New Age Islam Edit Bureau
14 February 2018
Who’s Afraid of Asma Jahangir?
By Zahid Hussain
Without Asma Jahangir, Pakistan Is Poorer
By Shahzaib Khan
Asma Jahangir: A Non-Conformist Legacy
By Mushtaq Rajpar
By Ghulam Qadir Khan
The Insanity Of Sanity In Gilgit-Baltistan
By Aziz Ali Dad
Striking The Right Balance
By Mansoor Qaisar
Wilderness of ‘Peace for Afghanistan’
By Iqbal Khan
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
By Zahid Hussain
February 14, 2018
THOUGH small in stature, Asma Jahangir stood tall against the usurpers and bigots who were her biggest nemesis. They were scared of her. Her relentless fight for justice and for the rights of the people made those in power uneasy. Her fearlessness made them shudder. Her quest for regional peace earned her the wrath of the warmongers.
She was the conscience of a nation that has produced few icons whom the people can look towards for inspiration. In her death the country may have lost its bravest soul and a fearless street fighter, but her legacy lives on. The principles Asma stood for and the causes she championed are very much alive.
Therefore, it is not surprising that while her passing is being mourned across the region and religious divide, there are also some who have not spared her even in death. The kind of filth spewed against her in the social media reflects a sickening mindset of powerful interest groups who were challenged by Asma. They ran a concerted campaign against her when she was alive, but this campaign has become even more vicious after her death. They are afraid of the legacy of struggle she has left behind. She was among the few Pakistanis who also won international acclaim for her struggle for human rights.
Asma’s courage has been recognised here and abroad, notwithstanding the vitriol spewed by regressive forces.
Indeed, religion and patriotism are two major weapons in their arsenal that they use in their venomous propaganda campaign against her. There is certainly nothing new about this. They know they can’t attack her for her struggle for democracy and justice. Hence these issues come in handy. The adage that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’ fits well in this case.
There is no mystery about who is spearheading this social media campaign. What is, however, more disconcerting is how young minds are being polluted in the name of nationalism and patriotism by some elements. Among them are also members of mainstream political parties. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the narrow notion of national security and nationalism can be branded ‘unpatriotic’ by the so-called defenders of our ideological boundaries.
Indeed, Asma relentlessly fought against every military regime and struggled for democracy and civilian supremacy. That certainly did not please the so-called patriotic elements. Her campaign against forced disappearances and her criticism of security agencies’ role have also been used to question her patriotism. Nothing could be more ridiculous than that.
In fact, her struggle gave hope to the alienated people of Balochistan of getting justice and civil liberties. On her death, Akhtar Mengal, a former chief minister of Balochistan, tweeted: “Balochistan is forever in your debt.” The remarks also represented the sentiments of the Baloch population towards her for raising a voice for their rights at the national level. She became a symbol of the national unity that our so-called patriots and nationalist chauvinists have never been able to fathom.
And it was not just Balochistan; Asma was there to support any struggle for democratic and civil rights. Her last speech was at the Pakhtun long march in Islamabad. Organised by a group of Pakhtun students and young activists, the protests triggered by the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in a staged police encounter in Karachi last month became a forum for the demonstration of grievances of the population affected by the conflict in the tribal areas.
Hundreds of people are known to have become victims of enforced disappearances. Such a policy cannot help win the hearts and minds of the people who have suffered massive destruction and displacement from their homes. Those assembled in Islamabad were not militants; they were victims of war in their areas. They were not sure whether the state has really changed its policy of ‘good Taliban/bad Taliban’.
That concern is witnessed in many other parts. Asma shared their concerns and anger over indiscriminate action against the Pakhtuns in other parts of the country. Like many other progressive public figures, Asma had been a strong critic of the disastrous state policy of using militancy as a tool of foreign policy that cost Pakistan massively, both in terms of human lives and the economy.
Asma’s campaign for normalisation of relations with India had also become a major issue for the nationalist brigade. They also used this to question her patriotism. An old newspaper picture of her with India’s extremist Hindu leader Bal Thackeray resurfaced on social media, though she had met him in her capacity as the United Nations special Rapporteur on freedom of religion investigating violence against Muslims in India. What these zealots have forgotten is that Asma also raised her voice against Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir.
She had long been targeted by the extremist Islamist groups for her unrelenting campaign for women rights and the misuse of the blasphemy laws. This is also being used against her in the latest social media campaign. She was never intimidated by the extremist onslaught despite the serious threat to her life. She never left the country; that demonstrates her courage and fearlessness.
As she said in an interview that whatever she did she never deviated from her core principles; she never sought glory or ever tried to benefit from adversity. Her courage has certainly been recognised by the people here and by the international community, notwithstanding the vitriol spewed by the forces of regression that are not willing to let go of their obscurantist worldview. These are the same people who glorify murder in the name of faith. The way Mashal Khan’s murderers were lionised is a horrific manifestation of the rising religious extremism against which Asma stood up.
These are the same elements that have been running a concerted campaign against Malala, another international icon of courage. The young Nobel Prize winner has been accused of being a Western agent. They don’t want to see how these two brave women raised Pakistan’s image. As one American writer has pointed out, Pakistanis often complain about the bad image of their country being projected in the international media, but they refuse to see what they are doing to those who present the dynamic face of their country. These are the people who are afraid of Asma’s legacy.
February 13, 2018
I was at a tea shop in Karachi when I first found myself interested in the personality of the late Asma Jilani Jehangir, who passed away in Lahore at the age of 66. I overheard a few men discussing her. The conversationalists quite obviously did not hold Ms Jehangir in high regard, and yet felt compelled to speak of her as they had afternoon tea. I wasn’t too interested in her before then, but hearing those people made me curious. Obviously there was more to this person. Far from being opinionated herself, she had made the nation opinionated.
The next time I heard about Asma was as a junior at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, this time as the moderator for a talk on human rights in Pakistan introduced her to a full-house. The moderator was all praises for her, introducing her as a champion of human rights and the rights of minorities in Pakistan, an advocate of justice.
As the microphone was passed to a silver-haired woman, one could detect an expression of anger, perhaps frustration, in her voice. She looked at the audience with steely, piercing eyes, eyes that spoke of anger, of struggle, of optimism and cynicism at once, of hope and of infinite determination.
“Weren’t you afraid that the state would force you out of the country?,” a member of the audience asked as she was discussing the Asma Jilani case where she had stood up for her father against the state of Pakistan.
“In ke baap ka mulk hai jo mujhay nikaal dayn gay? [is it their father’s country that they should be able to force me out?]” was her response.
The Asma Jilani case, which has been taught in Pakistani law schools for decades as a landmark case of Pakistani constitutional law, get its name from Ms Asma herself.
In December 1971, the military government of Yahya Khan detained Asma Jahangir’s father, Malik Ghulam Jilani. Without recourse to procedural help or basic legal rights, her father sent out a letter with possible grounds of his release to his home through a jail employee. A petition was then filed in the Lahore High Court for the release of Jilani by his then 18-year-old daughter Asma. Several months later, she won her father’s freedom and rendered martial law unconstitutional at the Supreme Court.
A few years later I met her in court. By then I had been inspired to become a lawyer, being inspired in no small part by her. In a Supreme Court where men occupied the front benches almost without exception, lawyers clad in Italian suits with egos each bigger than the other used to leave their seats, as a crowd of men dressed in black suits made way for a by now timeworn figure of an old woman, as she greeted everyone around her with kindness, stopping to shake the hands of towering men bowing slightly, not to reach her hand, but to show respect.
When it was election season in the Supreme Court, there was a frenzy of campaigning for the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) election. As a young lawyer, I asked my seniors what the deal with the elections was; often they said the elections were a foregone conclusion, the Asma Jahangir camp would win. Having already served as the first and only female president of the SCBA, she had now resolved to act essentially as kingmaker by forming an informal party of sorts where candidates strived for her support. In a country as patriarchal as Pakistan, and in a profession as dominated by men as the legal fraternity, at the very top of it all, the kingmaker, was a woman.
My encounter with her had begun over tea. The last time I met her I had the honour of having a short conversation with her at the Supreme Court over tea. “Chai Nahi Pilao Gay? [Will you not offer me tea?]” she had said with a smirk as she entered the office.
I had so many questions, but I was too intimidated to ask any of them, questions of her struggles, of her inspirations, of her weaknesses that no one could find, of her unbound courage. I saw a tired and weak face with fractures all across it, reminiscent perhaps of a hard life. But amongst the cracks that threatened to betray her and inform us of her weaknesses, and beyond the heavy tortoiseshell spectacles, were the same determined eyes of steely resolve, the same steely resolve with which she proceeded to inform me of my responsibilities towards Pakistan. She told me how as a lawyer I had a special responsibility, a particularly heavy one, to people around me, those disenfranchised and those more unfortunate. She told me not to expect an easy ride, and to always have the courage to stand up for what is right, no matter the odds.
Coming from anyone else, this would have been a stereotypical pep-talk. But when it came from the champion that was Asma Jilani Jehangir, it was the findings of an exemplary and brave life, her life.
I was a world apart, when I heard that she had passed away. And as a man that had now been tweaked to the realities of realpolitik, the realities of life and the cynical nature of ideals, my heart broke when I heard the news. I can say with confidence, that having followed her, and idolised her, I became a better man, I became a feminist, a lawyer, a believer in human rights and perhaps even more importantly a little braver, a little more idealistic, a little more confident about the truth, and a little less cynical. In a country where women are rarely allowed the freedom to be exceptional, and so where every great person had to be a man, as a young boy, I had found myself wanting to grow up to be like this woman.
What was Asma Jahangir’s real achievement was that she inspired not a few kids, but a whole nation. Often, when poor and innocent victims of a faulty justice system found themselves without hope, she would bring their cases to the fore of the Pakistani psyche from the oblivion of hopelessness and darkness. It’s not that she was universally adored. Asma Jahangir was a divisive personality, when most thought of her as stubborn, those minorities and women who found her as their only voice, found her to be steadfast. When most accused her of acting for foreign agencies and lobbies, those who were only sentenced because they couldn’t afford legal fees, found her winning their freedom for them pro bono.
Without her, the world is poorer, and Pakistan especially is poorer. It has lost a truly unique woman, a leader for many, an icon for the young, a street-fighter for the more unfortunate, a role model for aspiring feminists, Pakistan is poorer today, with the loss of its iron lady. Rest in Power, Asma Jilani Jehangir.
It is both easy and hard to write about Asma Jahangir’s contribution towards preserving constitutional and democratic rule in Pakistan; hard in the sense that imagining our unjust polity without her is difficult and easy because she made her presence felt across all those parts of the country where human rights were being breached.
For decades, we saw her challenging dictators and extra-judicial exercises, and raising awareness about human rights violations. She was the founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an organisation that the country desperately needed in its formative decades. Whenever the state and its institutions treated citizens as subjugated subjects and denied them access to the judicial system, Asma came to their defence.
To us, she always came across as a ‘fighter activist’ rather than an elitist lawyer or a distant intellectual. She was accessible to all activists and people who needed her. Asma was not just a symbol but the face of resistance against injustice in its all forms. No matter how powerful the oppressors were, our Asma would stand up to them.
Over the years, Pakistan’s exploitative socio-economic order, the powerful establishment and the state’s inaction in key matters created a great deal of work for Asma. These were the factors that made her the restless and angry woman who wanted to bring a positive change. And she had so much to be angry about. Whether it involved tackling crises that surfaced in Karachi, Thar, Dera Bugti or Quetta, addressing the plight of Mukhtaran Mai and bonded labourers of lower Sindh or resisting military coups, Asma was firmly stood by them to bring their issues into the mainstream.
Punjab had increasingly turned more to the right; but the victory of Asma’s comrades in the Lahore Bar Association and Supreme Court Bar Association was the only sign that all was not lost in the onslaught against conservative politics. For people in the smaller provinces of the country, Asma served as an example of what the people of the country can achieve if they put up a joint struggle.
With her demise, Pakistanis have been left orphaned. She inspired many people to follow her constitutional resistance movements. Through her powerful mobilisation and organisational skills, Asma influenced many people like Iqbal Haider, I A Rehman, Afrasiab Khattak, Zohra Yousuf and many other human rights defenders and committed activists of the Women Action Forum (WAF).
Pakistan’s liberal and secular forces have suffered tremendous losses over the years. These struggles have made them realise that the struggle to foster a democratic and constitutional rule is a long-drawn-out battle. The closer we get to it, the farther it goes.
After every dictatorship, we collectively throw away the provisional legal frameworks and constitutional orders that were introduced during military rule. A new form of coercion creeps in and we are pushed back to square one. Asma fought against the polity created by legal arrangements, which negated the Quaid’s vision and the 1940 resolution. She stood like an iron wall against all military takeovers.
Asma Jahangir’s death has robbed us of the sense of unity that only she could bring. The echo of her call would reach all corners of the country. When she spoke on television talk shows, she was a voice of reason amid the clamour that the right wing and the forces of the status quo wanted us to believe. Even the accusations levelled against her failed to undermine the cases she fought and sides she took.
Although she came from Punjab, which largely dominates Pakistani politics, Asma always stood by people from smaller provinces. In what may be her last public speech, she said that:“there cannot be a tolerant Pakistan without Bacha Khan”. Asma fought the cases of all those people who were declared traitors, faced treason charges on political grounds or suffered victimisation.
Given the wave of inequalities and human rights violations that exist in our country, we need more activists like Asma. We don’t know how many people like her we need to show us the right path as the past 70 years of the country’s existence have involved a painful struggle to shift the state’s mandate to back to the people. More leaders and people of conscience have been labelled as traitors in recent times than during British Raj.
As crisis after crisis looms over us, we will miss Asma Jahangir’s presence more because there is always a fear that our basic rights will be taken away by the forces of fascism under different pretexts. Asma would always give us hope to fight back. She would lead the fight and had the ability to create resilience in society. It is partly the loss of this courageous spirit that we mourn with her death.
Asma Jahangir represented a league of intellectuals who never succumbed to power. She was a non-conformist constitutional warrior who has left behind the legacy of a selfless life of struggle to liberate the suffering multitudes.
Armed with this legacy of an untiring commitment to rule of law irrespective of ethnic and political affiliation, we the disunited people must continue to inspire the people of this country to take the first step towards bringing a change. The risks Asma took were worth it as they ensured that the citizens of this country do not have to bow before the forces of darkness and rigidity.
I RECENTLY visited Miramshah and my village, Darpa Khel — after many years, owing to militancy followed by Operation Zarb-i-Azb. Much has been written on the miseries of the tribesmen during militancy and displacement. Here, I examine what their lives look like after returning home.
December in this part is dry and dusty. Trees denuded and grass lifeless; it paints a picture of epic sadness. The road is newly constructed, but traffic is very thin compared to the past.
Travelling to and from North Waziristan is extremely difficult. One cannot travel without a Watan Card, no matter how many other forms of identification one has. Then, the checking en route is humiliating enough to deter most travellers.
What are the tribal people returning home to?
Miramshah once overtook Parachinar as the most populated and prosperous town in Fata after the last Shia-Sunni battle in Kurram Agency. In spite of all FCR restrictions, it was the fastest-growing town in Fata. People from down country could be seen doing business here. Taxis and coaches going to nearby villages, down country and Afghanistan were always available. Truckloads of fruit and timber from Afghanistan, and wheat flour, edible oils and other commodities from down country, would pass through. It was rightly called Sarai Miramshah.
To my disbelief, this once-bustling town is nowhere to be seen. Bazaars, houses and godowns have been demolished; even the scrap is missing. No one is allowed to reconstruct on their land. Except for the new, government-built roadside buildings, there is no activity. Colleges are closed, there is a ban on motorcycles, no electricity, and though mobile phones worked at times, it is without data. It is so quiet. The Miramshah that I knew — my childhood paradise — had vanished.
The level of destruction that took place in recent years called for a massive reconstruction programme. The government constructed a few small parks and markets, wherever it could lay claim to state land. Though the government was behind in its own efforts, after it exempted construction material from permits and agency tax, people brought in a lot of material, seen scattered on the roadsides. This is practically the only business they can do freely.
Since reconstruction is not allowed, the Darpa Khels (major shareholders in Miramshah) started making small huts outside the town. This construction is overflowing into the khwar (seasonal waterways). No one is making major investments for fear of having to leave again.
I couldn’t stay in my house because my sister is living there with her family, after her house in Dande Darpa Khel was demolished for no apparent reason, the one case I can vouch for that had nothing to do with militancy. The story of Dande Darpa Khel is a sad one that merits special mention on a separate occasion.
The houses of those involved in militancy were demolished. Of those left, their roofs were removed for aerial surveillance. Everything inside the houses has been destroyed; what man didn’t, the weather destroyed. There is nothing left for people to come back to. Their small belongings and livestock, earned by sweating their youth away in the Middle East, are all gone. Distressed, they wonder why this happened to them when they supported the government. Recent events in Tappi and Idak increase their anxiety. What if a similar attack took place near their village? Many families returned, only to leave again.
Those who can’t leave are waiting for government support. There are no livelihood projects, and whatever little assistance that arrived is through local NGOs, as if helping friends — me looking after my khel, he looking after his. International development partners, instead of prioritising activities, are busy in futile endeavours like codifying rewaj.
People are suffering, but their voices are not being heard. The government’s focus on infrastructure, particularly roads to generate revenue and facilitate the transport of industrial goods, is understandable. But the people’s welfare is being ignored. Protests in Hamzoni and Islamabad are indicative of this frustration.
The government needs to get its act together and focus on them. Schedule for surveys, compensation for damages, etc should be announced in advance. All data should be shared. People should be allowed to manage their own affairs. Owners of lands that come under infrastructure projects should be compensated. Political agents need to take a lead role. Instead of using all their energies on tax collection, they should visit the area. The KP governor should make frequent visits to the agencies. They should support the tribes, reassure them and give them hope.
Visiting Miramshah was like visiting a graveyard. It was remodelled, clean and spacious, but without hope and happiness — like a grand mausoleum teeming with long-suffering humanity. On my way back I wondered if it should be renamed Mazar-i-Miramshah.
The Ghizer district in Gilgit-Baltistan is in the local media’s limelight, and one of the most favourite topics for researchers nowadays is the increasing trend of suicides in the district during the last one-and-a-half decade.
However, it is not only Ghizer where suicides are occurring. Suicides have been reported from other parts of the region too. However, most cases go unreported. The suicides are a manifestation of different kinds of mental illnesses. Nevertheless, research and discussion related to suicides in Gilgit-Baltistan tend to ignore the broader question of mental health. Hence, the explanations rolled out about the suicides are at best misleading, and at worst incoherent.
More problematic are the institutional and social practices used in Gilgit-Baltistan to diagnose mental illness and treat it. One of the pitfalls of having a one-dimensional approach to understanding a multifaceted phenomenon like mental illness and its manifestations – in the form of suicides or schizophrenia, depression, hysteria, psychosis, neuroses etc – is the failure to identify the causes and rectify errors within the regimes of cure. The term ‘regimes of cure’ refer to the entities, vocations and institutions that claim to cure mental illness to keep both self and society sane. Their reason of existence derives legitimacy from the very social, institutional and knowledge structures that at the same time produce mental illness within society. Seen in this way, the process of curing mental illness needs to be treated more than the ‘patient’ itself.
This article attempts to explore the problematic relationship between a patient and their treatment in the particular setting of Gilgit-Baltistan, and its impact upon an individual and society. Before delving deep into the problematic nature of mental illness and its treatment in the region, it is imperative to locate the individual within the overall social, cultural, political and psychological processes in society. The current mindset of Gilgit-Baltistan is functioning in a time where the level of change is extremely drastic. The phenomenal speed of change has defied all the traditional and existing frameworks of explanation. As a result, it has given birth to a situation where traditions are crumbling, and modernity remains unstable. It is this disjunction that is shaping the structure and contours of the contemporary mindset of an individual. This is why the illness should be seen as a manifestation of the mind or mindset formed in the dizzying vortex of transition.
Like in other parts of the world, the framework and treatment of mental illness in Gilgit-Baltistan has undergone various changes under the influence of modernity. But instead of incorporating modern disciplinary approaches in the treatment of mental illness, this modernity provided a fertile ground for hybrid practices, institutions and actors to take root. This has broader social and psychological ramifications.
Traditionally shamans and soothsayers helped an individual identified as being mentally disharmonious to restore balance in personality. Unlike in the modern age, traditionally not all mentally deranged people and sociopaths were considered detrimental to the social fabric and cultural ethos of Gilgit-Baltistan. Since the traditional healing system functioned under the shamanic cosmology, some forms of mental disturbance were attributed to fairies or pure spirits, and others were categorised as being under the influence of evil spirits. Thus, madness in shamanism had metaphysical dimensions. Shamanism in its essential form provided an autochthonous idiom for cultural psychiatry. This is testified by the terms people used in everyday life to explain a particular state of mind. The role of shaman as healer is problematic because he himself suffers from hysteria, if not complete psychosis. Nevertheless, he cannot encompass the sense and sensibilities that emerge from experiences of the non-metaphysical context of modernity. For example, there is no local word for depression and tension, but people use these words to describe their mental condition and sectarian violence in the modern age.
Though the shamanic techniques of treating mental states have withered to a great extent, they are still used by people living on the margins of modernity. Today, in Gilgit-Baltistan, pirs, millennial cults, sorcerers, clerics, doctors, religious scholars and psychologists have entered the discourse regarding mental illness and sanity. These actors and institutions are vying against each other to establish their legitimacy. This is the reason shamanism is declared a pagan practice by the clergy. On the other hand, local modern medicine practitioners deem themselves as the sole owners of mind. They take mental states to be the result of physiology.
Amidst the fight for monopoly over treatment and discourse of sanity, the patient suffers even more. The case of a teenager from a village in Hunza who began harbouring strange thoughts was initially taken to a shaman. After sometime his family was compelled to take him to a cleric who declared shamanism to be against Islam. When the teenager’s condition worsened, he was taken to a psychiatrist in Karachi but the family could not afford to bear the expenses. He was brought back to the village and given in the care of a cult figure. The boy ended up committing suicide.
The purpose of quoting this case is to show that the diverse actors and institutions involved in a single person’s treatment have instead become the cause of mental disharmony. Instead of curing, they aggravate the person’s condition. In Gilgit-Baltistan, these entities have become guardians of the discourse on sanity.
With the disappearance of shamanic vocabulary, people have lost the capacity to self-analyse. Hence, they have become existentially mute, which is a state where an individual faces serious experiences that drastically change their outside world and deeply influence their subjectivity and sensibilities; but they don’t have the words to explain it. This makes an individual vulnerable to mental collapse. In order to save an individual and society from psychological collapse, it is indispensable to give voice through new social arrangements and ontological securities.
Because of rapid changes, all institutions and characters, including religious figures, politicians, intellectuals, schoolteachers and parents in the region have lost connection with self, society and the world. The tragedy is that it is these lost people who are ‘mapping out’ the destiny of the future generation: the youth. This youth is unable to find the vocabulary that would explain their reality, because state and society force their own ideas on them. They are not given a chance to be who they are and instead take on a personality that is in dissonance with the self and the state of ego.
An alienated person in a closed society is more vulnerable to ontological insecurities. Other members capitulate to primordial sanity accepted at a collective level, but this kind of sanity fails to accommodate the experiences and feelings of a new age. Hence, a transitional society faces schizophrenia, aggravated more by exposure of the self to exogenous forces and ideas, whereas society becomes more insulated in the fear of losing its essence because of assault by outsiders. This explains the sect-based physical division of Gilgit, and increasing xenophobia on the basis of valleys, regions and languages.
R D Laing in his famous book ‘The Divided Self’ provides an existential solution for recovery. He believes a psychologist should facilitate this recovery of the mind. To change the mind we need to create a condition that enables the suppressed mind to celebrate freedom and beauty. A closed society ultimately turns into a prison. So it can be said that Gilgit-Baltistan is a prison house where different insanities fight to establish their own version of sanity. The region is in perpetual abeyance because of a lack of vision for the future.
New vocabulary needs to stem from the existential experiences of being here, which will be conceptualised to create new codes of self and society. For that purpose there is a dire need of a mind that can retain the past, experience the present, envision the future, and forge a new path that will open fresh horizons for society and self.
Striking the Right Balance
In the late 1980s, conservation organisations and practitioners began to realise the benefits of improving the quality of life for people by managing biodiversity and natural resources.
These projects were initially referred to as integrated conservation and development projects (ICDP) and addressed a wide variety of community development needs. As the 1990s drew to a close, it was widely believed that the ICDPs were not achieving conservation or development goals as successfully as anticipated. This was because the scope of these projects was often too broad. One of the lessons learned from these attempts was that the success of ICDPs largely depended on the ability to focus on key interventions and avoid excessive complexity. Through the lessons learned from earlier initiatives, the conservation sector decided to adopt the ‘population, health and the environment’ approach, with a new generation of integrated projects.
Programme designers began to realise that efforts to conserve biodiversity in developing countries were far more successful when locals perceived their efforts as serving their economic and cultural interests. This culminated in the integrated development approach. In order to achieve success, these projects had to consider the link between conservation and development objectives in every unique sphere that they were implemented.
It is believed that humans and the environment are inextricably linked. Factors such as population size and age; fertility; mobility; settlement patterns; and resource availability and consumption determine the impact that humans have on the environment. Dealing with the complex challenges that we face today demands a better understanding of how these elements impact the environment. We must also recognise how environmental change impacts our health and wellbeing and what can be done to address these issues.
Population, health and the environment (PHE) is an approach to human development that integrates family planning and health with conservation efforts to seek synergistic successes for stronger conservation and human welfare outcomes. Issues pertaining to population, health and the environment are interconnected. These challenges are not only related to each other but are also linked to other important concerns.
Climate change has affected the people and the environment of Pakistan in different ways. Although Pakistan is a relatively small emitter of greenhouse gases as compared with other countries, the country will, however, be greatly affected by the negative impacts of climate change. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey of 2016-17, the “increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events coupled with erratic monsoon rains” are the most prominent problems that Pakistan will face due to climate change. The survey concluded that the change in weather patterns has destroyed infrastructure, taken many lives and produced devastating impacts on the agricultural sector. This has, in turn, affected Pakistan’s economy.
A majority of Pakistan’s industrial sectors – such as fishing and agriculture that account for more than one-fourth of the output and two-fifths of employment in Pakistan – are heavily dependent on the country’s natural resources. In order to sustain economic growth, there is a high demand on already scarce natural resources. However, it is ironic that what the country depends on for its growth is also what threatens the future welfare and success of the country.
According to the World Bank, 70 percent of Pakistan’s population live in rural areas and are already stricken by high poverty levels. These people depend on natural resources to provide income and tend to overuse these resources. This leads to the further degradation of the environment and subsequently increases poverty. This has led to what the World Bank refers to as a “vicious downward spiral of impoverishment and environmental degradation”.
According to the BBC Climate Asia report, a majority of Pakistanis who were surveyed claimed that climate change has adversely impacted their lives as floods and droughts have become frequent occurrences. More importantly, climate change has affected the availability of resources, such as energy and water. Around 53 percent of Pakistanis felt that their lives had become far more challenging than they were five years ago. Although the effects of climate change are evident, the survey found that a majority of the people were unaware of the implications of climate change and “ascribed changes in climate and extreme weather events to the will of God”.
Pakistan’s diverse land and climatic conditions is prone to different forms of natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, droughts, cyclones and hurricanes. A disaster management report claims that Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), Balochistan and AJK are vulnerable seismic regions and are highly susceptible to earthquakes. Meanwhile, Sindh and Punjab constantly suffer from floods because they are low-lying areas.
Other environmental issues in Pakistan include deforestation, air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, climate change, pesticide misuse, soil erosion, natural disasters and desertification. These are serious environmental problems and there is a strong likelihood that they will be exacerbated as the country’s economy expands and the population grows.
However, little is being done to tackle these issues because the goals of achieving economic growth and tackling terrorism within the country supersede the goals of environmental preservation. Although NGOs and government departments have taken initiatives to stop environmental degradation, Pakistan’s environmental issues still remain.
The environment in which we live strongly impacts our health. Household, workplace, outdoor and transportation environments all pose health risks in a number of ways. The poor quality of air, which many people breathe, coupled with the hazards related to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene. It is estimated that 24 percent of the global disease burden and 23 percent of all deaths can be attributed to environmental factors. About 36 percent of this burden affects people who are below the age of 14.
According to estimates from the WHO Global Health Observatory, about 200 deaths per 100,000 population are attributable to environmental factors in Pakistan. The World Bank estimates that Pakistan’s annual burden of disease due to outdoor air pollution accounts for 22 000 premature adult deaths. Meanwhile, indoor pollution accounts for 40 million cases of acute respiratory infections and results in 28 000 deaths per year. The WHO Global Health Observatory estimates that about 30 deaths per 100,000 population can be attributed to indoor air pollution while about 25 deaths per 100,000 are an outcome of outdoor air pollution.
There is a dire need to increase awareness among decision-makers and professionals about population, health and environmental issues as well as the need to find integrated solutions to these problems. We should strengthen our leadership and capacity to work on and communicate about population, health and the environment. Regional networks should be developed to share information and focus on collaborative ventures. There is a strong need to strengthen reportage on population, health and environmental issues.
Improving evidence-based policies will result in greater protection from environmental changes. Such policies will also raise awareness about how people can adapt to environment changes and specify mitigation measures they should adopt. We need technical support to strengthen our institutional capacities and promote the engagement of locals by enhancing their capacities to effectively monitor the quality of water sources that are affected by climate-related extreme events.
It is critical to build the institutional capacity of the health sector (at the provincial, district and local levels) in relation to environmental hazards to reinforce surveillance as well as the early detection of infectious diseases. It is equally important to ensure that the provincial authorities are capable of generating and gathering intelligence, establishing early warning systems for environmentally-sensitive diseases and integrating such intelligence into the existing health information management systems.
AFGHANISTAN’S former president Hamid Karzai in his interview with the Associated Press, on February 7, stated that both the US and Pakistan were using the Afghan war to further their own national interests, and that they have brought Afghanistan to its knees to further their own, separate agendas. Kathy Gannon reported him as saying that Afghanistan is in “terrible shape”. He commented that Afghans who had embraced the US as a friend and liberator, now see it as “hurting us, not helping us…” “The US cannot tell us, ‘Well if I am not here, you will be worse off’, he commented.”
Referring to President Trump’s New Year’s Pakistan bashing tweet, Karzai said, “We hope the US will now act in Pakistan.” But he added that “[It] doesn’t mean that the Pakistani people should be hurt or that war should be launched in Pakistan.” “In other words, I want the US to impose sanctions on the Pakistan military and the intelligence, not on the Pakistani people,” he added. Earlier this year, Trump had hyped up pressure on Pakistan, suspending over $900 million in military aid. However, on February 8, the US State Department informed Congress during a hearing, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Trump’s South Asia strategy, that the decision to suspend assistance to Pakistan had failed to achieve its objectives as Pakistan had not changed its policies. However, Committee’s Chairman Senator Robert Corker, echoed Hamid Karzai; he said, “This administration has also rightly drawn a clear line with Pakistan, suspending security assistance”.
Defence Secretary James Matti’s told the US House Armed Services Committee that the regional strategy would be “connected to the geographical reality of where this enemy is fighting from.” Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said, “There certainly hasn’t been any change that we would consider final and irrevocable.” American stance is that assistance could be restored if Islamabad took ‘decisive and sustained’ action against terrorist groups. Karzai also believes, and rightly so, that the US wants to establish permanent bases in Afghanistan to project power in the region. He is of the view that foreign forces are not in Afghanistan “to stop extremism.” “In my view, their intention is to keep us divided and weak so they can carry on their objectives in this region,” Karzai said. “They have their global politics and rivalries”. He even suggested that reports from northern Afghanistan accused the US of aiding the Islamic State affiliates against ethnic Tajik fighters in a bid to threaten Russia. Public opinion in Afghanistan has increasingly turned against the US as the war drags on. Public sentiment also runs against the presence of foreigners in the country along with the Kabul government, which is perceived as deeply corrupt and incompetent. For deteriorating security in Kabul, Afghan people squarely blame Afghan government and coalition troops. Karzai said “Afghans have to retake their country”.
In a policy reversal Trump has recently declared that he will “not negotiate with the Taliban”. Even though Trump has long advertised his negotiation prowess. “I don’t see any talking taking place … Innocent people are being killed left and right … So, we don’t want to talk with the Taliban,” Trump said. The Taliban issued an immediate rebuke, saying Trump’s comments had “exposed his war-mongering face.” President Ghani, soon jumped the Trump’s bandwagon: “The door of peace for those behind the [recent] tragedy is closed … We will chase them anywhere they hide.” Kabul’s cardinal mistake is not to let direct parleys take place between the US and Taliban. It feels happy with some non-entities laying down their arms, which gives them false hope for an agreement with the larger Taliban movement. “We are an independent government that represents the Afghan people. If they are truly an Afghan movement then they should come talk to the leaders of Afghanistan. No one else,” a government spokesperson said. America needs Pakistan if its war plan for Afghanistan is to have a chance of success. However, uncertainty over the bilateral engagement has intensified. During his recent visit to the US, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal vehemently denied the usual US charges in an interview and called for direct talks to address increasing mistrust between the US and Pakistani governments. “Pakistan’s partnership is most critical for the success of the Trump administration’s strategy”, he commented. During a wide-ranging discussion at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, he also spoke of China’s growing economic influence in his nation. He stressed that Islamabad’s wish is to have a relationship with Washington that could one day grow “beyond the prism of security.” Ahsan Iqbal dismissed the administration’s claims of Pakistani support for terrorist groups. He said Islamabad has responded with an aggressive four-year internal military campaign against extremists.
Pakistani Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan had earlier stated in an interview, with the Financial Times, saying Islamabad was undergoing a “regional recalibration” of its foreign and security policy. “The fact that we have recalibrated our way forward in the form of better relations with Russia, and deepening our relationship with China, is a response to what the Americans have been doing,” Dastgir said. However, Pakistan prefers to buy military hardware from Washington. Because its security infrastructure is based on US equipment and logistics. Pakistan and the US have a long history of cooperation and partnership between their militaries. The US remains Pakistan’s largest single export market So, there is a strong foundation, on which both countries could easily continue to build.
The US military’s troubles with subduing insurgent groups in Afghanistan shows the difficulty of the US mission. With American and Afghan governments’ lacking will for a political solution, peace in Afghanistan is hard to come by. Mainstream combatant Taliban are not likely to follow the footsteps of Gulbadeen’s Hizb-i-Islami. Afghanistan and the US need to recalibrate their vision with regard to future of Afghanistan. Pakistan is ready to extend help for making Afghanistan peaceful, but it cannot be bullied to be a part of dirty game to keep Afghanistan simmering for times to come.