The Express Tribune Editorial 22 December 2020

Climate refugees in S Asia


Contrary to what is being recommended by experts about the need for effective steps to reverse the disastrous effects of climate change, most governments appear to be bucking serious attempts at environmental regulation, thereby aggravating the crisis and setting in a train of disasters. The recent years have seen a significant rise in people migrating from rural areas to urban centres.
South Asia is one of the worst-affected regions where more and more people are moving from villages to cities mostly due to economic reasons. The trend is expected to grow as by 2050, some 63 million people in these countries could be compelled to leave their homes as rising seas and floods swallow villages and lack or excess of rains destroys farming, says a report. It does not include those who would be forced to migrate due to cyclones and other such disasters. It would push an increasing number of the rural poor into cities in search of work. People from villages move to cities in search of a better future, but their dreams are soon shattered as in cities they live in slums where social services are scanty and they hang on to low-paid work. This calls for increasing job opportunities in rural areas so that people don’t have to migrate.
The report urges the rich North to cut their carbon emission to reduce global warming and provide funds to South Asian countries to enable them to cope with the effects of climate change. If global warming is reduced by the agreed below 2 degrees Celsius, the number of people leaving their villages in South Asia could be brought down by half by 2050. Already a sizable number of people in Bangladesh have been forced to leave their homes after their land was swallowed by the sea. Many have found new homes in far-away countries. The report has underscored the need for reducing the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Unfortunately, what is being witnessed is that vested interests are exploiting disasters for their own benefit.



For Afghan peace


Pakistan has been reaching out to all Afghan stakeholders as part of its facilitative efforts to ensure progress towards an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement in Afghanistan. The visit to Pakistan of Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, in September, and that of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former Mujahideen leader and two-time PM during the 1990s, in November came in the same context. Prime Minister Imran Khan had also telephoned President Ashraf Ghani on December 16 and assured him of Pakistan’s all-out support for the ongoing Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.
The telephonic contact between Imran and Ghani coincided with the start of a three-day visit to Islamabad of the Taliban Political Commission, headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The delegation had important meetings in Islamabad, including with the foreign minister and the prime minister, during which a way forward regarding the peace process was discussed. The recent engagements had become all the more important in view of some new developments in the context of the peace process. These developments include the change in the White House and its likely impact on Washington’s decision to pull Americans troops out of Afghanistan; hiccups in the peace talks in Doha; and a recent surge in violence in the war-ravaged country – 60 per cent in the past two months, according to the UN.
Just as the Taliban were wrapping up their Islamabad visit on Friday, a rickshaw bomb blast killed at least 15 civilians, including 11 children, in Ghazni province. More recent though is a car bombing in Kabul on Sunday. An Afghan lawmaker survived the attack in which nine people lost their lives. Separate bombings were also reported on Sunday in the provinces of Logar, Nangarhar, Helmand and Badakhshan, in which a number of civilians and security personnel were killed and injured.
This clearly shows that spoilers are at work in Afghanistan, and all stakeholders need to beware of it.



PM’s warning


Prime Minister Imran Khan repeated a warning for India and a ‘heads-up’ for the rest of the world — Pakistan will give a “befitting response” to any Indian “false-flag operation”. Imran’s warning follows several days of Pakistani officials speaking about the threat of an Indian operation designed to divert attention from the “internal mess” that the Narendra Modi-led government has gotten itself into. And what a mess it is. Leave aside Modi’s horrifically cruel policies in occupied Kashmir. Leave aside the attacks on civilians and even UN observers across the Line of Control. Leave aside his failed Covid-19 response. Leave aside the crony capitalism that has become a hallmark of his government. The ongoing farmers’ protests alone are enough to bring down most governments.
The protests are against new policy proposals that small farmers feel will let big corporations gobble them up and deprive them of their livelihoods at a time when urban workers rendered jobless by Covid-19 are being forced to return to farming. It also ties into the fact that while most countries see a transition to manufacturing as the dominant labour employing sector as their economies develop, India has not done so. This is largely due to the Modi government’s poorly-crafted economic policies, which went all-in on the tech sector. Technology is a famously low employment generator, meaning that good jobs for low-education workers were already few and far between before Covid-19.
When the economy tanked after the pandemic began, farming was a buffer for people returning to their villages. Hitting farmers meant people who suffered through the pandemic felt they were being punched down again. It is true that even Indian farmers agree that the sector needs reforms to make it more productive and less reliant on the government. But this is not the way. The current reforms involved no input from farmers, and it shows. They were only designed to further enrich Modi’s wealthy corporate backers. Modi did not expect backlash because he thought his Hindutva policies would be enough to maintain support in most rural areas. But not all farmers are Hindu nationalists, and even if they were bigots, they need to eat too.

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