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COVID-19: A Lost Opportunity

The epidemic turned pandemic pushed economies into a lockdown, which helped save lives and slow the spread of the virus, but also triggered the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1920s. IMF’s forecast predicts global output to fall by 4.9% and the path to recovery is uncertain. More than 80 countries are now opening at the same time when the second wave is in full swing. With no vaccine in sight and uneven impact of the disease across countries and industries, there seems to be no end in sight to our suffering. At this turning point in history, the world is plagued with nationalist populism, that not only fights science, but also looks down on empathy and compassion. 

No surprise that many of these leaders tried to downplay the disease. But no matter how strong the masquerade, covid-19 exposed the systemic inadequacies, exploitation and inequalities of the system. Optimists hoped that this may be the dawn of a new era. In all ingenuousness, it looked as if the virus had brought the capitalist framework to its knees, but facts suggest otherwise. Rather, the exploitation intensified and wealth burgeoned in the hands of the select few. 

Mother nature’s final warning before the impending doom was paid no heed. The corona pandemic was an opportunity for the world leaders to sit back and delve deep into introspection; to look within and beyond national borders; to muster up the courage to challenge nationalism and populism; to embark on a journey to fight inequality; to look beyond religious and ethnic fault lines; and most of all, to take climate change seriously. None of that happened.

What was afforded to us as a second chance, to right our wrongs, was wasted recklessly and with no mercy. By 2050, Pakistan will be one of the worst hit countries due to climate change, forcing mass immigrations from low-lying areas and unpredictable flash floods. Karachi urban flooding was just a trailer of what is to come. Rather than collaboration, we witnessed political mudslinging, and among all this hue and cry, we have forgotten the underlying issue.

Just like this, the entire world from the global North to the global South has a memory like a sieve. As opposed to looking at the causes of the pandemic, they are busy in continuous pettiness and selfishness of their agendas. Exploitative capitalism, which has consolidated more than half of the world’s wealth in the hands of just 6 people or corporations, has further strengthened its position. Wealth of people like Jeff Bezos reached new heights, but no eyebrows were raised on why their labor remained unpaid, or was forced to work inhumane hours in hazardous environments.

Corona became an excuse to intrude in the personal lives of the masses. The five eyes of the world became more involved than ever. Even the financial bailouts rolled out were focused on banking and corporate relief, as opposed to safety nets for the masses. At the helm of affairs, a resistance to unite the developed and the developing world was witnessed. Where debts could have been written off, higher interest loans were given, and where cooperation was the need of the hour, the two global powers fought like cats and dogs.

With the pandemic century in full swing, I feel sorry for today’s youth, myself included. We will pay the price of today’s utter neglect, not short of criminal negligence. It is as if our lives have been cut short, and our future snatched away, by none other than the self-proclaimed generation of saviors of the world. But as the Romans say, Vincit qui se vincit(He conquers who conquers himself). In all naivety, we simply forgot to master our own urges and temptations, to look within.

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Kashmir: A Burning Issue

5th August 2019 changed everything for the people of Kashmir, especially those belonging to the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The Modi regime ushered into a new era of atrocities and oppression against the innocent people of the valley. With the striking down of Article 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution, the fascist regime across the border strengthened its satanic grip on Ladakh, Jammu, and Kashmir Valley.

But how did this happen right under our nose? A country that vowed to stand by Kashmiris for a thousand years, sang hymns and praises of valor and bravery of Kashmiri brethren. But hugely miscalculated the capability or rather mischief of Modi. Our Prime Minister was all praises for Modi and hoping, rather wishing on national television that if Modi wins, Kashmir issue will meet its logical end. Among all this chutzpah, the crafty devil made his move.

 The truth to the matter is that there were clear signs in the early days of August that something was afoot in Kashmir. Additional troops by the thousands were deployed, Kashmiri leadership was placed under house arrest, internet facilities were taken down, and there was a general crackdown resulting in shutting down of educational institutes and forced departure of tourists. Article 370, guaranteeing a separate constitution and a flag along with freedom to legislate on certain matters other than defence, communication, and foreign affairs was scraped from the Indian constitution. Not only this, Article 35-A that allowed the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define ‘permanent residents’ of the state and provided special privileges to residents in matters of purchase of property, seeking government employment, voting among others was practically made inoperative via presidential order.

Though the announcement of these measures came as a complete surprise for Pakistan, they were completely in-line with Modi’s election manifesto. In fact, large support of Bharatya Janta Party (BJP) depends on anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan sentiment. Modi stood by his election pledge of integrating Kashmir into India rather by force. Amit Shah and Narendra Modi seem to be hell-bent on changing the demographics of Kashmir, perhaps inspired by the Israeli occupation and settlement model. One can only ponder over the ulterior motives of the fascist regime that prides itself on the Hindutva ideology propagated by the extremist RSS.

Essentials of Hindutva by V.D Savarkar published in 1923,the ideological pamphlet of RSS stands tall on three pillars. Firstly, it stands against caste system. Funnily enough, this requirement has been brushed under the carpet by RSS and BJP. Secondly, Hindutva propagates preservation of territorial integrity of India including the cultures and people of India, but not those who came from outside (Muslims and Christians) because their loyalty is towards the Arab world and the Vatican, not India. Lastly, Savarkar emphasizes that history of India should be used to create Indian nationalism as a source of pride and civilization. It essentially means removing the Muslim rule over India from its history so that there is no negative impact on Hinduism and Hindu sentiment.

This helps put current affairs in Kashmir in perspective. One thing is clear, Mr. Modi is not empathetic to the people of Kashmir and as long as he or rather the ideology that drives him stays in power, there seems no end in sight to the pain of Kashmiris. In the throes of relentless pain, our Kashmiri brothers and sisters have shown great resolve. But have we as a country or has the world even tried to match their resolve? The United Nations stands naked after 70 years, a lifeless body which cannot implement its own resolution 47 on Kashmir. The OIC seems sold to the highest bidder. The brothers of the Middle kingdom have gone deaf and blind. Profits and self-interest seem to trump everything.

In this dismal scenario, what can a common Kashmiri do? Every day he or she is subjected to inhumane treatment, pelted in the eyes or baton charged when he decides to raise voice against this oppression. Cries of Kashmir as a burning issue make no sense when speeches and tweets are not backed by diplomatic effort.

It is time that diplomacy and logic are prioritized over sentiment and speeches; facts and ground realities should take precedence over myths and songs. The stage is set. With the 75th session of UN general assembly just concluded and Modi exposed in the international arena, now is the time to add life to our Kashmir cause. Speeches are not enough anymore. A solution which respects the aspirations of the people of all 5 parts of Kashmir in compliance with UN security council resolution 47 of 1948 is the only way forward. The common man with nothing but shattered dreams hopes for a day when his cries will be heard. Let us not wait for the day when he screams to the top of his lungs “so much for your promises.”

COVID-19: A Lost Opportunity

Global Matters

No surprise that many of these leaders tried to downplay the disease. But no matter how strong the masquerade, covid-19 exposed the systemic inadequacies, exploitation and inequalities of the system. Optimists hoped that this may be the dawn of a new era. In all ingenuousness, it looked as if the virus had brought the capitalist framework to its knees, but facts suggest otherwise. Rather, the exploitation intensified and wealth burgeoned in the hands of the select few.

Mother nature’s final warning before the impending doom was paid no heed. The corona pandemic was an opportunity for the world leaders to sit back and delve deep into introspection; to look within and beyond national borders; to muster up the courage to challenge nationalism and populism; to embark on a journey to fight inequality; to look beyond religious and ethnic fault lines; and most of all, to take climate change seriously. None…

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The link between Pakistan’s locust crisis and climate change

Crawling across thousands of kilometres (km) and flying through the air, millions of locusts have swarmed large swathes of agricultural land in Pakistan and India, devouring any vegetation in their path. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that Pakistan will lose more than USD four billion worth of rabi and kharif crops. According to the FAO, 38% of the land area of Pakistan (60% in Balochistan, 25% in Sindh and 15% in Punjab) is a breeding ground for desert locusts. They move in swarms of up to 50 million locusts, and each swarm can travel up to 150 km a day, eating as much food as consumed by 35,000 people, and laying 1000 eggs per square metre. The situation can easily turn dire if these swarms are not contained, and if they migrate to other areas of Pakistan.

The daily lives of farmers have changed dramatically with locust attacks affecting more than 60 districts across Pakistan. Farmers resort to traditional remedies such as banging utensils and watching crops from dusk till dawn, in a vain attempt to dispel desert locusts from their farms. To their dismay, locusts by the millions are paving their way towards Pakistan from the Horn of Africa.  

While locust plagues are not new, scientists say climate change is making them worse. It is argued this infestation is driven by unusually warm weather and heavy rains in the Arabian Peninsula, creating the ideal breeding ground. From mid-2018 to early 2019, the Empty Quarter along the borders of Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia witnessed two large cyclones that brought heavy rains, resulting in an 8000-fold increase in locust numbers in remote areas, where survey and control activities could not be conducted. By January of 2019 a new generation of swarms had bred, which then migrated to the Horn of Africa and the Indo-Pakistan border during the summer of 2019.

In normal conditions, desert locusts usually undergo quiet periods in semi-arid and arid desert regions of South-West Asia, Near East and Africa, which receive less than 200 millimetres of rain annually. These locusts either migrate from these regions or die of natural mortality. But the last five years have been hotter than any other since the industrial revolution. Research links hotter climate to more intense and damaging locust swarms, leaving Africa and South-West Asia disproportionately affected. Keith Cressman, a senior locust forecasting officer with the FAO, says that locust breeding is directly linked to soil moisture and food availability. Therefore, rain patterns have a strong influence on locust populations.

Climate change also led to wet weather (ideal for locust breeding) in the Horn of Africa caused due to 400% above-average rainfall from October-December 2019. These abnormal amounts of rainfall were a result of the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), a phenomena accentuated by climate change. Scientists have warned that the IOD can become a regular occurring phenomenon in more extreme forms, as sea temperature rises. For these reasons, the locust attacks in Pakistan cannot be viewed in isolation. Rather, they are a part of the wider global climate changes aggravated by global warming.

According to the FAO locust watch (May 27, 2020), adults are forming groups and small swarms in spring breeding areas in the southwest (Balochistan) and the Indus Valley (Punjab). These infestations will move to the summer breeding areas along the Indo-Pak border, from Cholistan to Tharparkar. In response to the locust plague, Pakistan has declared a national locust emergency with a comprehensive National Action Plan for Surveillance and Control of Desert Locust in Pakistan, 2020-2, consisting of three phases. The effort to coordinate and support large-scale locust control operations is being spearheaded by the Federal Ministry of Food Security and Research in collaboration with National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), provincial agriculture departments, and the armed forces.  

Among the initiatives to safeguard national food security are efficient coordination with key stakeholders (public and private sector institutions), timely resource mobilisation, effective surveillance, control operations, and mass awareness activities as per the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) endorsed by the FAO to combat serious threats to agriculture from desert locusts. For a timely and effective response, Pakistan is collaborating with Iran and India under the FAO Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in South-West Asia (SWAC). It has also sought help from China and the United Kingdom, with the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom pledging £6 million for locust control in Pakistan. However, these measures are slow and delayed, with many farmers left to fend for themselves in trying times amidst Covid-19.

While the government mulls over the various possibilities to address the locust crisis, it is imperative to include the factor of climate change. To save Pakistan, and the region, from repeated episodes of locust invasions it is the need of the hour that a joint regional climate strategy be devised. Perhaps, the SWAC can be expanded to promote climate change dialogue between Pakistan, India, Iran and Afghanistan. Without further delay, concrete action is required because the storm is brewing.  

What happened to the Afghanistan Peace Process?

When the world moved from colonialism towards neo-colonialism, the foreign strategy of super powers changed from foreign domination towards foreign intervention. No country could embark on an Alexandrian campaign no matter how strong their military or economic prowess. It took two decades for the American power echelons to realize this. Thanks to this understanding, Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American peace negotiator made significant progress in reaching a deal with the Taliban, though the US installed Afghan government was largely left-out of the process.  What this meant was the break-down of the peace negotiations.

From the start, the Taliban were incessantly insisting that Afghan government will not be party to the peace talks, if these talks were to happen in the first place. The Americans miscalculated this move thinking that the Taliban will adopt a softer stance once the negotiations gain pace and make some progress. The irony is that the Taliban not only hardened their negotiation stance but continuously bombed innocent civilians and Afghan army, drawing visceral as well as vicarious pleasure out of their violence.

Some progress was hoped for when the Taliban and the Americans had agreed on release of some 5000 Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan but the agreement saw no end as Ashraf Ghani politely reminded the US that he was not party to the agreement, equating this potential release as a betrayal of trust of his people. Not only this, he went on to elaborate his position stating that he no longer had the mandate to decide the future of his people; only the upcoming Presidential elections could give any such mandate.

On the other end of the Afghanistan’s political spectrum, Taliban realized that peace agreement was quintessential to Trump’s re-election in 2020. Naturally, they put forward unacceptable terms such as the complete evacuation of American forces. This was the final push for the US Miltablishment, already frustrated and suspicious about the talk process. Consequently, Trump who had been due to host the Taliban as well as Afghan president Ashraf Ghani at the Camp David presidential retreat abruptly cancelled the meeting declaring the talks as ‘‘dead’’. The two sides had appeared close to a deal and the Taliban said the US would “lose the most” for cancelling talks.

Essentially, we are back to square one, where the US is tilting towards a military solution. In the words of Albert Einstein, ‘‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.’’ The Afghanis and the regional players can only hope that common sense prevails and talks are resumed soon. Both parties have everything to lose if this is not done sooner rather than later.

Nuclear Programme of Pakistan: International Concerns and Way Forward

Pakistan came into existence with an innate hostility with India which forced its hand to view defence as well as foreign policy within the security paradigm vis-a-vis India. The nuclear program was essentially initiated in the aftermath of the fall of Dhaka in 1971 and India’s Pokhar-I nuclear tests of 1974. To counter these threats, Pakistan embarked upon an ambitious journey of developing its own nuclear weapons, and within thirty years carried out its first successful nuclear explosions at the Ras Koh Hills of Chagai district of Balochistan province in 1998. Z.A.Bhutto, the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear programme is considered the father of the bomb.

Realising the grave threat posed by India and her Western friends, the bomb was a matter of life of honour, dignity, equality, prosperity, and power for Pakistan. The country’s ambitions were on a high horse, braving all risks and opposition from hostile quarters. But ambitions alone are not the guarantee of the safety and security of a country’s nuclear facilities and arsenal. Not being part of the world treaties related to non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, such as the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (CTBT), and the fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), the international bodies and countries are deeply concerned for the safety measures adopted by Pakistan for its nuclear facilities as well as its security measures.

They have good reasons for doubting Pakistan’s commitment to non-proliferation as well as the safety & security measures adopted. One cannot forget A.Q.Khan’s nuclear bazaar of 2004 and the operations of Pakistan based militant organisation, Umma-Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), founded in 2000. UTN had strong ties with Al-Qaeda and was founded by former nuclear scientists of Pakistan with the objective of proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons to Muslim countries. Apart from this, Pakistan is war-torn internally due to its involvement in America’s war on terror. This makes its nuclear weapons highly susceptible to attacks from terrorist organisations of the likes of ISIS, Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  Repeatedly, Kamra air base in Pakistan has been attacked for this purpose but the officials deny the presence of any nuclear weapon at the site.

Despite all these challenges and concerns, Pakistan is seriously committed to safety as well as security of its nuclear facilities and weapons. The National command Authority (NCA) formed in 2000, is the command and control structure of the nuclear programme with responsibilities of employing and deploying nuclear force, coordinating strategic organisations, and dealing with arms control and disarmament. Pakistan also has a nuclear regulatory authority to regulate radiations and nuclear energy in accordance with the IAEA guidelines. The country is part of some international agreements such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI 2006) and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT 2007). These measures are a proof of Pakistan’s commitment to non-proliferation as well as international safety guidelines.

However, there still remains room for improvement with regards to the security and safety of nuclear programme of Pakistan. For the purpose, the world powers, especially the P5 need to take up a glove and help mainstream Pakistan into the global nuclear order. Mainstreaming essentially means the recognition of Pakistan as a nuclear weapons state by the non-proliferation treaty members. Additionally, a criteria based approach should be adopted for non-NPT states to become part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). These measures aimed at normalising the global nuclear order and incentivising Pakistan and India to not only create a strategic restraint regime but also form part of NPT, CTBT and FMCT will help improve the nuclear security in the region as well as the entire world.  

Disaster, Schism, and the Radcliffe Awards

This poem written by WH Auden in 1966 named ‘Partition’ is a caustic criticism of the five weeks Cyril Radcliffe spent in the subcontinent drawing up the borders between India and Pakistan. It depicts the reality of the situation and the disaster, the Radcliffe awards turned out to be. It was no surprise that Pakistan and India would soon find each other at dagger’s end, given how rushed and unplanned the boundaries were drawn by the British Raj. Some even argue that this was an intentional move by the British to riddle the resulting nations with colonial overhang. This poem perfectly sums up the disastrous Radcliffe awards.

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on this land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
‘Time,’ they had briefed him in London, ‘is short. It’s too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we’ve arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.’

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he quickly forgot
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.

Partition, 1966 by WH Auden

The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

TED talk emphasizes how cultures and lives are made of a number of overlapping stories. Adichie, the speaker, communicates the narrative how she found her authentic voice and particularly speaks of the risk of misunderstanding that forms based on a single story. The speaker hails from Nigeria and warns us of dangers of a single story. She describes how she grew up reading a lot of books, mostly British in origin, and how these stories painted an unfair picture of what life was supposed to be. Humans, especially children are particularly vulnerable to a picture painted by a story. These stories of foreign origin had Adichie believe that books inherently were supposed to have foreign characters in them with which the speaker could not relate. Later on, the shift towards African books had a deep and lasting impact on Adichie. With these books, she was able to relate to the characters. This was a major attack on her pre-conceived notions and beliefs articulated on basis of a single story. Another case in point mentioned by Adichie is the chronicle of her houseboy, Fide. Fide was portrayed as a kid belonging to a poor family by Adichie’s mother. On the sole basis of this single narrative, the speaker developed a sense of pity for Fide and his family. This belief, however, was challenged when the speaker visited Fide’s village and was exposed to the beautiful baskets crafted by Fide’s brother; for she had envisioned Fide vis-à-vis the paradigm of poverty only. Adichie recalls encountering an American student who after reading her novel regarding an abusive Nigerian male came to the generalization that all Nigerian men were abusive. She returns this generalization from reading an American book that all young American men are serial killers. This sends the audience into laughing fits. Similarly, Adichie’s roommate in a USA university had formed an opinion of Africans based on single narrative which ultimately led them to develop a feeling of pity for her Nigerian roommate. According to the speaker, a narrative formed on basis of a single story limits a person’s ability to understand. Henceforth, it was a common occurrence for her roommates to say that Adichie was not really African since she did not match their imagination of an African based on a single story. So, storytelling is quite powerful. Look at how western literature shows Africa as a land riddled with wars, poverty, and diseases and this is what most foreigners believe it to be. For instance, John Locke, a London based merchant described Africans as beasts with no houses. This ultimately turned into a tradition of telling African stories in the West. The understanding of this phenomenon made the speaker realise why her American roommates were shocked by her actions. Adichie believes it to be human nature to assume things and rely on a single story. Stories are critical to humans as they add meaning to the human life. So, the potential power that stories carry cannot be neglected. They can be used as an important tool either to empower or disempower us or to add or remove dignity from human life. It all boils down to the understanding that there is never a single story to anything or place.

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