The Express Tribune Editorial 12 December 2020

Expanding mangroves


Pakistan is the only country in the world to have increased the mangrove cover, a recent study has revealed. The study conducted by the Worldwide Fund for Nature-Pakistan in collaboration with Institute of Space Technology and Society for Environment and Mangrove Protection and Welfare Association shows that Pakistan has increased the area under mangrove trees over the past 30 years.
In 1990, mangroves were spread over an area of 477 square kilometres and now they cover an area of 1,463 square kms — a significant increase of 300%. This is indeed an achievement considering the fact that mangrove forests across the world are disappearing. Since 95% of the country’s mangrove forests are in the Indus delta in Sindh, the credit for the spectacular achievement goes to the provincial government and non-governmental organisations. The mangrove cover in the Indus delta has increased by 986.36 over the past three decades, expanding by 3.74% on an average annually.
The study has covered five coastal areas — Indus delta, Sandspit, Sonmiani Khor, Kalmat, and Jiwani — from 1990 to 2020. Over the years, various studies have shown that mangrove forests across the world are disappearing at an annual average rate of 2%. In Pakistan, two of the eight indigenous species of mangroves have become extinct. Mangroves have disappeared mainly as a result of human activities such as cutting mangrove trees for firewood, grazing and overfishing. Climate change too is contributing to the destruction of mangroves.
Coastal mangrove forests provide protection from tsunami and cyclones, prevent soil erosion and intrusion from the sea, absorb carbon dioxide, other harmful gases and dust and release oxygen into the atmosphere and help keep fishing channels clean thereby contributing to breeding of good quality fish. They also help in mitigating climate change. Thus they protect the ecosystem in multiple ways. The weather is always temperate inside mangroves and in areas close to mangroves. Mangroves have identical and moderate temperature whether it is summer, winter or the rainy season.



Disinformation campaign


A staggering report by a well-reputed European non-profit has uncovered a vast influence and disinformation campaign working to promote Indian interests and harm the country’s opponents. Chief among these opponents is Pakistan, with China appearing in a distant second. The NGO — EU DisinfoLab — could not confirm the extent of the involvement of India’s government or intelligence agencies, but the investigation was still eye-catching. The campaign primarily relied on “dead media, dead think-tanks and NGOs”, and in a few instances, “dead people”. This investigation is actually a follow-up to a report they put out last year, which noted that a New Delhi-based company called Srivastava Group was operating a network of about 265 fake local news sites in over 65 countries.
That finding was actually accidental. The researchers were actually investigating possible Russian disinformation relating to the Russia Today news channel and website when they noticed its content was being republished on a website called EP Today. When they looked into EP Today — which posed as a publication focused on the European Parliament — they found a network of sites and NGOs linked to Srivastava Group. This included the mysterious International Institute of Non-Aligned Studies ‘think-tank’. For those unfamiliar, this think-tank sponsored a visit by far-right members of the European Parliament to Indian Occupied Kashmir in October 2019. It was the first time any local or foreign politicians were allowed into the region after Article 370 was repealed.
The new report shows that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Srivastava Group apparently tried — poorly — to cover their tracks after first being outed. EP Today has apparently been replaced by EU Chronicle, which publishes similar fake news and biased ‘real’ content by most of the same fringe authors and MEPs. But while the first report only found fringe and fly-by-night NGOs and ‘news’ sources, the new report says that at least 10 NGOs accredited to the UN Human Rights Council are actually being managed by the Srivastava Group. In most cases, these were once-genuine NGOs that essentially died out and had their identities “hijacked” by the group.
One of the more ridiculous examples was of the Canners International Permanent Committee founded in 1938 to promote scientific innovation and progress in the canned food industry. It was disbanded in 2007 but came ‘back to life’ in 2016. Its website shares IP addresses with Srivastava-owned websites and was suspiciously registered, the investigation found. We even punished ourselves by looking at their speakers’ appearances at UN meetings since then. It was all ludicrous anti-Pakistan speeches, without one word about the noble tin can. In another case, noted lawyer and anti-war activist Louis B Sohn was reported by Srivastava websites to have criticised Pakistan at events in Geneva and Washington in 2007 and 2011, respectively. The only problem is that Sohn died in 2006.
The report also found that ANI — one of India’s biggest news wire services, which is also considered to be in the pocket of the BJP — gives regular coverage to these hijacked and fake NGOs. These stories are then picked up by mainstream Indian media. Also worth noting is that the researchers did not exonerate Pakistan, noting that “inauthentic behaviours supporting Pakistani interests” are also easily found. But it does still show how, despite some very real societal human rights problems in Pakistan, fake news is peddled by Indian interests to make our problems look much worse than they are. Meanwhile, they are actively covering up Hindutva terrorism and New Delhi’s very real crimes against its own citizens

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