By Sarfraz Ali
The environment has never been matter of concern for Pakistan and the tendency goes further chronic as all mainstream political parties, bracing for participation in the forthcoming polls, have placed environment issues at the bottom of their draft manifestos for 2013 elections.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adopted in 1992 and entered into force in 1994, and as a result the adoption of Kyoto Protocol initially in 1997 (which later entered into force on 16 February 2005), has dubbed it necessary for all to have more vibrant climate change policies at political and national level across the world. However, in Pakistan, politics has all glamour but blind to environment issues.
Indifference on the subject gets more appalling because common people especially civil society have not bothered to bash political leadership for downplaying environment matters in their manifestos.
Adding insult to injury, various NGOs engaged in revamping environmental degradation, government departments and independent associations, national and international, have also opted out to remain silent over the situation.
In terms of words, Pakistan claims to be part of global world but at the time of action, it lacks interest to follow environment protocol which are accepted and practiced on international front. Even neighbouring country India has better awakening for environmental problems and its political parties are so sensitive on the issue that they have placed climate matters on the top of their manifestos.
Both the Congress, ruling party, and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), opposition, in India – gave fairly significant mention to climate change and the environment in their manifestos.
The Congress party penned down that “climate change has now emerged as a serious challenge for the world community” and has committed to implementing its National Action Plan on Climate Change, released last June, “in letter and spirit.” The BJP outlined a fairly robust set of measures as well, stating it will “pursue national growth objectives through an ecologically sustainable pathway that leads to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, recognising that containing global warming is essential to protecting life and security of people and environment.”
In developed world, the UK has set precedents to check environmental pitfalls. Its main political parties, Labour and Conservative, have also significant role in this perspective that fully demonstrated through their manifestos.
So far, political parties in Pakistan mainly ruling party, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), looking abuzz to participate in polls have almost given final touches to their manifestos prioritizing their areas, subjects and game plan to be achieved after coming into power. Some coalition allied parties like Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) have even compiled them. It is shame that their manifestos articulate all agendas but “environment” putting human life at stake around the globe.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was founded in 1967 by late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but PPP spotted environmental problems during 2002 general elections when late Benazir Bhutto positioned them in party manifesto. The same manifesto was incorporated in 2008 general elections. The manifesto just mentioned them instead putting greater emphasis on environment to ensure water security, green energy, environment-friendly policies and environment curriculum in educational institutions. It also backed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and underscored minimizing carbon emissions. The PPP also formed National Calamities and Disaster Management Authority (NCDM) and Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency Authority (PEPA), ministry of climate change and ministry of environment. Since the policy was inbuilt spiritless and never meant to do something on practical grounds, half-hearted benchmarks designed to address environment problems proved as an eye-wash and a farfetched reality.
With similar fashion and mind, PPP’s 13-member manifesto committee is again on the roll to fine tune its 2013 election manifesto highlighting five Es: ‘Employment, education, energy, equality, environment.
According to draft of the PPP manifesto, cosmetic priority has been assigned to environmental protection and pollution control. It establishes apparently a number of programmes to combat environmental issues through Environmental Protection Act introduced in 1996 with the help of Environmental Protection Agency and enforcing National Environmental Quality Standards.
A member of committee seeking anonymity said that move to keep environment issues in manifesto was merely ostentation to catch international attention and satisfy foreign friends. “There is something you do not need but you have to carry it as mandatory protocol to stay afloat on international realm and this is what happened with environment content in party manifesto,” he revealed.
Meanwhile PPP senior leader and manifesto member committee Taj Haider said: “Our (new) manifesto is about to complete. It will lay emphasis on allocating resources to the lower and working classes,” he said.
The PPP’s ally party including Pakistan Muslim League (Q) headed by Ch Shujat Hussain and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) led by Altaf Hussain and Awami National Party (ANP) spearheaded by Asfadyar Wali Khan are also on the same page over the issue.
The PML-Q coined a slogan in their last election manifesto to introduce a “cycle culture” for a better environment and health, but contrary to this, their leaders used to drive bullet-proof luxurious cars instead of cycles. Their new manifesto which is being knitted now still has also put environment issues on back burner.
The MQM kept the environment problems at lowest ebb in 2002 and 2008 though showed some works in their constituencies in Karachi and Hyderabad during present tenure. It completed 2013 manifesto under a committee led by Dr Farooq Sattar, including Syed Sardar Ahmed, Haider Abbas Rizvi, Mustafa Kamal, Raza Haroon, Dr Sagheer Ahmed, Faisal Sabzwari, Waseem Aftab and Shahid Latif.
Recently, Deputy Convener of the Co-ordination Committee of MQM, Dr Farooq Sattar while addressing a meeting of the Central Executive Council of the MQM in Khursheed Begum Secretariat in Azizabad disclosed that MQM’s manifesto would ensure progress, prosperity and stability for the country and would bring the real change through its manifesto. But, he did not hint at environment issue plaguing the country at full throttle.
Another coalition partner, Awami National Party (ANP) that possesses parliamentary presence in Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), earlier called Frontier specified commitments to environmental protection like afforestation and eco-friendly urban areas, but so far no progress is in sight. In present manifesto, compiled by a manifesto committee comprising the party’s provincial chapter presidents under Senator Haji Adeel, it is very hard to find priority to environment
Ruling parties are not alone in the case. The opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N headed by two-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has even given a cold shoulder to environment issues in all manifestos. Currently PML-N senior leader Sartaj Aziz heading manifesto committee is set to unveil party 2013 manifesto. It is not surprising that the manifesto does not cater to environment issue specially climate change, pollution of air and marine habitat, water quality, biodiversity, invasive plants and animals, eco-system, unsustainable agriculture, overpopulation and so on and so forth.
PML-N senator and central secretary information Mushahid Ullah Khan, replying a question said that party manifesto always put on higher pedestal all environmental related-issues. He claimed that the party manifesto ensured conservation of existing forests, watershed, rangeland, and wildlife resources by sustainable utilization and their development. “It focuses on agro-forestry programs, fast growing, multi-purpose tree species, private farmlands, aggressive national plantation campaigns, national parks, game sanctuaries, and game reserves for the conservation of wildlife,” he elaborated and added that manifesto also called for controlling water and air pollution, launching solid and hazardous waste disposal schemes, checking ocean dumping of waste, medical waste tracking, toxic substances control, marine protection, and pesticides management.
Pakistan Environment Lawyers’ Association (PELA) president Rafy Aalam criticized political parties for belittling environment issues in their manifestos but courageously confessed “Our like environment associations and NGOs also underperformed as if political parties did nothing and we also stayed out of the focus.”
He further said: “Had we been in touch with political leadership in making of manifestos giving feedback on environment issues, they might have enlisted environment problems in true letter and spirit and this would have turned as tipping point but we remained dormant.”
Pakistan Eco-Green Society Chairman and Environmentalist Akhtar H Awan also openly admitted negligence on the behalf of NGOs engaged in environment-related issues but to control the damage. He said that letters would be forwarded to political parties to prioritize environment problems at the top. “We have also plan to hold seminars and optimize various medium of mass communication to sensitize political parties over the issue,” he asserted.
Story does not end here, parliament also played a blind eye over the most important issue establishing the impression that it has nothing to do with the healthy environment and pollution-free country. “It is true that ministry of climate change worked nothing except passing a bill on the issue,” National Assembly Standing Committee on Climate Change Chairman Dr. Ghulam Haider Samego accepted his inefficiency.
However, there is still a light at the end of tunnel. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), gearing up for polls, has released environment policy in its party manifesto 2013 elections. Everyone praised it and described the PTI gesture with proverb “every cloud has silver lining”.
The PTI’s environment policy blueprint available on its official website said “Inappropriate and ill-conceived projects have put under extreme stress our land, soil, water, forests, and wildlife. High population growth rate is an additional source of environmental degradation. Our forests are dwindling, leading to erosion of valuable topsoil threatening the livelihood of people living in the mountains. The uncontrolled growth of urban areas with poor sanitation conditions is threatening natural ecosystems,” it elaborated.
According to the manifesto, the PTI commits to expedite the implementation of the national environment action plan (NEAP), set up national/public parks across the country, enforce the Environment Protection Act 1997 which provides a framework for conservation of wildlife and biodiversity, establishment of environmental tribunals and magistrates, inclusion of environmental issues in school curriculum, and public awareness, design national guidelines and modules for the development of towns and cities as a planning and implementation tool for urban development.
Manifesto also introduces and enforce byelaws to control land, air and water pollution by industry and urban centers, eliminate timber mafia and ensure transfer of economic benefits to the local inhabitants from legal logging, ban import of hazardous chemical wastes for recycling by any industry or for dumping, launch a national campaign of forestation, develop and implement community-based programmes for conversion of degraded forests and wasteland into quality forests, deny exploitation of offshore resources, especially marine life, by big trawlers, offer incentives to the private sector to invest in research and development in environment-friendly technology for application in agriculture, industry and the services sector and develop programmes to clean our river systems, streams and other water bodies.
It looks heartening that in a situation all mainstream parties ignored environment issues; the PTI stands alone for the noble cause. But, real challenge will surface when the PTI, after coming into power, will truly translate its words into reality. So time will tell that it is just an election stunt or manifestation of intention to attend environment problems.
(The writer is a Lahore based journalist. He can be contacted at: [email protected] )