ENVIRONMENT: Greening Pakistani politics —Saleem H Ali
Pakistan has the social capital to promote environmental action. With some political will, we just might be able to let the Pakistani flag shine with another metaphorical shade of green
I am currently attending the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain — the largest global gathering of environmental organisations that is held every four years under the auspices of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
What amazed me most at this gathering was the number of Pakistani organisations in attendance. IUCN has a major presence in Pakistan and the national office is considerably larger than its Indian counterpart (even though Indira Gandhi played an important role in establishing IUCN). Thanks to the leadership of philanthropists such as Syed Babar Ali and professionals such as Aban Marker Kabraji, environmental groups have flourished across Pakistani civil society.
This is most encouraging. Yet the actual impact of these groups remains relatively limited since the salience of environmental issues has yet to permeate mainstream politics.
It seems that environmental organisations are now a worthy refuge for former politicians, but those active in politics remain relatively disengaged with key ecological challenges. I ran into one such distinguished former politician, Javed Jabbar, who is now very active within IUCN instead of conventional politics. An able and widely respected incorruptible professional like Mr Jabbar has unfortunately been ostracised by Pakistani politics. Let us hope that his environmental ideals are at least embraced by President Asif Zardari, himself a former environment minister.
The Pakistani government has declared 2009 ‘the year of the environment’. Public intellectuals such as Feryal A Gauhar are admirably trying to galvanise support for this undertaking. However, the government has so far exhibited little interest in moving this forward.
Many would laugh at the idea of celebrating environmental issues with a national security crisis and economic concerns ravaging the land. Yet, environmental issues just might bring the most acrimonious political parties together. Cleaning up our cities and improving public health through environmental action is something everyone can surely agree on and donors would be quite willing to pour funds in that regard. Perhaps even the Pakistani army can show some generosity and commit resources to environmental cleanup efforts.
Providing renewable energy through solar and wind power to the remote villages of Balochistan and Waziristan would be a welcome antidote to extremism. Furthermore, religious parties might also be drawn to this call if they would only consider the lessons from the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia.
Veteran Islamic politician Abdurrahman Wahid recently established the National Awakening Party in Indonesia, and its unifying slogan is environmentalism. Mr Wahid has motivated Indonesia’s madrassas (called pesantren) to institute an environmental education curriculum and is focusing his efforts on sustainable development as an Islamic obligation.
As the Barcelona meeting clearly reveals, Pakistan has the social capital to promote environmental action. With some political will, we just might be able to let the Pakistani flag shine with another metaphorical shade of green.
Dr Saleem H Ali is associate professor of environmental planning at the University of Vermont and a member of IUCN´s World Commission on Protected Areas. www.saleemali.net