Most leaders of major countries remain preoccupied in dealing with immediate security issues that are more visible. But they tend to generally ignore the ones that would have a more lasting and serious impact on their countries and the world at large. Foremost among these is the looming threat of climate change, which if not tackled collectively by all nations on an emergency basis, could spell disaster for the world. According to a recent UN report, glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region that feed the main rivers of Asia are fast vanishing. These are ominous signs that will directly affect the lives of people of several South Asian countries including Pakistan in a big way. As the report warns if action is not taken now collectively and in a coordinated manner the lives of millions are at stake. This is not the first time that we have been apprised of this lurking catastrophe.
The Kyoto Protocol that is linked to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change commits its signatories to abide by the international binding emissions reduction targets. The responsibility of abiding by it rests on individual countries. Pakistan too is lagging behind in fulfilling its obligations of reducing emissions. It is already feeling the adverse consequences of it in the form of erratic weather, shortage of water resources and shrinking deltas. The very able Adviser to the Prime Minister, Malik Amin Aslam, and the eminent Ambassador, Shafqat Kakakhel, have been raising the issue with facts and figures but their urgings have been lost in the lopsided priorities that the government and opposition pursue.
Moreover, relations with India are so inimical to expect any cooperation on climate change for the common good of the people of South Asia seems to be a non-starter. This should, however, not prevent us for taking measures within the country on an emergency basis. As the UN report warns, “Tens of millions rely on agriculture, hydropower, and industries the rivers fuel.” The adverse effects are already manifesting reaffirming the dangers that the report identifies.
Another major security threat is the rapidly increasing global population especially in developing countries. Lack of education and ignorance have contributed towards accelerated population growth. Where the governments in other countries have prioritised broad-based education as in China and South Korea and brought women in the workforce as in Bangladesh, population growth has stabilised. China had to retract from its initial one child policy as it was creating a major imbalance as parents preferred sons to daughters assuming that they would provide better security in old age.
Pakistan is one of the top countries where population is growing at 2.4 % that is unsustainable considering its resources. Sane voices are being ignored. The federal and provincial governments or the parliament takes the matter seriously. Poverty has been one of the motivating factors for the poor to have large families as they consider children breadwinners and insurance in old age.
Successive governments’ neglect of addressing population growth has resulted in overcrowding of schools, hospitals and slums for the poor are increasing several-fold. It has put immense pressure on the country’s water resources and infrastructure. Pakistan ranks fifth in the world in population and the current birth rate projections show it will be home to over 400 million people by 2050. Although governments have sought the support of the clergy in educating the masses on the benefits of a small family, the message is generally ignored or confined to a few pockets mostly in the cities. A broad-based campaign spread over several years has to be launched if population has to be brought down to manageable limits. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that these mega problems cannot be addressed in isolation and demand a more holistic approach that no government has so far undertaken. When the young receive proper education, chances are they become more health conscious and aspire to have a small family that is financially manageable.
Cyberspace is another medium of serious conflict between nations. The United States and Russia are currently leading in this race with China and major European powers trying to catch up. The US Democratic party has been accusing Russia of interfering in American elections to favour President Trump. Iran and North Korea are the primary targets of the US. Several countries including Pakistan are frequently targeted. Pakistan is mostly beset by India spreading confusion. India, under the belligerent Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, presents a major threat to the very integrity of Pakistan for which it has to take preventive measures. It has to stay in a state of alert and remain on guard to counter fake news emanating from India. In the future, cyber warfare will be one of the major weapons to spread confusion and destabilise potential enemies.
The al Qaeda, Islamic State, Taliban and several militant offshoots of these operating independently are likely to remain active in war-torn Muslim countries especially in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan. In Pakistan, the presence of the IS cannot be ruled out especially in K-P and Balochistan. In Balochistan, the Baloch Liberation Front and Daesh have become active and Pakistan will have to further strengthen its security on the Pakistan-Afghan Western border.
The spillover effect of the Saudi-Iran conflict on Pakistan must also be countered. This balancing act poses both a diplomatic and security challenge for Pakistan. The potential of Iran facing prolonged political and economic unrest with its spillover effect on Pakistan is a possibility. With Afghanistan’s future so uncertain, the Iranian scene adds to a complex and dangerous mix for the region and us.
PM Imran Khan’s policy of staying away from regional and global conflicts is prudent. But this would only be possible provided we develop a self-sustaining economy, political stability and standing in the comity of nations. This reality was so apparent when PM Khan had to retract from his agreed trip to Malaysia, as we could not afford to displease our financial benefactors, the Saudis.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2020.