The geographical location of Pakistan is ardently celebrated by many ‘patriotic’ historians. This perspective had many proponents until the recent past – which is certainty a very sluggish realisation.
Volumes of unenviable circumstances had been faced by our state due to its geographical location, sometimes due to ‘natural’ factors in the shape of floods and heatwaves linked to global warming. But most of the times, the horrible events revolving around our geography were fostered by the decisions made by our own leadership. Let us dig into both.
First, the natural complications related to our geography. Besides a number of natural resources that we are bestowed with, this often overlooks the snags of our terrain. Global warming and a consequent flooding and heatwaves top the list. Flooding in Pakistan is not today’s phenomenon, rather it goes back to the very inception of the country. Before expounding on the floods and its miseries, and how Pakistan’s location can be a nightmare in the years to follow, we should first know that floods and Pakistan are inexorably intertwined in history.
According to the federal Flood Commission (CFC), Pakistan has been hit by 20 major floods, exempting the small-scale flooding. The majority of our population is unaware of the number as they have only been told about one flood, if not two, and that of 2010 and 1995. Whether it is a ploy of the government to not highlight our flood history in order to avoid criticism from the citizens for this bad governance causing lack of infrastructure and hence, more destruction; or a general lack of awareness among the masses, we don’t know! But what we certainly know is that this is a huge number, 20, for a country with limited resources and developing infrastructure in its brief history of 75 years.
When it comes to casualties, the floods in 1950 claimed the highest number of lives i.e. over 2,000, making the 2010 floods the second deadliest, and the floods of 2022 the third with a stretching death toll of over 1,500.
According to the statistics, for the past 20 years, Pakistan has consistently ranked among the top 10 most vulnerable countries on the Climate Risk Index, with 10,000 fatalities due to climate-related disasters from 173 extreme weather events. According to a World Bank report, Pakistan loses a staggering amount of 1 billion dollars annually due to climate change implications.
The truly sad part of the tale is yet to follow i.e. Pakistan is one of the very few countries having a very low carbon footprint rate. Against this backdrop, many of our political leaders and influencers called upon global stakeholders to cancel the international debts. Even a British MP, Claudia Webbe, insisted upon easing the international debts and assistance through reparations. This is a logical ask too, because the growing industries – a prime source of carbon emission – of the developed countries are capitalising on our miseries.
Agony prevails as no indemnity has been assured by the responsible states. Under a 2050 climate scenario developed by NASA, continuing growth of greenhouse emissions at today’s rate could lead to additional global warming of about 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. This can impact our country to a catastrophic extent, keeping in view its vulnerability to climate change – glimpses of which we seen in the recent flooding of 2022.
Second, the self-inflicted adverse decisions which assisted foreign states in exploiting our geography. Hitching its wagons to the US bloc in the Cold War to contain communism, and not remaining neutral in the very beginning of our journey as a nation proved futile – in fact, it contributed to our development as a security state. From then on, to comply with US wishes, Pakistan has signed treaties like SEATO and CENTO and also provided its territory for the military operations of NATO against the Soviet-led communist bloc. It proved profitable for some, in the sense that Pakistan received economic support worth billion of dollars. But it led to consequences which threaten our sovereignty to this day. It is easy to guess as to what those threats are i.e. the menace of terrorism, insurgency and hostile relationships with Afghanistan and Russia – the latter of which only recently improved courtesy the arms deal in 2010 and the recent visit by our ex-PM Imran Khan.
Such events would have a major impact on any nation that experiences them. In our case, these events have turned the minds of the masses of Pakistan towards a state of paranoia: so much that an influential American columnist called Pakistan ‘Paranoidistan’— “a state that suspects every US move as designed to weaken Pakistan.” Rightly so! our history has nurtured us in this way.
Our leadership in the past has never turned down any opportunity to be a party to a conflict – expecting strategic benefits, but receiving the contrary.
The unenviable facets of our geographical location should not be blamed on nature alone, but instead circumvented through specific measures. It is a high time for our leadership to devise foreign policy in such a way that the country no longer leaves itself open to being declared a scapegoat.
Islamabad should acknowledge that we cannot afford to be a party to the next emerging and well anticipated cold war between China and the US, which would multiply our miseries in future.
The stake holders of the respective government departments concerning climate and environment should also engage citizens in the process and educate them on the subject of climate change. Highlighting climate change in the UN and pressurising global stakeholders for immediate measures will prove to be impactful. A certain amount should be fixed to be paid by the highest carbon emitter states to the most vulnerable countries as an indemnity. This can be a remedy for the nature-caused origin of our geographic woes.
Among the causes of our geographical problems – the natural and the self-inflicted – we should strive, at the very least, to eradicate the self-inflicted ones.