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The Express Tribune Editorial 24 February 2020

Afghan peace deal


America’s longest national nightmare may be inching closer to a coup de théâtre. Last week, the United States and the Taliban, who for more than 18 years have fought a vicious battle in Afghanistan, announced that they plan to sign an agreement at the end of this month that will lead to the ultimate withdrawal of the US troops. The future of the possible peace deal between the two sides depends on the success of the temporary reduction of violence. While last week’s announcement raises hopes for a resolution to the 18-year-long war, it also raises a long list of questions that remain unanswered. The first and most important question is: Will the peace deal eventually allow the US to disengage? The second most important question here is: Will Afghanistan find absolute peace after the deal is signed? The third question is: How amorphous will a future power-sharing regime, that is likely to be installed in Kabul after the deal is signed, be?
From what we see at the moment, the government’s legitimacy, its cohesion, and command are all in doubt following the bitterly disputed presidential election, in which the opposition candidate claimed victory despite President Ashraf Ghani declared as the official winner. That leads to the fourth question: With the ongoing power struggle in Kabul, who will negotiate with the Taliban, and what mandate will they have to carry them out?
With all these questions unanswered, Afghanistan’s long, winding road to peace might lead to a dead end. The most likely outcome is that at the end of the winding path, the Taliban will have much more power than the US or any other stakeholder in this equation would like them to have. And if the US eventually hands the baton of command to the Taliban, there is a very strong possibility that Afghanistan will witness an endless period of unstable internal power-sharing agreements that will easily collapse and plenty of infighting before establishing peace in the country.


Going green


Exhorting the nation to join tree plantation drive and help ward off the coming climate calamity has been Prime Minister Imran Khan’s favourite talking point. He took one more opportunity on Sunday to press home the importance of the initiative and the need to teach it as a subject in schools.
Inaugurating the spring tree plantation drive in his hometown, he recalled that when he came to Mianwali in his childhood there was a jungle in Kundian but today when he viewed the area from his helicopter he could see no trees. He regretted that the people of Pakistan don’t know the importance of jungles. His emphasis on the ‘tree tsunami’ to mitigate the baleful climate effects has been his trademark battle cry. As if catching up with Pakistan leader, US President Donald Trump, at the World Economic Forum last month, also announced the United States would join the forum’s initiative to plant one trillion trees to fight climate change. But questions have been raised as to the efficacy of the tree initiative to meet the intended goal.
A report in the New York Times acknowledges that while planting trees would slow down the planet’s warming, the only thing that will save us and future generations from paying a huge price in dollars, lives and damage to nature is rapid and substantial reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuels, to net zero by 2050. Even a 16-year-old can tell you that, the report says rhetorically. Focusing on trees as the big solution to climate change is a dangerous diversion, the NYT report warns.
Worse still, it takes attention away from those responsible for the carbon emissions that are pushing us toward disaster. Be that as it may, while tree plantation is certainly a surefire recipe to contain global warming to a certain degree, sadly there is no silver bullet solution to climate change.


Child sex abuse


The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights last week introduced an important amendment to the Zainab Alert Bill that was passed by the National Assembly last month to counter the scourge of sexual violence against children. The amendment calls for expanding the jurisdiction of the proposed law to the entire country as the bill only applies to Islamabad. The bill proposes the establishment of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA) to be tasked with maintaining a database of missing and abducted children. Under the bill, named after seven-year-old Zainab Ansari who was murdered after being raped in Kasur in 2018, citizens will also be provided a helpline to report such cases and the information will also be sent to electronic and print media.
However, the scope of the proposed law, restricted to the capital territory only, remains a major drawback. An alert system can only be truly effective if it offers a countrywide helpline and database to ensure a swift law-enforcement response when a child goes missing. It was imperative, therefore, that the jurisdiction of the bill was extended to cover the entire country that has seen an alarming number of sexual crimes against children in the past decade, with more than 3,800 such crimes being committed in 2018 alone. A senator has, however, objected to the amendment, saying an extension in the jurisdiction amounts to a violation of the 18th Amendment. If it is so, it must be taken care of some way.
We must also remember that, whatever else we may do for child protection, it is ultimately the performance of the police which will determine whether a missing child is recovered. Sadly, however, our country’s child protection experts have consistently blamed the rise in child abuse incidents on a wider culture of apathy among law enforcers.
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