PROTECT the environment of national parks or draw in the investors and tourists whose spending helps make such projects viable and desirable? On the one hand, there is the tug of the conservation instinct and the need to save flora and fauna from harm. On the other, there is the certain knowledge that tourists require roads and restaurants, restrooms and parking areas, and that developing a national park as an attractive educational and recreational spot requires construction that is bound to have an impact on the pristine quality of the area. Finding a balance may not be easy, but it has to be sought.
How does Pakistan score in this regard? On the books, the network of protectionist legislation looks quite reasonable. The trouble is, not just is there inefficient implementation, the laws also allow for loopholes and discretionary actions that cause havoc in a country where concern about the environment is generally afforded low priority. A case in point is Islamabad’s Margalla Hills National Park, once largely an area of wilderness that supported a fair variety of animals. But, as the director-general of the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency pointed out at a moot on Sunday, the Islamabad Wildlife Ordinance 1979 is so worded that it actually makes the job of environmentalists more difficult, allowing for construction and including a clause that allows the regulations to be bypassed at discretion. Such provisos have meant that prime locations in the park have fallen prey to unbridled commercialism. This is all very well for the investors and such sections of the spending public that are well-heeled, but environmentalists point out that the damage being sustained by the park area will prove irredeemable in the future. The same situation is found in several other park and heritage areas across the country, sometimes with the state itself playing the role of destructor. What is the point of deeming an area protected if that is not how it will be treated?