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Selected news/columns/editorials: 22.03.2016

The fuel of economic growth

The writer is CEO, LEAD Pakistan, a think tank focusing on climate and water issues.The writer is CEO, LEAD Pakistan, a think tank focusing on climate and water issues.

WATER has become Pakistan’s number one development and governance issue. While water availability in our river systems has remained fairly stable, per capita water availability has diminished from about 1,500 to nearly 1,000 cubic metres, owing to a fast-growing population.

On World Water Day, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has an opportunity to set the direction for Pakistan’s water economy. We will need to lay foundations for the blue economy. We will need water to fuel our economy, create water jobs, invest in water efficient technologies, create water markets for water savings and systems. It is critical for Pakistan to make water the central plank of our development agenda, if we are to meet our SDGs targets. Action on five issues to set the direction is needed. 

Water policy: Pakistan has no water policy. The ministries of planning & reforms and water & power circulated two different drafts. Both have been withdrawn quietly. The Council of Common Interests is perceived as a spoiler and not an enabler. Hence there is visibly weak resolve to convene the CCI meeting and present the draft policy for approval. Meanwhile, some provinces have started working on their own provincial policies. The best of provincial policies cannot be a substitute for a comprehensive national water policy.

Groundwater: The country’s groundwater reserves are not regulated. Pakistan’s agriculture meets about 40pc of its water needs by extracting groundwater. But the water table is fast depleting and getting contaminated both in agricultural and urban areas. Our cities will not be habitable, nor will our agriculture be tenable if the present rate of groundwater depletion and contamination continues. It is a poorly governed area that has seen no meaningful legislation in decades. In fact, the subsidy for solar energy-run tube wells will accelerate depletion unless clubbed with drip irrigation. Groundwater reserves should be seen as strategic assets. Significant investment must be made in mapping, recharging, pricing and regulating individual and commercial use. It has serious implications for our ecosystems, cropping patterns, terms of trade, and transboundary aquafers. 

On World Water Day, the PM has an opportunity to set the direction of Pakistan’s water economy.

Transboundary water institutions: Water resources are shared with three of our four neighbours in very significant ways. Any upstream developments can have adverse implications for us. Our neighbours have elaborate plans for infrastructure development. While it is sometimes suggested we seek their concurrence on our plans, we do not engage with them about theirs. We have failed to engage proactively or to explore benefit-sharing on shared basins. Afghanistan and China still offer opportunities for collaborative approaches. 

Focus on India or the Indus Waters Treaty is important, but should not be at the cost of other neighbours. In fact, the IWT has provisions for collaboration but a zero-sum approach, pursued both by India and Pakistan, spoils the atmosphere for additional instruments of collaboration. As the lower riparian we cannot afford this and must generate additional policy options for better collaboration. 

The Pakistan Commission for Indus Waters (PCIW) has failed us more than once in negotiations and court cases; we must reconstitute it by converting it into an independent constitutional authority, with a strong capacity for technical and legal studies and with partnerships with universities and think tanks in such areas as hydrology, meteorology, climatology, early warning, etc. The Commission’s mandate needs to be expanded to cover all transboundary water issues with all neighbours.

Interprovincial trust: All provinces are entangled in subtle water wars. KP aspires to construct more dams than it will need. Punjab feels it is surrendering its due share to the lower-riparian, smaller provinces that led by Sindh accuse Punjab of non-transparent transaction. The seeds of mistrust are also sown by early varieties of water-intensive crops in the pre-monsoon months when canals run empty and dams are at low levels.

Even a rational conversation on constructing uncontested reservoirs has become hostage to political bickering. The institutions have failed to generate trust. Telemetry or other instruments at locations where water shareholders change hands have remained an elusive dream despite availability of technologies and funds. Irsa has shrunk to a small club of well-regarded but retired officials who, among other things, lack the sense of urgency to translate Irsa’s mandate into action to manage water as a shared national resource. As part of the Ministry of Water & Power, it has failed to get the same attention that energy issues get. Water deserves a separate ministry, or at least an independent commission with constitutional status. 

Climate change: Climate change poses a more serious threat to Pakistan’s water supply than India’s. India cannot stop Pakistan’s water beyond a certain number of days even if it wanted to. At the risk of international isolation it can suddenly release water in some of our rivers and cause damage, or deny water to some crops by exploiting timing. These issues can be handled by our water diplomats. But climate change poses more existential challenges. The changing monsoon pattern is making water supply erratic. It has started reaching the upper reaches of our Himalayan ranges and parts of Balochistan not traditionally covered by monsoon rains. Karachi and other coastal areas have begun to receive more frequent warnings about cyclones. 

Changes in rain patterns raise questions about food security and the need to invest in climate-smart agriculture. While we have a greater incidence of hydro-metrological droughts in parts of Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh, urban and rural flooding is becoming a recurrent phenomenon. In fact, torrential rains in the Jammu region and the upper reaches of the Kabul river basin have flooded Sialkot in Punjab and Nowshera in KP, drawing attention to emerging transboundary risks. As the glaciers recede, we face the threat of permanent reduction in our water lifeline. 

Economic growth: The prime minister should take a fresh look at Pakistan’s institutional landscape. The mandates and governance of water-related institutions such as PCIW, Irsa etc should be revisited. He may want to constitute a national commission to look at water as a source of national cohesion and trust between the provinces. Water should also be an essential component of regional foreign and economic policy. We need to base our energy, food, and disaster risk reduction policies on climate change projections. We must address the issues of water access, water equity, and water as a hazard to our development as a national priority. Our vision for Pakistan as a middle-income country can only be fuelled with water.

The writer is CEO, LEAD Pakistan, an think tank focusing on climate and water issues.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

ISLAMABAD: UK-based WaterAid released a report on the eve of World Water Day, revealing that water quality throughout the world has deteriorated, with Pakistan being no exception.

Around 16 million people in Pakistan do not have access to clean water and that there are also inequalities in the cost of the commodity, with the poor having to pay more, the report says.

It further reads: “Pakistan is among the top 10 countries with the greatest number of people living without access to safe water...they have no choice but to collect unsafe water from unsafe sources.”

About 84 to 89pc of the country’s water sources do not meet the water quality standards for human consumption, because of which about 53,000 children die of diseases like diarrhoea every year and over 3 million people suffer from water born diseases, the report says.

Islamabad’s water woes to increase in summer, says CDA official

Even the country’s capital, Islamabad, has been constantly plagued with water scarcity. 

Its civic body, Capital Development Authority (CDA), is finding it hard to meet the city’s water needs.

According to an official of the CDA’s engineering wing, “About 70 million gallons of water is supplied to the capital every day when it requires 170 million gallons daily which means 100 million gallons of water fall short each day.”

He said the main sources of water for the city were Simly Dam, local tubewells and Khanpur Dam.

“With increasing cases of water theft from the main supply lines, especially around the kachi abadis, the shortage will be worse if the summer is too hot this year,” the official said.

Pakistan has made many commitments at international forums to provide clean water and better sanitation and hygiene facilities, especially the sustainable development goals which stipulate that these be achieved by 2030. 

However, this has not even been done for the country’s capital where locals are not satisfied with the quality of water as well and have resorted to buying bottled water for drinking.

“We were never concerned about the quality of water before and the water from the main supply line used to be fresh and cold. However, no one trusts water quality anymore,” said Sajjad Bukhari, a resident of the city.

Citizens have also dug up their own bores, resulting in the depletion of underground water resources at a faster rate because there are no bodies to determine the amount of water being pumped through private bores.

“Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water worldwide and the global rate of groundwater extraction is increasing by one to two per cent per year,” said Siddique Ahmed Khan, country representative of WaterAid Pakistan.

“There is clear evidence that groundwater supplies are diminishing with an estimated 20pc of the world’s aquifers over-exploited,” he said.

It says that the main reasons for the lack of access to water are a lack of money, because it is not political priority, because of the government’s inability to deliver and inequalities in the society.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

WASHINGTON: Nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists is a bigger and more immediate threat and not nuclear weapon states, says the Obama administration.

US lawmakers disagree. They insist that states like Russia, North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, which have nuclear weapons, pose a greater threat to world peace.

The administration and the lawmakers engaged in this argument at a recent congressional debate, which precedes a nuclear security summit being held in Washington next week.

The conference has a tall agenda: “Minimise the use of highly-enriched uranium, secure vulnerable materials, counter nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism.”

But recent statements from senior US officials indicate that they intend to focus on a perceived threat, terrorists acquiring nukes.

“We cannot afford to wait for an act of nuclear terrorism before working together to collectively improve our nuclear security culture,” says Laura S. H. Holgate, a special assistant to the US president on weapons of mass destruction.

Senior State Department officials also stressed the point at a Senate hearing this week and in the process also defended the arrangements Pakistan has made to protect its nuclear weapons.

Assistant Secretary for International Security and Non-proliferation Thomas M. Countryman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that since the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit where Pakistan detailed its nuclear security arrangements; the country has further enhanced the security of its nukes.

At the core of these efforts is the Pakistan Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Security, which conducts courses across the spectrum of nuclear security disciplines, including physical protection and personnel reliability.

Mr Countryman noted that last week Pakistan hosted a meeting of the IAEA-coordinated International Network for Nuclear Security Training and Support Centres at its Centre of Excellence, where countries shared “best practices”, related to nuclear security.

Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, the US Department of State Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programmes and the State Department, led the US delegation that attended this event.

US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller noted that “Pakistan’s Centre of Excellence has really done an excellent job to establish a programme that is not only serving Pakistan’s interests, but is also serving on a regional basis to provide training with the help of the IAEA.”

Ms Gottemoeller, however, noted that India was still “at an early stage” of establishing its own Centre of Excellence for nuclear security.” She also underlined “quite a bit of advancement” in India’s efforts to reduce a nuclear race in South Asia.

But she acknowledged that battlefield nuclear weapons remained a security concern and the US administration had conveyed its position to Pakistan that it did not see these weapons as secure. “We have made our concerns known, and will continue to press them about what we consider to be the destabilising aspects of their battlefield nuclear weapons programme,” she said.

But Committee Chairman Bob Corker said that the administration’s failure to acknowledge the threats posed by nuclear weapon states had disappointed him.

Mr Corker and other Republican senators were more interested in the specific nuclear behaviours of Russia, which they said had violated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and Iran and North Korea, which had tested ballistic missiles.

“Our efforts to combat nuclear proliferation are in bad shape and our partners no longer respect treaties,” Mr Corker said.

The senator insisted that there’s “more potential for nuclear conflict now than there was in 2009”.

Mr Corker said that the “potential for a military miscalculation with regard to nuclear proliferation is higher by far — by far — by orders of magnitude than it was in 2009.”

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

IT is talked up as a core goal in Fata. The army chief is known to focus on the issue. The political government vows it will get it done. And the newly appointed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor has said that it is his foremost priority. 

The return of IDPs to Fata is, of course, of vital importance to the stability of the tribal region. But there is a very human dimension to that need: the denizens of Fata have sacrificed so much more than the average citizen and to them the state owes a very special responsibility. 

Indeed, embedded in the military’s preferred acronym for the displaced people of Fata — TDPs — is the promise that exile will be temporary. Yet, despite the military’s urgency and the political government’s vows of facilitation, the en masse return of IDPs to Fata does not appear to be occurring. 

Perhaps it is time that the state revisited its strategy.

What, for example, are the reasons for the high return of IDPs to Khyber Agency (90pc) and the exceedingly low rate of return to South Waziristan Agency (15pc)? The military operation in South Waziristan began more than six years ago, while Khyber has seen two major operations in the last couple of years alone.

Part of the answer is surely South Waziristan sharing a border with North Waziristan — until the latter is fully cleared of militants, the security threat to the former remains. In addition, after years of living in cities and towns across the country, the IDPs of South Waziristan may have found jobs and started new lives, which has slowed the pace of return. 

But Orakzai Agency and Kurram Agency also have exceedingly high numbers of displaced people — two-thirds of registered IDPs are yet to return to the two agencies. Is it only a question of resources — to rehabilitate the physical infrastructure and kick-start local economies — or is there something more that the IDPs are looking for?

Perhaps a survey should be conducted to understand the needs of IDPs rather than have state officials simply determine on their own what conditions are needed for their return. 

Too often, state policy has little connection to the needs of the citizenry and that problem may well be magnified when it comes to Fata. 

Given the experience of other agencies, it should not be assumed that IDPs from North Waziristan will return home from Afghanistan and various parts of Pakistan once major military operations are concluded. 

Resettlement packages — a combination of financial incentives and physical infrastructure — may need to be complemented by immediate steps for the overhaul of the administrative and political systems of Fata. 

Given that most IDPs are registered and the military and Fata administration have some contact with them, it should not be impossible to determine from the people themselves what they need to go back to their homes.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

WASHINGTON: Hillary Clinton launched a withering attack on Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Monday at an appearance before thousands of Jewish voters, saying America’s next president cannot be “neutral” when it comes to Israel. 

Clinton’s broadside, in which she implored to the crowd, “If you see a bully, stand up to him,” comes as perhaps hundreds of people attending Washington’s most influential pro-Israel lobby’s annual conference, including rabbis, plan to walk out in protest when Trump takes the stage. 

“We need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything’s negotiable,” the Democratic front-runner told more than 15,000 attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee confab. 

“My friends, Israel’s security is non-negotiable.” US presidential hopefuls routinely make pilgrimages to AIPAC during an election year. Republicans Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Trump all are scheduled to address the powerful pro-Israel lobby’s confab later on Monday.

Trump, who hails from New York, has raised eyebrows in the Jewish community for stressing he wanted to be a neutral broker and not take “sides” between Israel and the Palestinians when it came to peace talks.

In a December debate, the billionaire real estate magnate described the Israel-Palestinian relationship as “the toughest negotiation there probably is of any kind.” He has also set off alarm bells with his rhetoric about Muslims, Mexicans and refugees, and his refusal to directly demand an end to violent skirmishes which keep breaking out at his campaign rallies between protesters and his supporters.

Clinton stressed the importance of “electing a president with a deep personal commitment to Israel’s future. “ “It would be a serious mistake for the United States to abandon our responsibilities or cede the mantle of leadership for global peace and security to anyone else,” Clinton said.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

THE HAGUE: Once-feared Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic will on Thursday stand before the UN war crimes judges to learn if, 20 years on, they find him guilty of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

The notorious political leader faces 11 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity arising out of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in which 100,000 people perished and 2.2 million were forced out from their homes.

Now 70, he will become the highest-profile politician to be judged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), after former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic died in his prison cell in The Hague in 2006 while on trial.

Karadzic, as the leader of the breakaway Republika Srpska, is accused of taking part in a criminal scheme to “permanently remove Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat inhabitants from territories claimed” by the Bosnian Serbs through a campaign of ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate killings, persecutions and terror.

Karadzic’s verdict “will for sure be one of the most important in the history of the tribunal”, ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told AFP.

It will focus a spotlight on “the responsibility of political leaders for the suffering of their own people”, he said.

A poet and a trained psychiatrist, Karadzic notably stands accused of two charges of genocide, including the 1995 massacre in the UN-protected enclave in Srebrenica where almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered in cold blood before being dumped in mass graves.

Significantly, Karadzic is also accused of genocide in several municipalities, including Kljuc and Zvornik.

If he is found guilty on this charge, it will be a landmark ruling by the ICTY.

He is further accused, along with Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, of being behind the 44-month siege of Sarajevo when 10,000 civilians including 1,500 children died in a relentless campaign of sniping and shelling.

Acquittal ‘unlikely’

Once Europe’s most wanted man, Karadzic was finally caught in a Belgrade bus in 2008 disguised as a natural healer after 13 years on the run, and transferred to the tribunal.

His marathon trial opened in 2009, when a not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf as he refused to address the court.

During the trial, which ended in October 2014 after an exhausting 497 days in the courtroom, some 115,000 pages of documentary evidence were presented along with 586 witnesses, while court officials recorded some 47,500 pages of transcripts.

Karadzic, whose trademark shock of grey hair has turned white, led his own defence and repeatedly insisted he was a “man of peace” and “a friend to Muslims” seeking to prevent the worst excesses of the conflict.

He maintained he was unaware of the Srebrenica massacre and, while he has apologised to victims and recognised that as the territory’s political leader he has “a moral responsibility” for the brutal events, he has insisted he will be acquitted.

“It would be a huge surprise to everyone if Karadzic was completely acquitted, so I am not expecting that,” his legal adviser Peter Robinson admitted to AFP.

Indeed, the prosecution has called for a life sentence if he is found guilty, even though to some Karadzic remains “a hero” for standing up for Serbian identity during the wars.

“I think that Karadzic’s main goal in this trial was to tell his side of the story and in that way, he was successful, regardless of the outcome,” added Robinson.

World’s ‘most evil’ man

About 100 representatives from survivors’ groups will attend Thursday’s judgement, including survivors of the detention camps and the mothers of Srebrenica still mourning their lost men folk. And they will be keenly watching the second charge of genocide in the municipalities.

“Above all, we want Karadzic to be held responsible not just for Srebrenica, but also for what happened in Prijedor, Vlasenica, Zvornik and all the other places. Without that, whatever sentence is passed will have less value,” said Munira Subasic, the head of the Mothers of Srebrenica group.

The late American diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, a chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war, once described Karadzic as “one of the worst, most evil men in the world”.

A guilty verdict for the two charges of genocide would go a long way towards delivering justice to all victims, experts say.

It would give “the families the acknowledgement and recognition that this most heinous of crimes was committed against them, and also recognise their suffering,” said Eric Stover, a former war crimes investigator in Yugoslavia.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

CAIRO: Egypt’s state-run news agency said on Monday the top judicial disciplinary council has forced 14 judges into early retirement for allegedly supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group. 

MENA said that investigations have shown that the judges are members of the “Judges for Egypt” movement, which opposed the military overthrow of Islamist President Moha­mmed Morsi. 

The news agency says the group supports the Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, violating impartiality rules. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi led the military overthrow of Morsi in July 2013. 

Some of the judges read a televised statement supporting Morsi’s “legitimacy” while at a public sit-in by his supporters in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square. Security forces killed hundreds of protesters when they dispersed the sit-in in August 2013.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

BANGKOK: Around 25,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority group have left camps for displaced people in western Myanmar and returned to the communities they fled during sectarian violence in 2012, the United Nations said on Monday.

The number of people still in camps has fallen to around 120,000 from 145,000 in Rakhine State, Vivian Tan, regional spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said.

The move will bolster optimism among ethnic communities in Myanmar that their situation may improve under the new government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD won a landslide electoral win in November and is forming a government to take power on April 1.

The majority of Rohingya who have left the camps have rebuilt houses in their place of origin, Tan said in an e-mailed statement. The move out of the camps started in March 2015 in a process led by the Myanmar government, she added.

“These movements are a positive step towards ending displacement, cutting humanitarian dependency as well as restoring a degree of normality and dignity to people’s lives,” she said.

The Rohingya still faced challenges due to lack of citizenship and related restrictions, she said. The number of camps for displaced people has fallen to 40, down from 67, she added.

Persecution and poverty led thousands more Rohingya to flee Myanmar in the wake of the violence between Buddhists and Muslims there four years ago. Many of them were smuggled or trafficked to Thailand, Malaysia and beyond.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has demanded that the centre assimilate the already-ripe 2,600MW power projects in the province into the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

In a detailed briefing before the Parliamentary Committee on CPEC on Monday, KP Energy Minister Mohammad Atif put forward his province’s demand, saying the provincial government had completed feasibility studies on 29 different hydel projects that will produce a total of 2,600MW.

“We demand that these power projects be made part of the CPEC,” the provincial minister said.

Talking to Dawn after the committee meeting, Mr Atif said the government had no reason to turn down KP’s demand. “If the federal government can include imported coal-based power projects in the CPEC, then why can’t KP’s natural and cost-effective hydel projects be included too,” he asked.

Energy minister insists province doesn’t need any more money

“We do not need money for these projects, but if they are included in the CPEC, they will be completed on a fast-track basis,” he said.

Of the 2,600MW, the KP government recently advertised 518MW projects, seeking bids from the private sector.

According to a statement issued after the meeting, committee chairman Mushahid Hussain Sayed said that KP’s demand would be conveyed to the quarters concerned.

The KP minister said the committee had assured him that a meeting would soon be convened between KP and Wapda officials to address the demands of the provincial government.

He also asked the committee to ensure the provincial government’s representation in all meetings regarding CPEC power projects to be executed in KP. Senator Mushahid Hussain said the government would ensure the representation of all provinces in all meetings with China, including the upcoming meeting of a Joint Working Group on Energy in April.

The Private Power Infrastructure Board (PPIB) managing director also briefed the committee on the issue of Suki-Kinari Hydel Power Project in KP. He said that a revised notice for land acquisition was issued on March 16 to impose Section-4 of the Land Acquisition Act (that imposes a ban on the transfer of ownership rights of land).

At this, Senator Hussain directed the managing director of the PPIB to meet the owners of the lands, as well as the concerned deputy commissioner, power investment company and other stakeholders, on March 25 to resolve the issue.

On the registration of the indenture of lease with the government of Sindh, Water and Power Secretary Mohammad Younus Dagha told the committee that there had been progress, but it required the approval of all stakeholders, adding that the matter would be resolved within two weeks. He also said that Minister for Water & Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif would meet the Sindh chief minister to discuss the matter next week.

Chief Minister Gilgit Baltistan, Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehman also attended the meeting as a special invitee and updated the committee on the progress on the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. “The new GB government has saved Rs7.5 billion in this project,” he added.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

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