackle issue of air pollution and smog. The Indian counterpart’s reaction was disappointing to say the least. Once again, a vital issue was linked to terrorism.
Hostility in Pakistan-India relations have increased in the past few months. Foreign Minister Sushma Sawaraj’s statement before United Nations General Assembly accusing Pakistan of serving as a terrorists’ producing factory further affected the already tense relations between both countries. Indian leaders have been issuing provocative statements against Pakistan.All efforts to improve bilateral ties have found little traction under Modi government.
There are occasions when playing the blame game makes little sense. And, the current crisis of smog that has engulfed areas from Lahore to Delhi needed regional cooperation. In fact climate change necessitates that the two countries work together to mitigate the impact of weather changes.Experts have been saying that smog is no longer just an India or Pakistan problem but it is a regional issue. Therefore, Pakistan was right in demanding the revival of SAARC deliberations to chalk out a long term plan. It is unfortunate that India didn’t stop the usual Pakistan bashing and gave a hostile response to the latter’s sincere suggestion.
It is still not too late. We hope that the saner elements in Indian parliament and civil society will urge the Modi government to give up its short-sighted point scoring formula. SAARC needs to play a major role in making regional states work together to protect the environment and prepare for climate change. The billions who live in South Asia deserve better. *
Published in Daily Times, November 12th 2017.