Our supreme interest

By Dr Mubashir Hasan


OPINION-makers and political leaders in government and outside have yet to define the supreme interest of Pakistan in the present economic and security environment.

Issues of the coalition government, restoration of the judges, electing a president and the details of the insurgency in the northwest consume almost all written space and TV time.

Little notice, if any, is taken of the impact on the political struggles inside the country of the hot war that is waging throughout the world. Pakistan being the principal battleground, we have yet to recognise its full dimensions. On one side are the US, Europe and Japan with Russia, China and India giving a helping hand and on the other are the Al Qaeda and an assortment of militant organisations. It is a hot war. No quarter is given to the other side.

How our domestic politics is a direct victim of this war we have given little thought to. Consider a few of the momentous happenings in our recent past with implications for the hot world war. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry proved to be a real obstacle in our blind participation in the war on the side of the US and allies which demanded that we secretly catch and hand over our citizens to the US. So our sovereign, the combine of civil and military services, the breaker and giver of constitutions in the last six decades, removed the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Only a de facto sovereign could do it. All attempts to challenge it in the courts failed.

The lawyers and civil society rose in protest as never before. President Musharraf became dangerously weak as an ally in the hot war. To shore up his grip, the US and its allies cobbled an ill-conceived and sullied deal between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf in the form of the National Reconciliation Ordinance. To balance Benazir’s potential power Nawaz Sharif was imported with the help of the Saudi government, not a hidden partner of the US in the war.

Benazir Bhutto’s reception and demeanour on arrival from exile shattered the hope of putting in order a US-guided ‘democratic’ Pakistan to give the required support in the war in our northwest. She had emerged too big for her boots as Liaquat Ali, Zulfikar Bhutto, Ziaul Haq and Murtaza Bhutto had emerged and had to be eliminated.

The February elections threw up Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif as leaders of the parties winning a large number of seats. The hugely unpopular Pervez Musharraf lost his utility for waging the world war and was dropped as Asif Ali Zardari signed on the dotted line to perform as Pervez Musharraf had agreed to do. Nawaz Sharif suspected of having sympathies with the fellow-travellers of the Islamic militants had to be eased out of the coalition with Zardari.

Pakistan, it appears, had entered an entirely new phase of decision-making from the moment Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry started hearing the cases of kidnapped Pakistani citizens.

The dharna of the lawyers, the induction of a new Supreme Court, the election of President Musharraf, the snatching of the leadership of Benazir’s party as a result of her assassination, the emergence of Asif Ali Zardari, the cancellation of the policy of negotiations in the tribal areas and other events have gone the way of the US and its allies. No major domestic issue, confrontation or skirmish has concluded in a manner that may be construed as a setback for the interests of the US and its allies or as a victory for the militants in the ongoing world war. All battles had to end only one way.

In fighting their domestic battles the political leaders in government have ignored the shadows of the world war. They are conducting their battles with their eyes closed. They have not paused to consider that in the high interests of the country the battles lines of domestic struggles should not be drawn in a manner that the results may be construed as a victory for the US and its allies or for the militants.

We have failed to articulate among ourselves and to the outside world our real interests. Pakistan’s interests do not lie in the victory of the US or of Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the soil of Pakistan. As for our western neighbour we want a strong Afghanistan. We want the negotiated withdrawal of the US and Nato forces from Afghanistan. We have no designs on Afghan territory.

The only way for us to succeed is to make Pakistan strong. A weak Pakistan will remain a victim of foreign interference and manipulation. Today, Pakistan is weak mainly because the people are not in power. Legislatures, the Supreme Court, the president and the prime minister sit in Islamabad only in a titular capacity. While we consume all our energy year in and year out to get into those supposedly high offices of power, we still remain at the mercy of the combine of the civil and military services. Every decade or so we are thrown out on the streets when we are suspected of not doing their bidding.

Pakistan needs to see the transfer of political, social and economic power from the British-built apparatus of state to the people. It can be done through legislative measures only if we realise what needs to be done. There lies the supreme interest of Pakistan. The goal is eminently achievable.

The writer was federal finance minister from 1971 to 1974.

The outrage of a sky

By Feryal Ali Gauhar


“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only There is shadow under this red rock….”
— The Burial of the Dead by T.S. Eliot

IN the lives of many nations renewal has frequently meant the shedding of the old, the building of the new and the awakening of a collective consciousness which takes that nation forward.

In the life of our nation we appear to be destined to continue to acquiesce in the tyranny exercised by those who have wrested power by force or chicanery and then legitimised it by the mind-numbing chanting of one mantra or the other.

Democracy is the latest mantra in our land, demons mocking a system which allows voices to be heard, voices buried by those chanting the slogan of the day. Tirelessly, or perhaps out of sheer choicelessness, our nation seems to be able to switch mantras without a furrow on the brow or a crisis of conscience.

And yet, there are those who have always protested against tyranny of one kind or another, only to hear our voices fall on barren ground, rattling like dry reeds in the stirrings of the desert breeze. Time and time again we have spoken out against the violation of our bodies and our hearts, we have been subjected to brutalisation and incarceration, to threats of rape and then rape itself, to vicious beating and mutilation, to abandonment and betrayal, to deprivation and humiliation. We have been stripped bare of our dignity and paraded naked in town squares, we have been lacerated and burnt with acid, our faces disfigured, our souls wounded and numbed with anguish.

We have been doused with kerosene and burnt alive; we have been kicked, beaten with the buckle-end of leather belts, punched, knifed, pummelled, and left for dead on the sides of deserted alleys. We have been laughed at, mocked, lusted for, killed over, bought, sold, beaten, abused, discarded, forced to bear countless children, forced to give up those children, given away as settlement for the crimes of men, raped within the family, by neighbours, by those who are meant to protect us, raped again in times of conflict.

We are the ones who go without adequate nourishment, without adequate clothing or housing, without the education necessary to open up the potential which lies within each one of us. We are the ones who do not receive the healthcare which eats into already impoverished budgets. We are the ones who walk for miles to carry water for the home and the family, beaten once home, often not feeling the agony of calloused feet and hands which runs beneath the searing pain of fresh wounds.

We are the ones who forage in the drastically depleted forests to collect firewood to burn at the hearth. We are the ones who salvage the grain threshed on the earthen floor of our homes, the ones who sit by the light of the moon creating patterns of love and life with needle and thread dyed with the crimson of our blood.

We are the ones who labour and then give birth, the ones who know that the child within may not live if it is a girl, for what is the future of such a child in a land which abhors the women who give it life and sustenance? We are the ones who are forbidden to express our sexuality, who are punished with death for daring to express our desire to be a full human being whose life is protected by the law of the land, yet threatened by those whom we nurture.

We are the ones who bear the children who shall carry the name of their fathers, not our names, despite the fact that only a mother really knows whose child she is bearing. Perhaps that is the only power we have; most certainly it is that very fear which relegates us to the prison of patriarchy built and protected like a fortress by men threatened with a loss of control over our bodies. That is why we are caged at puberty, the fear of a woman’s burgeoning sexuality causing men deep anxiety, causing them to incarcerate us, spinning myths about honour.

That is why a girl child is not allowed to read and write, just in case she manages to express her desire through these empowering tools, threatening the fragile egos of those who believe they possess her body and her mind. That is why she is not allowed to make decisions for her own life; decisions which would loosen that tyrannical control tightened like a noose around her neck. That is why women are repeatedly beaten, burnt, and buried alive — for in most cases the graves of women are not dug after the heart has stopped beating; they are dug the day the birth cry of a girl child shatters the stranglehold of patriarchy’s tyranny.

Many years ago, in a village in the interior of Sindh, I learnt that natural gas was to be supplied to the area after a long wait. I asked the women gathered around me if the provision of natural gas would make their lives easier. There was a long silence, and I asked the question again, fearing that concepts of modernity may not have reached this part of the country. It was then that one woman spoke; her words have haunted me since: “It is not as if we are not aware of the ease this gas pipeline shall bring to our lives. It is just that in the smoke of a wood fire, we could weep our tears. But this fuel, it does not give off smoke, so even if the burden of our chores is lighter, it shall not ease the burden of our hearts.”

I have never forgotten those words, as I cannot forget the image of a terrified woman being pushed into a hastily dug grave. For those who have defended this heinous crime, I can only say that “I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you, or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

The state of our glaciers

By Kenneth Hewitt


PAKISTAN has a greater dependence on water from glaciers than any other country in Asia, possibly the world. The good news is that, contrary to common belief, its glaciers are not ‘disappearing’.

The bad news is that glaciers and climate are changing, with major implications for water management. The worst news is that monitoring and understanding of how the glaciers respond to climate change are woefully inadequate.

Some reports suggest the Upper Indus Basin (UIB) will lose its glaciers by 2050. There is absolutely no evidence for this. Take the Baltoro, visited by thousands of tourists and the largest glacier in Pakistan’s territory. Is it ‘disappearing’? No; it has advanced slowly but steadily in most years since 1950. Even with a small retreat recently, the terminus is more advanced than when Pakistan was founded. It may be the best indicator we have! No significant change has occurred in total UIB ice cover since the 1970s. Some glaciers have retreated, others have remained relatively steady and, today, more than 30 are advancing.

However, an urgent question is why the rapid glacier decline elsewhere in the Himalayas, indeed, most of the world, is not occurring here. The answer must relate to the distinctive climate, extreme high elevations, and an exceptional glacier cover. The Indian and Nepal Himalayas, where most reports originate, depend mainly on summer monsoon snowfall. The UIB glaciers are fed largely by winter snowfall brought by westerly air masses; but a roughly one-third monsoon contribution is crucial too.

The permanent snow and ice cover is about 18,000 square kilometres, a much greater concentration than anywhere else in Asia. There are over 5,000 individual glaciers; 30 among the largest outside the polar regions. The stored volume of glacier ice probably exceeds 1,500 cubic kilometres. Permafrost areas are even larger; permanently frozen ground and ice-cored rock glaciers also sensitive to climate change.

Because 85 per cent of the glacier cover lies over 3,500 metres above sea level that is where climate change is decisive. Critical conditions for glacier health are between 4,800 and 6,500 metres above sea level, where the snow that feeds them falls. The zone of maximum precipitation also lies here, much higher than elsewhere in the Himalayas. For water supply, the critical conditions are between 3,800 and 4,800 metres above sea level. Here is found 90 per cent of the glacier surfaces that actually melt each summer — but only in one to three months, when temperatures are above zero.

Since direct sunshine does most of the melting, cloud cover and snowfall are important. A summer storm can shut down melting for many days, causing a huge drop in river flows. Reports suggest increased summer storminess in recent decades. Studies of the Hunza River reveal a marked decline in flows. Since the basin has a 40 per cent ice cover, snowfall has not declined and may have increased, the glaciers are storing ice not disappearing.

Nevertheless, all indications are that climate warming is occurring at high altitudes; but at average temperatures well below zero leading to warmer snow and ice rather than increased melting. Maybe this is why glaciers are expanding in the high Karakoram — warmer ice flows faster. By contrast, climate stations at low elevations like Skardu show a slight cooling in recent decades; more precisely summer cooling and winter warming, but cooler on balance.

It is important not to focus only on total ice cover or annual water yields. Even in drought years, a large part of glacier melt and monsoon rainfall flows to the ocean. The two generally coincide, to create maximum river flows and make the more urgent glacier-related problems about floods not shortage. Meanwhile, water management headaches mostly concern the ‘shoulder seasons’: a few weeks’ or even days’ delay in spring snowmelt, a sudden shutdown or unusual continuation of heavy glacier melt in autumn. This stresses another need; to understand how climate change alters the balance between glacier melt, snowmelt and rainfall, since each responds differently.

Much has been said of the hazards of lakes formed by glacier retreat and that threaten outburst floods. They are important in Nepal but do not apply in Pakistan! The great Indus floods from the Shyok, Shimshal and Karambar ice dams were due to glacier advances and tributary glaciers blocking trunk streams.

If glaciers continue advancing, that is a concern. Attention should be paid to glacier surges: when ice movement suddenly accelerates 10-fold or more, and advances several kilometres in a few months. The UIB has one of the greatest concentrations of surging glaciers. Some threaten communities in the Northern Areas. Since 1987, at least 12 glaciers have surged, more than in any comparable period since records were kept. Climate change is involved but no one knows exactly how.

However, the worst danger, as noted above continues to be the lack of effective monitoring of ice or climate in those critical elevations 3,800-6,500 metres above sea level.

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