Share With Us

Opinions, Analysis, and Rebuttals.

Home Blog

Social Media’s Truth Crisis: How to Stop the Proliferation of Lies?

0

Social media has changed the human condition like nothing before it; the way we communicate, disseminate news, and experience the world are all completely different due to social media platforms. The revolution has come in many forms, in proliferation through connectivity and the democratization of information. Yet, for the young, this digital revolution has raised many pressing questions that must be answered quickly and creatively.

In a way we’ve never seen before, social media has become the force that has defined our digital generation.

They have become daily haunts for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis, allowing them to communicate and express themselves like never before. Although it has a lot of benefits, it also has its fair share of misinformation. The presence of misinformation on these platforms is particularly dangerous for a society like Pakistan, where misinformation can lead to public health problems and amplify political tensions. This issue deserves a comprehensive response, including government tasks, media literacy, and cooperation among actors.

Given the speed and scope of information generation, it is nearly impossible for any of us to separate the wheat from the chaff. Misinformation leads to the creation and dissemination of fake material. Social media often transmits erroneous content akin to inanity. Therefore, the world is teeming with fakes, conspiracy theories, and special operations. But that leads to the question: how can we ensure freedom of expression without helping to spread fake news?

Misinformation on social media is a problem Pakistan shares with many other countries worldwide. Today, the internet spreads fake news, scams, and conspiracy theories, often resulting in fatalities. Misinformation is a big problem, especially in Pakistan, where digital literacy is very low. Secondly, more and more people, fragmented and isolated by poverty in rural Pakistan, have either had no schooling or have experienced only the most rudimentary form of education. This may prevent them from developing the critical thinking skills to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Since social media has managed to bring smartphones and cheap Internet to everyone, it has had no significant impact, keeping a large percentage of Pakistanis capable of accepting online lies.

Furthermore, droning disinformation merchants can hoodwink and manipulate a substantial portion of Pakistan’s population at the drop of a hat without any government censorship or civil rights intervention, let alone multinational corporations selling information rather than commodities. Addressing these issues comprehensively in Pakistan requires regulation, education, and collaboration from the government, civil society, and social media.

Firstly, it is the government’s responsibility to issue strict guidelines for the media’s release of information on social networking sites. This legislation should include regulations making social media companies bear the responsibility for combating misinformation, regardless of what sense or method they use. Apart from regulations, Pakistan will also need to start a large project on information literacy that informs Pakistanis about the risks of fake news and teaches them how to distinguish between real and false news items.

In a country like Pakistan, you can even have a 10-year-old’s social media account. A lack of age verification could allow children as young as primary school to sign up without knowing or having someone tell them they are legally taking risks and responsibilities the moment they open a profile. Here is a simple solution to the problem of making government policy: there will be policies on social accounts at age 18.

Research indicates that individuals between the ages of 15 and 18 are primarily responsible for disseminating false information, partly because of their incapacity and the simplicity of their ideas.

The fight against fake news on social media contains too much effort and requires everyone to come together under one umbrella. While the challenges of fake news are solvable, they will require an adaptive approach that targets both the technology and social dimensions of the problem. Navigating the terrains of this digital age requires that we maintain our integrity, transparency, and, most importantly, our education.

By promoting media literacy, enforcing regulations effectively, and collaborating with the government, civil society, and social media platforms, Pakistan can take positive steps towards preventing misinformation from permeating the entire society and becoming an insidious phenomenon that hinders the development of an informed, resilient, and democratic society. The journey ahead will not be easy, but with resolve and a united front, we can shape a world where truth still matters and the common individual is educated enough to tread the digital landscape with confidence and prudence.

Between Hammer and Anvil

0

NATO European defence policy against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and Trump’s possible victory in the U.S. elections. At the end of May 2024, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg announced the need for NATO countries to create a fund of assistance to Ukraine for five years in the amount of USD 100 billion. We are talking about military aid.

According to Stoltenberg, this fund could guarantee Ukraine’s military aid if Trump wins the US presidential election in November 2024. What is the reaction of European politicians to Stoltenberg’s initiative?

According to Politico, “the plan is a bit confusing,” an Eastern European official said on condition of anonymity due to the issue’s sensitivity. Whether the European NATO heavyweights Germany and France will back the plan remains to be seen. Paris has preferred to keep defence spending within the EU rather than NATO, while Chancellor Olaf Scholz is unwilling to spend more than has already been set aside under the country’s Zeitenwende (“turning point”) pledges, stemming from a speech he delivered following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Another official, also from a country friendly toward Ukraine, said he “won’t be surprised” if the €100 billion figure is ultimately revised but predicted the allies would need to find ways to show concrete support for Kyiv. Two other officials with knowledge of the discussion confirmed talks were ongoing, especially concerning the amount of money and ways of allocating it.

The contribution of the United States is questionable after a long-lasting, past partisan debate in Congress related to the military aid of Ukraine. Is the US capable of getting through one more partisan battle in Congress again in the wake of the ongoing presidential campaign? If the US is not capable, who will take leadership of the NATO fundraising campaign for Ukraine?

Stoltenberg’s initiative may raise questions for those NATO countries that can still not meet NATO’s 2% GDP requirement for defence spending. As of 2023, only 11 NATO countries complied with this requirement. To fulfil this requirement, European NATO members have to find about 30 billion euros in additional funding, i.e., increase their 1.85 per cent to 2 per cent. At the same time, they must allocate an additional 20 billion euros to Ukraine each year.

In 2016, then-candidate Trump’s statements about the unfair fiscal burden carried by the United States compared with its European allies was nothing fundamentally new in NATO’s nearly seven-decade history, as Fabrice Pothier and Alexander Vershbow mentioned. We can, for example, refer to the experience of the 1970s, when Henry Kissinger pressed US European partners toward an increase in their defence expenditures.

However, in 2016, Trump moved ahead and declared his readiness to make conditional US commitments under Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, which obligates members to defend any ally that comes under attack. Trump has suggested that would depend on whether the ally in question had “fulfilled [its financial] obligations to us.” In this, Trump meant NATO’s 2 per cent gross domestic product target for defence spending.

Stoltenberg should remember his conversation with US President Trump in 2018 on the eve of the NATO summit. The conversation was difficult, as Trump was quite blunt in voicing his displeasure that most European countries were saving on defence costs and not meeting the 2 per cent of GDP requirement in defence spending, i.e., effectively shifting their defence costs onto the shoulders of the United States.

In his memoirs, John Bolton, National Security Advisor to the US President, emphasized that Stoltenberg’s proposal to increase these defence costs gradually until 2024, and in particular in 2018 by 40 billion Euros, did not diminish Trump’s indignation, said that it was only possible to get an immediate result from the European countries by the ultimatum, i.e. either the European countries increase defence costs to 2% of GDP, or the US withdraws from NATO.

The situation in 2018 is much different from the situation in 2024 – it is now the third year of a large-scale war in Ukraine, on the border with NATO and the EU.

It was not a cold war but a hot war that Europe avoided in every way possible since World War II. At the same time, more than 20 NATO countries still do not meet the requirement of 2% of GDP for defence.

Trump addressed the first reminder to the European NATO countries in February 2024 when speaking during a political rally in South Carolina, quoted the president of “a big country” that he did not name as asking, “Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia – will you protect us? I said: ‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’ He said: ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No I would not protect you. I would encourage them to do whatever they want. You gotta pay.”

If the war in Ukraine does not end before the U.S. presidential election and if Trump wins the election, then immediately after the election, back in November of this year, Trump, meeting with European leaders, will again remind them of their obligations to comply with NATO’s 2% of GDP requirement for defence. And he will remind them in a more radical form than he did in 2018 – the war in Ukraine will greatly intensify Trump’s rhetoric.

Thus, after Stoltenberg’s statement and Trump’s expected ultimatum claims in the future, European NATO countries find themselves between a hammer and anvil – the war in Ukraine on the one hand, and Trump’s demands to significantly increase defence spending and his desire to end the war in the shortest possible time by political means on the other. Are the European NATO countries ready to increase their defence spending by 30 billion euros, i.e. up to 2% of GDP, and at the same time establish a fund for military aid to Ukraine for 100 billion euros for five years? The first initiative – defence spending, will find support from Trump, and the second – regarding military aid to Ukraine too, if we are talking about the postwar aid to strengthen the security of Ukraine.

This is a difficult situation for NATO, especially its European members. It is difficult in geopolitical, security and financial contexts. How do you get out of the position between the hammer and the anvil? Perhaps the way out of this situation is to end the political war in Ukraine before the U.S. presidential elections while increasing defence spending by European countries to 2% of GDP and allocating 100 billion Euros as a fund for military aid to Ukraine.

This can be used by Ukraine to improve its defence capabilities, which is a kind of post-war Security Guarantee for Ukraine, a tool to deter any further aggression of Russia, i.e. the formation of security contours in post-war Europe. This would be a strong decision by NATO, which is responsible for European security. European leaders are limited in time for manoeuvring by November 2024; therefore, the major decisions mentioned above should be made beforehand.

India’s Military Spending vs. Pakistan’s Defense Budget

0
India and Pakistan, two neighboring nations with a long history of conflict and rivalry, are once again at a crossroads that could significantly impact their defense policies.

India and Pakistan, two neighboring nations with a long history of conflict and rivalry, are once again at a crossroads that could significantly impact their defense policies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has formed a 71-member cabinet without a single Muslim representative, has raised concerns about the treatment of India’s Muslim population and the potential for escalating tensions within the country. This exclusion of Muslims from the cabinet has stirred apprehensions, particularly given the recent reports suggesting that Modi’s administration might not prioritize the welfare of Indian Muslims. Additionally, some officials from Modi’s party have expressed ambitions to integrate Pakistan-administered Kashmir into India within a short time frame during their third term, further intensifying fears of a possible conflict with Pakistan.

Recent violent incidents against Hindu pilgrims in Jammu have exacerbated the situation. Multiple deaths resulted from attacks on buses carrying Hindu pilgrims, with four such incidents reported recently. Farooq Abdullah, a senior political figure, has suggested initiating dialogue with Pakistan to address these issues. However, sources indicate that the probability of war remains substantial. In the current era, warfare necessitates advanced technology and equipment, including state-of-the-art fighter planes and sophisticated missile systems. These modern requirements underscore the importance of a substantial defense budget, which is why India’s military expenditure exceeds $75 billion.

According to the Global Firepower Index, India ranks as the fourth most powerful military globally, reflecting its significant investment in defense.

In stark contrast, Pakistan’s defense budget has seen a decline over the past five years. In the fiscal year 2019, Pakistan’s defense budget was reduced by over $3 billion to bolster national economic growth. The fiscal year 2022-23 saw Pakistan’s total national budget set at Rs 9.5 trillion, with Rs 1.5 trillion ($7.1 billion) allocated to defense, representing 15.7% of the total budget. For the fiscal year 2023-24, the national budget increased to Rs 14.4 trillion, while the defense budget was fixed at Rs 1.8 trillion ($6.3 billion), just 12.5% of the total budget. This allocation marks the lowest percentage for defense in Pakistan’s history, despite a 53.6% increase in the overall national budget from the previous year.

The disparity between India’s $75 billion defense budget and Pakistan’s $6.6 billion defense budget is stark, particularly given the looming threat of conflict. Despite these limited resources, Pakistan’s military remains a formidable force, ranking ninth in the Global Firepower Index. Several factors, such as GDP, population, military strength, and purchasing power, contribute to a nation’s warfighting capability. In Pakistan’s case, 90% of the defense budget is allocated to compulsory payments, with the military generating additional funds for welfare purposes, including support for martyrs’ families and youth. This includes contributions from organizations like the Army Foundation.

The steady decline of Pakistan’s defense budget since the 1980s is evident, reaching a historic low of 1.7% of GDP in FY 2023-24. This trend signals a critical need for reassessment. Pakistan’s armed forces face significant challenges with limited resources, encompassing border security, anti-terrorist operations, and internal and external security threats.

Budgetary cuts have impacted basic provisions, with reports indicating reduced allowances for soldiers, such as the merger of two eggs into one for breakfast. This illustrates the extent to which the military has had to economize.

Addressing widespread misconceptions about defense spending is crucial. Contrary to popular belief, Pakistan does not spend an exorbitant percentage of its budget on defense. The total budget stands at a little over Rs 18 trillion, with Rs 9 trillion allocated for interest payments alone this year. The audit system in Pakistan is fraught with inefficiencies, contributing to pervasive corruption across various sectors. It is crucial for the country to conduct a thorough audit of its external debt, amounting to $126 billion, and a significant portion of its internal debt, to understand where these funds are being utilized.

Finally, it is essential for speakers discussing the defense budget to rely on verified facts and accurate information. Misinformation can undermine credibility and hinder informed decision-making. As the geopolitical landscape evolves, both India and Pakistan must navigate their defense strategies with transparency and prudence to ensure national security and stability. Given the current fiscal constraints and the looming threat of conflict, Pakistan must reassess its defense spending priorities to balance economic growth with national security needs. This will require a concerted effort to address inefficiencies, reduce corruption, and ensure that the military is adequately funded to meet the diverse challenges it faces. Only through such measures can both nations hope to maintain stability and avoid the dire consequences of armed conflict.

Pakistan’s Path to $100 Billion Exports

0
The recent announcement of a 20-member delegation from Pakistan visiting China has prompted a renewed focus on the future of Pakistan’s export strategy.

The recent announcement of a 20-member delegation from Pakistan visiting China has prompted a renewed focus on the future of Pakistan’s export strategy. This delegation, comprising representatives from various sectors of Pakistan’s industry, aims to learn from China’s remarkable economic development and engage in consultative talks with the Chinese government to boost Pakistan’s exports. The initiative is a step in the right direction, but a comprehensive and strategic overhaul is essential for Pakistan to achieve its ambitious export goals.

Pakistan’s current exports are less than 30 billion dollars, a figure that needs a strategic overhaul to reach the ambitious target of 100 billion dollars. The existing strategy reflects a heavy reliance on the low-income textile industry, which constitutes 60% of our exports. The lack of high-tech, high-income exports is a significant weakness that hampers prosperity and social development. To achieve rapid and sustainable socio-economic development, the focus must shift towards manufacturing and exporting high-technology products.

In this context, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) can be a game-changer. Our government must convince the Chinese government, particularly President Xi Jinping, to facilitate the transfer of technology in major industries such as motor vehicles, electronics, pharmaceuticals, aircraft, and information technology. This transfer would enable mutual business and significantly enhance our export capabilities.

The strategic collaboration through CPEC can catalyze the growth of Pakistan’s high-tech sectors, setting a foundation for long-term economic development.

The following suggestions to foster a high-tech export strategy such as establish a committee focused on the manufacture and export of high-value, high-tech products through joint ventures between Chinese and Pakistani industrialists. These ventures should be exclusively for the export of finished products and target sectors such as solid materials for electric vehicles, solid-state batteries, vaccines, biosimilars, engineering equipment, aircraft, automobiles, composite materials, nanotechnology products, defense equipment, information technology, mineral processing, industrial biotechnology equipment, submarines, and bullet trains. By focusing on these high-tech sectors, Pakistan can diversify its export portfolio and move away from its over-reliance on the textile industry.

To attract Chinese manufacturers, Pakistan must offer compelling incentives. These should include a twenty-year tax exemption, which would provide a significant financial incentive for Chinese companies to invest in Pakistan. Additionally, training programs should be established to train 10,000 young Pakistani students in Chinese engineering and other universities for at least three years to meet the manpower requirements of new industries. This would ensure that Pakistan has a skilled workforce ready to support high-tech industries. Moreover, comprehensive insurance should be provided, with government guarantees covering disruptions due to law and order situations. This would mitigate the perceived risks of investing in Pakistan.

Offer free land for business and cover 50% of the construction costs for buildings required for joint ventures. This would reduce the initial capital expenditure for Chinese companies, making Pakistan a more attractive destination for investment. Furthermore, providing electricity and gas at rates 75% lower than the existing rates for new industries in partnership with China would further enhance the cost-competitiveness of these ventures.

Emphasize that the One Belt One Road initiative, with a special focus on CPEC, can transform Pakistan. Chinese and Pakistani industries should invest in joint ventures while academic institutions from both countries should collaborate on skill development to ensure a highly skilled workforce for high-tech industries.

The integration of educational institutions in this initiative would foster innovation and research, driving the development of high-tech products.

Despite the initial enthusiasm for these suggestions, the Pakistani government has yet to capitalize on this golden opportunity. However, it is not too late. If the Prime Minister and Army Chief push the proposal at the highest level, this initiative can still be revived. High-level political support and commitment are crucial to overcoming bureaucratic inertia and ensuring the successful implementation of this strategy.

In today’s global economy, high-tech exports are critical for economic growth, national competitiveness, and job creation. Countries that excel in producing and exporting high-tech products benefit from increased productivity, innovation, and higher standards of living. For Pakistan, increasing high-tech exports requires a comprehensive strategy that fosters a strong research and development (R&D) ecosystem and creates an enabling business environment.

Achieving the goal of increasing high-tech exports is complex but attainable. A systematic approach that addresses both R&D and business environment factors is essential. Emulating countries like South Korea, Taiwan, China, Finland, and Singapore, which have achieved rapid growth through high-tech exports, Pakistan can transition to a technology-driven, knowledge-based economy. This transition will lead to economic development, prosperity, and a higher standard of living for our people. The delegation’s mission to China is a crucial first step, but sustained effort, visionary leadership, and strategic collaboration are essential to realizing Pakistan’s high-tech export potential.

Overcoming Economic Crisis with Islamic Values

0
The essence of a prosperous society lies in the unwavering adherence to a sense of duty and punctuality.

The essence of a prosperous society lies in the unwavering adherence to a sense of duty and punctuality. These foundational values, when compromised, pave the way for moral and social degradation, as observed in today’s society where wealth acquisition overshadows all other pursuits. This moral decay is evident in the constant reports of corruption and systemic decline across various sectors, as highlighted by the media. The pervasive narrative of doom and gloom, perpetuated by political leaders and economists, foresees an impending debt trap that threatens to engulf us. Despite noticeable improvements in our situation, a widespread belief persists that the world is against us and that we lack the capability to manage our affairs. To dispel this cloud of despair and hopelessness, we must rekindle the pursuit of higher goals in life.

The key to igniting these sparklies is the inspiring stories of our great leaders. Their achievements, marked by common sense, perseverance, and selflessness, shielded the Muslims in the subcontinent from cultural assimilation by the British and Hindus, ultimately securing freedom through unparalleled political and constitutional struggles. These historical narratives can light the lamp of hope, dispelling the darkness and dismantling the barriers of low self-esteem and timidity. The teachings of the last Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the divine guidance from Allah, the Lord of the Universe, constantly remind us to have faith in Allah’s mercy and seek goodness in this life and the hereafter. For a nation teetering on the edge, turning wholeheartedly to these sources of guidance is imperative.

The root cause of the economic crisis we face today is our tendency to live beyond our means. Islamic teachings advocate simplicity and austerity, elevating contentment to a form of piety. The life of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the greatest leader of the most significant revolution in history, exemplifies simplicity and austerity. Despite enduring hunger, his lifestyle remained simple, and he inspired his followers to strive for the highest ideals, far above material gains.

This sentiment is beautifully encapsulated in a poem: “A desire to achieve the goal thus cleansed from greed, we could not bow to the times, we could not flow in the flow of time.”

Islamic teachings emphasize accountability for the blessings we use from Allah Ta’ala. This principle was instilled in us from a young age; for instance, my mother, while performing ablution, always ensured that water was not wasted, and every resource was used judiciously. In today’s challenging economic climate, it is crucial that we live within our means and save a portion of our income. Embracing conscious austerity can significantly alleviate financial problems. At the governmental level, adopting this attitude can help overcome major difficulties. Unfortunately, our elites often feel entitled to spend lavishly on public resources, leading to severe wastage. The accountability system remains alarmingly ineffective, and the fear of God is diminishing. Recent statistics reveal that our ruling classes, judges, and senior military officers are enjoying benefits worth thousands of billions while wasting trillions of rupees. Eliminating this massive waste of resources can undoubtedly lead to economic stability. To achieve this, we must cultivate and practice the spirit of self-reliance throughout national life.

Recent efforts have shown improvements in our economic indicators, highlighting areas where income sources can be enhanced. According to the National Economic Survey, Overseas Pakistanis remitted over $3.2 billion in foreign exchange in the last financial year.

If our government and embassies fully engage with Overseas Pakistanis, addressing their legitimate demands and enhancing their skills, these remittances could grow significantly, providing a substantial boost to our economy.

Another critical factor contributing to economic growth is the agricultural sector, which has played a significant role this year. Therefore, it is essential for both provincial and federal governments to prioritize the agricultural sector and support farmers. Positive steps have already been taken by the President of PML-N, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, and Punjab Chief Minister, Ms. Maryam Nawaz, including the issuance of the Kisan Card. However, these measures require further enhancement. The agricultural sector has long been neglected, and our villages still lack modern infrastructure. Providing more facilities in rural areas will enhance national wealth. Improving the lives of the backward classes necessitates converting government schools and hospitals into quality institutions and focusing government efforts on education and health.

Pakistan’s Struggle Against Climate Change

0
For more than a decade, international experts have been sounding the alarm about the devastating impacts of climate change.

For more than a decade, international experts have been sounding the alarm about the devastating impacts of climate change. In Pakistan, these warnings have now become a harsh reality. The country is still reeling from the catastrophic effects of the 2022 stormy rains and floods that wreaked havoc on agriculture and the environment. As the new monsoon season approaches, Pakistan finds itself struggling to recover from the previous year’s challenges.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan organized a conference in Islamabad to address the issues arising from environmental pollution. In his keynote address, Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faiz Isa emphasized the critical need to avoid the waste of resources and to make the natural environment more human-friendly. He highlighted the severe impact of pollution, particularly plastic waste, which is not being adequately disposed of. The Chief Justice’s remarks underscored the pressing need for a collective effort to combat environmental degradation and promote sustainable practices.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah underscored the gravity of the situation by pointing out that Pakistan is the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change impacts. He explained how rising temperatures and water shortages are not only threatening agricultural production but also human health. The financial burden of addressing these climate change challenges is immense, and Pakistan lacks the necessary resources to effectively combat these issues.

Justice Shah’s comments highlighted the interconnectedness of environmental health, agricultural productivity, and public health, stressing the importance of a holistic approach to tackling climate change.

One innovative solution proposed by Chief Justice Qazi Faiz Isa was to provide bicycles to judges, setting an exemplary precedent for the nation. This initiative aims to reduce vehicle emissions and promote environmental sustainability. By adopting such measures, Pakistan could significantly cut down on pollution levels. The proposal to encourage cycling among judges not only promotes a healthier lifestyle but also serves as a symbolic gesture towards reducing the carbon footprint and fostering a culture of environmental responsibility.

The financial implications of climate change on Pakistan are staggering. According to various sources, the country is losing approximately four billion dollars annually due to climate change. This staggering financial loss highlights the urgent need for the government to take decisive action. The recommendations made by experts at the conference should not be taken lightly. While discussions and negotiations are essential, real relief from these challenges can only be achieved through practical, on-the-ground action. The economic impact of climate change is not limited to immediate losses; it also affects long-term development and prosperity.

The 2022 floods serve as a grim reminder of the destructive potential of climate change. Thousands of acres of farmland were submerged, leading to severe food shortages and economic losses for farmers. The floods also disrupted infrastructure, displacing communities and straining already limited resources. The aftermath of these floods continues to affect the livelihoods of millions, highlighting the need for robust disaster preparedness and resilient infrastructure. The frequency and intensity of such natural disasters are expected to increase with climate change, necessitating urgent and sustained action.

In addition to the economic and infrastructural damage, the health implications of climate change are profound. Rising temperatures and poor air quality contribute to respiratory illnesses, heat-related conditions, and vector-borne diseases. Vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and those with preexisting health conditions, are particularly at risk. The healthcare system, already stretched thin, faces additional challenges in addressing these climate-related health issues.

Strengthening healthcare infrastructure and implementing public health interventions are critical to mitigating the health impacts of climate change.

The Law and Justice Commission’s conference in Islamabad brought together experts and stakeholders to discuss these pressing issues. The discussions emphasized the need for a multi-faceted approach to address climate change, involving government agencies, private sector entities, and civil society. Collaboration and coordination are essential to develop and implement effective strategies for climate mitigation and adaptation. Public awareness and education also play a crucial role in fostering a culture of environmental stewardship and sustainable living.

Finally, Pakistan is at a critical juncture in its fight against climate change. The country must heed the warnings of international experts and implement sustainable practices to mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change. The recent conference organized by the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan serves as a vital reminder that urgent and practical measures are needed to protect the environment and secure a sustainable future for the nation. The government’s commitment to following expert recommendations and implementing actionable strategies will be key to overcoming the environmental challenges that Pakistan faces. By taking decisive action now, Pakistan can build resilience, protect its natural resources, and ensure a healthier and more sustainable future for its people.

A Pathway to Affordable Energy in Pakistan

This burden stems from the country's heavy reliance on expensive fuel-based power generation and IPPs that profit substantially from it.

Pakistan’s economic challenges are significantly exacerbated by the high cost of electricity. This burden stems from the country’s heavy reliance on expensive fuel-based power generation and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) that profit substantially from it. Consequently, millions of Pakistanis struggle to meet basic household needs after paying their electricity bills, which are inflated by various taxes and fuel adjustments. However, Pakistan possesses abundant natural resources such as sunlight, wind, and water that can be harnessed to generate cheap electricity, thus alleviating this economic strain.

The potential for solar and wind energy in Pakistan is immense. The country is blessed with ample sunlight throughout the year, making solar energy a viable and sustainable solution. Similarly, the vast coastal and desert areas, which experience consistent winds, are ideal for wind power generation. Harnessing these natural resources could revolutionize the energy sector, providing affordable electricity to both domestic consumers and industries. This, in turn, would enhance the competitiveness of Pakistani products in global markets. Despite the clear benefits, progress in utilizing these renewable energy sources has been sluggish. Government efforts to promote cheap electricity production through solar and wind energy have lacked systematic planning and sustained implementation. Nonetheless, recent developments indicate a positive shift in this direction.

In a significant move, the federal government has invited Longji Green Energy Technology, the world’s largest Chinese solar company, to establish a manufacturing plant in Pakistan. Federal Energy Minister Owais Laghari highlighted Pakistan’s solar energy potential during a meeting with the company’s president. He assured the Chinese company of cooperation and formally invited them to set up a solar manufacturing plant in Pakistan. This collaboration could be a game-changer for Pakistan’s energy landscape.

A local manufacturing plant would reduce the cost of solar panels, making solar energy more accessible to the masses. Furthermore, it would create jobs and stimulate economic growth, contributing to the country’s overall development.

The growing adoption of solar panels by Pakistani citizens is a testament to the potential of solar energy. Amid the rising costs of government-provided electricity, many Pakistanis have independently started installing solar panels. This trend is accelerating as international factors drive down the prices of solar panels. China’s reduction in solar panel prices over the past several months has boosted their sales and installation across Pakistan. However, reports of potential taxation on solar panels in the federal budget have caused concern. Traders have responded by halting sales or increasing prices, exacerbating the financial burden on consumers. Such measures are counterproductive and hinder the promotion of solar energy. Instead, the government should encourage the use of solar energy through favorable policies and incentives.

Net metering is another crucial aspect of promoting renewable energy in Pakistan. There are conflicting reports about the potential end of net metering, a system that allows consumers to sell excess electricity back to the grid. If these reports are unfounded, they should be refuted clearly. If such proposals are under consideration, they should be rejected outright. Net metering is crucial for promoting renewable energy and reducing dependency on expensive IPP-generated electricity. Ending net metering would be a setback for the renewable energy sector and could deter potential investments and consumer adoption.

In addition to solar energy, wind power generation offers a promising alternative. Wind energy is even cheaper than solar energy, and Pakistan has the potential to generate thousands of megawatts of free electricity through windmills in its coastal and desert regions. Implementing wind power projects in both the public and private sectors is essential for a diversified and sustainable energy mix. The consistent winds in these regions can be harnessed to provide a reliable source of energy that complements solar power. Together, these renewable sources can help stabilize the energy supply and reduce the overall cost of electricity production.

The government must take proactive steps to foster a conducive environment for renewable energy development. This includes creating incentives for both domestic and foreign investors, simplifying the regulatory framework, and ensuring that policies are stable and predictable. By doing so, Pakistan can attract investments in solar and wind energy projects, creating a ripple effect that boosts the economy, generates employment, and reduces the energy burden on households and industries. Moreover, public awareness campaigns can educate citizens about the benefits of renewable energy and how they can contribute to a sustainable future.

Community-based solar and wind projects can also be encouraged, allowing local populations to directly benefit from and participate in the renewable energy transition.

International cooperation and partnerships will also play a crucial role in Pakistan’s renewable energy journey. Collaborating with countries that have successfully implemented large-scale renewable energy projects can provide valuable insights and technological expertise. Additionally, securing financing from international financial institutions can help bridge the initial investment gap and accelerate project implementation. By positioning itself as a leader in renewable energy adoption in the region, Pakistan can not only address its energy crisis but also contribute to global efforts to combat climate change.

Ultimately, Pakistan stands at a crossroads where the adoption of renewable energy sources can significantly impact its economic future. By leveraging its natural resources, the country can reduce its dependency on expensive fuel-based power generation, lower electricity costs, and improve the standard of living for its citizens. The invitation to China’s Longji Green Energy Technology to establish a manufacturing plant in Pakistan is a step in the right direction. However, supportive government policies, including tax incentives and the continuation of net metering, are crucial to fostering a robust renewable energy sector. Investing in solar and wind energy is not just an environmental imperative but an economic necessity for Pakistan’s recovery and growth.

World Blood Donor Day

0
June 14 is celebrated worldwide as World Blood Donor Day, a tribute to voluntary blood donors who save millions of lives each year.

June 14 is celebrated worldwide as World Blood Donor Day, a tribute to voluntary blood donors who save millions of lives each year. This year, the theme is “20 Years of Celebrating Giving: Thank You Blood Donors!” highlighting two decades of dedication and generosity from individuals who donate blood voluntarily. Despite the critical importance of blood donation, the percentage of voluntary donors remains alarmingly low, particularly in underdeveloped countries like Pakistan, where less than 3% of the population donates blood.

In many developed and educated countries, around 19% of people donate blood voluntarily. However, this number is much lower in underdeveloped regions. Pakistan, for instance, requires between 2.5 to 3 million units of blood annually to treat patients suffering from accidents, surgeries, and life-threatening blood diseases. Yet, only a small fraction of the population donates blood, and many of these donations come from those who are compelled to do so due to a lack of awareness about the importance and benefits of blood donation.

Healthy men and women can donate blood every three months, a process that positively impacts their health. The lifespan of red blood cells in humans is only 120 days, after which the old blood cells die, and new ones form naturally.

This natural regeneration process ensures that donating blood is safe and beneficial for donors, promoting overall health and well-being.

In Pakistan, organizations like the Sundus Foundation are tirelessly working to save the lives of children suffering from blood diseases such as thalassemia and hemophilia. These patients rely on regular blood transfusions to survive. Sundus Foundation aims to raise awareness about blood donation throughout the year, emphasizing the dire consequences of not having enough blood donors. If a child with a blood disease dies because one or two out of 250 million Pakistanis were not available to donate blood, it raises significant ethical and humanitarian concerns.

There are many misconceptions and incorrect perceptions about donating blood that prevent people from contributing to this noble cause. World Blood Donor Day is celebrated globally to dispel these myths and encourage voluntary blood donation. Despite the continuous efforts of the Sundus Foundation and other organizations, more awareness is needed to ensure a steady supply of safe and healthy blood for patients in need.

There is a critical shortage of voluntary blood donors across Pakistan, affecting the timely supply of blood to patients with thalassemia, hemophilia, and other conditions. Sundus Foundation continues to provide clean and healthy blood to its patients, but broader community involvement is essential. Educational institutions, industrial organizations, and law enforcement agencies like the Pakistan Air Force, Punjab Police, Motorway Police, Islamabad Police, and Dawat-e-Islami should also contribute to this cause.

National sportsmen, actors, politicians, and doctors can lead by example by donating blood and encouraging others to do the same.

A healthy person does not get sick from donating blood. In fact, the process includes an initial screening that can detect diseases early, benefiting the donor’s health. Furthermore, blood donation has positive effects on the donor’s overall well-being. To increase the number of donors, it is essential to conduct awareness campaigns across print, electronic, and social media, and organize seminars to educate the public about the importance of blood donation. Integrating blood donation awareness into educational curricula and recognizing donors at federal and provincial levels could also promote a culture of giving.

On World Blood Donor Day, we should pledge not only to donate blood ourselves but also to raise awareness among others about the critical need for blood donations. By doing so, we can ensure that those whose lives depend on donated blood have a better chance of survival. Let us honor the spirit of this day by committing to donate blood and encouraging others to join this life-saving mission. Together, we can make a difference and save lives, one donation at a time.

Blood donation is a simple, safe process that can make a significant difference in the lives of those who need it. Every unit of blood donated can save up to three lives, providing critical support for patients undergoing surgery, those with severe anemia, trauma victims, and individuals battling cancer. Despite these benefits, misconceptions about blood donation persist. Some people fear the process or believe it will adversely affect their health. However, modern medical practices ensure that blood donation is safe, and donors are carefully screened to ensure they are healthy enough to give blood. Donors also receive a mini-physical that checks their pulse, blood pressure, and hemoglobin levels, offering an added health benefit.

Educational efforts play a crucial role in dispelling myths and encouraging more people to donate blood. Schools, universities, and community organizations can help by organizing blood drives and information sessions. Healthcare providers can also educate their patients about the importance of regular blood donation.

Media campaigns can highlight the personal stories of those who have benefited from blood donations, making the cause more relatable and urgent.

One of the key challenges in increasing blood donation rates is reaching young people. Younger generations are essential to maintaining a stable blood supply, as they are generally healthier and more likely to donate regularly over their lifetimes. Engaging with youth through social media, school programs, and youth organizations can foster a culture of donation that will persist for years to come.

Corporate partnerships are another effective strategy for increasing blood donations. Companies can organize blood drives at their workplaces, providing employees with a convenient opportunity to donate. Recognizing and rewarding employees who donate blood can also encourage participation. By making blood donation a part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives, businesses can make a meaningful impact on public health.

Finally, recognizing the contributions of blood donors is essential. Annual events, awards, and public acknowledgments can show donors that their contributions are valued and appreciated. Celebrating World Blood Donor Day is an excellent opportunity to thank donors and encourage more people to join this life-saving effort.

An Unmissable Opportunity: The Time for Modi and Islamabad leadership to Resume Bilateral Dialogue is Now!

0

OPPORTUNITIES TO BREAK a deadlock in the relations between India and Pakistan do not come often. We are two estranged brothers who seem incapable of finding a way to reach the point of rapprochement. For such has been the complex nature of the dispute that has kept us apart almost since the time Pakistan was created as a separate nation in 1947. But when opportunities for a breakthrough do arrive, it would be stupid ─ indeed, criminal ─ to miss them.

The governments of our two countries have indeed missed many such opportunities in the past seventy-seven years. But now that history has offered yet another chance, in the form of a new and favorable situation created by the elections in both countries, New Delhi and Islamabad (together with the powers that be in Rawalpindi) must seize it with commitment, courage, and a sense of urgency and responsibility.

Narendra Modi is back in power as India’s prime minister for the third consecutive term after the recently concluded parliamentary elections. His party’s majority is considerably reduced in Parliament, and he now has to depend on the support of a few allies to run a coalition government. However, this does not constrain his ability in foreign policy, especially if he shows determination to reset India’s relations with Pakistan.

There is indeed some hope, based on objective possibility, that he may seek a new opening with Islamabad.

Similarly, Pakistan also has a new coalition government, headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, following the February elections. Sharif and his elder brother and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif favor friendly and cooperative relations with India. Furthermore, support for better relations with South Asia’s largest country and soon-to-be the world’s third-largest economy now extends to all sections of the political spectrum in Pakistan.

A much stronger source of support now comes from the military establishment, which remains the main center of power in the country. In the past several years, the establishment has sent sufficient indications that it, too, seeks good-neighborly relations with India.

Modi ought to have invited Shehbaz Sharif or President Asif Ali Zardari for his swearing in on June 9, in the same way he had invited the heads of state and governments of several neighboring South Asian countries. He has weakened his own priority for “Neighbhourhood First” in India’s foreign policy by excluding Pakistan. Ten years ago, when Modi became prime minister for the first time, he had invited Pakistan’s then-Premier Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony, which the latter had accepted despite some resistance from the military establishment in Rawalpindi.

This time, the internal power dynamics in Pakistan are probably different. Therefore, Shehbaz Sharif or Zardari would have come to New Delhi without any problems if Modi had extended an invitation. That would have demonstrated willingness on both sides to bring the bilateral ties on the right track.

A ray of hope: Shehbaz-Nawaz tweets and Modi’s response

Nevertheless, a small hint that ice may begin to be broken came when the Pakistani prime minister tweeted congratulating Modi on his re-election, and Modi thanked him for this gracious gesture. More significantly, Nawaz Sharif, who still wields considerable power as the leader of PML-N (the party that heads his brother’s coalition government), tweeted with effusive congratulations. He said, “Your party’s success in recent elections reflects the confidence of the people in your leadership. Let us replace hate with hope and seize the opportunity to shape the destiny of the two billion people of South Asia.”

Modi responded: “Appreciate your message @NawazSharifMNS. The people of India have always stood for peace, security and progressive ideas. Advancing the well-being and security of our people shall always remain our priority.” Modi should have been statesmanlike by mentioning that the “well-being and security” of not only “our people” (Indians) but also of all the people of South Asia “shall always remain our priority.”

People in Pakistan may wonder whether Modi is interested in extending a hand of friendship in a manner that Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party to become India’s prime minister, had boldly done in 2003.

They may also wonder whether he can take a daring initiative in this direction since his party no longer commands a parliamentary majority and has to depend on the support of two allies for survival. To address these doubts, it is necessary to recall a few facts.

Indo-Pak peace is the greatest legacy Modi can leave behind in his third (and last) term in office

This is most certainly going to be Modi’s last term in office. What legacy will he leave behind? True, after becoming a three-term prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, he has equaled the record of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Nehru is remembered ─ indeed, widely respected ─ for having laid a robust foundation of democracy in a newly liberated country of unparalleled diversity. Indira Gandhi played a key role in changing the map of South Asia by helping the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.

But which achievement will history remember Modi by? The answer to this question will not be flattering to him. His last ten years in office reveal a big gap between propaganda and performance. His government managed to control the media with a vice-like grip and turned it into a machine that worked non-stop for Modi’s self-aggrandizement. But what are his enduring and history-creating successes of governance that would stand the scrutiny of time? Almost none.

He cannot take credit for the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, much as he and his supporters might want to do so. After all, the construction was facilitated by a verdict of the Supreme Court of India. (The temple Modi was inaugurated with great fanfare in February of this year and has been built at a site where the Babri Masjid once stood. Hindus believe it to be the birthplace of Ram. The masjid was demolished by an unruly mob of Hindutva supporters on 6 December 1992.) Ironically, a candidate of Modi’s party lost the election in the Ayodhya constituency to a rival who had the backing of Hindus and Muslims alike.

The second major event in the past ten years was the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gave the state of Jammu & Kashmir a special status. The BJP would like to project this as Modi’s great achievement by claiming that this decision fully integrated Jammu & Kashmir into the Indian nation. However, normalcy has not completely returned to Jammu & Kashmir five years after the nullification of Article 370.

The division of the state with the separation of Ladakh as a territory administered directly from Delhi and the downgrading of a truncated Jammu & Kashmir itself as a union territory is deeply resented by the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

Similarly, Modi cannot project “demonetization” as an achievement that future Indians will remember him by. His sudden decision in November 2016 to render old high-value currency notes worthless and replace them with a new set of notes created enormous hardships for common Indians. True, the digital economy has made huge strides in Modi’s rule. However, his bold action’s declared objective- reducing unaccounted money in the economy ─ has not been met since the total quantum of cash in circulation now exceeds the pre-2016 levels. Neither Modi nor his party mentions “demonetization” as his historic and proud achievement.

This being the case, the question still remains: What will be Modi’s legacy after he completes three terms in office? Improving India-Pakistan relations on a durable basis can be his legacy if ─ and it remains a “Big If” ─ he decides to make this his foreign policy priority.

Modi’s allies, Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar, will back an initiative for peace with Pakistan

People and the ruling circles in Pakistan should know that Modi will not encounter any opposition from within his coalition if he decides to make concerted efforts in this direction. His two crucial allies ─ Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar, chief ministers of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and the northern state of Bihar, respectively ─ will support him enthusiastically. Nitish Kumar has been an ardent believer in improving India’s relations with Pakistan.

This conviction was strengthened after he visited Pakistan in November 2012, which he described as “memorable and successful.”  Upon his return, he strongly advocated promoting trade ties with Pakistan and ensuring regional peace. Indeed, he endeared himself to the people of Pakistan by wearing the Sindhi cap and `ajrak’ (traditional Sindhi shawl), which was presented to him by Sindh’s then Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah.

Another fact to be noted: both Nitish Kumar and Naidu believe in “secularism” ─ the principle of non-discrimination on religious grounds, which is a pillar of the Indian Constitution ─ and enjoy huge support among Indian Muslims. The front-page headline in Dawn newspaper after election results were declared on June 4 summed it up well. It said: “India defeats hate, Modi left at mercy of Muslim-friendly allies.” Modi and his party made every possible effort to incite anti-Muslim hatred among Hindu voters.

They even dragged Pakistan into their election campaign by saying that Pakistanis would be happy if the Congress party, the main opponent of the BJP, won the elections. Hindu voters largely rebuffed their divisive tactics, especially in the two large states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Therefore, now that the elections are over, Modi will have no incentive to play the anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan card. Indeed, he would surely lose the support of his allies if he did so, thus endangering his government’s survival.

All these factors have created an objective condition conducive to the resumption of long-deadlocked dialogue between India and Pakistan.

India and Pakistan should become partners in fighting terrorism and religious extremism

How can we open this door of opportunity? How can we also ensure that the door does not get shut soon after opening, as has unfortunately happened so often? Here are five ideas on what India and Pakistan need to do.

First, India should give up its insistent but unhelpful stand that “Terror and Talks cannot go together.” This does not mean India should abandon or weaken its fight against terror, which, truth be told, often has had its origin across the border. Rather, India should understand that its stand has been unhelpful as it has created a prolonged deadlock in India-Pakistan relations. It has neither created conditions for the complete stoppage of terrorist acts nor led to the complete dismantling of the infrastructure of terror. This objective can best be achieved in partnership with Pakistan rather than by trying to isolate and malign it in the international community. Furthermore, such a partnership is possible because Pakistan itself has been a major victim of terrorism and religious extremism, which it thoughtlessly and myopically promoted in the recent past.

The need for an India-Pakistan partnership in waging a joint battle against the scourge of terrorism, which is a threat to humanity itself, was recognized by both Modi and Nawaz Sharif. The joint statement was issued after the talks between the two prime ministers on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Ufa, Russia, in July 2015.

“They agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues. Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.”

This shows Modi’s acceptance of the stark truth that elimination of the menace of terrorism from South Asia (meaning from India as well as Pakistan) requires New Delhi’s cooperation with Islamabad-Rawalpindi. Why should the Indian prime minister turn his back on this truth now? Indeed, if both India and Pakistan sincerely build and expand cooperation in this task ─ and not give it up if non-state actors indulge in some provocative acts of violence ─ they will greatly weaken anti-India (which are also anti-Pakistan) forces of terror.

Second, a call for India to abjure its rigid “Terror and Talks cannot go together” stand also means a call for Pakistan to end, once and for all, its support to the dark forces of religious extremism, which fuels terrorism. Pakistan has paid an extremely heavy price because of its ill-conceived policy. Its global image has suffered greatly. Even within the community of Muslim countries, India today has more and closer friendships and partnerships than Pakistan. This is evident from the growing warmth and depth in the relations between India and the major powers in West Asia ─ especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where support for religious extremism is now zero.

Surely, this calls for introspection and course correction among decision-makers in Pakistan.

If India and China can have a booming bilateral trade, why not India and Pakistan?

Third, One of the surest ways to build mutual trust and achieve win-win benefits in prosperity and progress is by opening the closed doors of trade, business, and economic cooperation. The fact that we are neighbors with large populations ─ India is now the world’s most populous nation, and Pakistan ranks number five ─ creates potentially vast avenues for cooperation.

According to one estimate, there is a nearly $20 billion bilateral trade opportunity if only we remove artificial barriers to trade, business, and investments. Sadly, the current level of direct bilateral trade is less than $ 1 billion, although indirect trade through Dubai and other channels is much higher. After all, if India and China can have a $120 billion bilateral trade despite strained political relations, why should India and Pakistan keep all doors shut for two-way trade and economic cooperation?

Pakistan should realize that India is a technology powerhouse today. Those few Pakistanis who have visited Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Chennai, and Ahmedabad in recent years ─ sadly, the number of such visitors is very small ─ know this truth very well.  Our manufacturing base in several industries is world-class in quality and cost competitiveness. Some of India’s business houses ─ Tata, Reliance, Adani and others ─ are among the largest in the world, with both the money power and readiness to invest in Pakistan if conditions permit. Such joint ventures will gradually strengthen Pakistan’s big business houses and small and medium enterprises.

India’s rapidly growing economy will provide market opportunities for Pakistan’s agricultural and industrial products. All this will create more prosperity and employment opportunities for the youth in India and Pakistan.

Let’s not forget two other strategic benefits the India-Pakistan rapprochement can bring. If our two countries open up the border for trade, this linkage can logically be extended to the entire India-Pakistan-Afghanistan-Central Asia route on the western side and the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Bangladesh-South East Asia route on the eastern side. This will help integrate the economies of all South Asian countries and beyond. The center of gravity of growth, prosperity, and progress will shift from Europe and North America to South Asia in the coming decades of the 21st century. Should we not work together to realize this world-changing dream?

But there is another world-changing possibility in such cooperation. It will reduce Pakistan’s excessive dependence on China, which is surely not in the best long-term interests of Pakistanis.  Indeed, Pakistan can be friendly towards both India and China simultaneously. This will also help India and China improve their bilateral relations. Hence, this three-way cooperation among India, Pakistan, and China can potentially change the destiny of entire South Asia, making it a zone of peace, prosperity, and progress for all its nearly two billion denizens.

Don’t lose a single in promoting people-to-people contacts in huge numbers… and at all levels

Fourth: Our two countries should not lose a single day in facilitating people-to-people contacts in a big way. What a shame it is that our two governments have made it extremely difficult ─ indeed, impossible ─ for people to get visas to visit each other’s country. Even Indian artists and writers cannot travel to Pakistan, and vice versa. There are also no direct Delhi-Islamabad and Mumbai-Karachi flights anymore. It’s as if we have erected a long Berlin Wall separating our two peoples, who are otherwise connected by thousands of ties of religion, ethnicity, language, culture, and history.

However, the scope and need for people-to-people exchanges is immense. India has some of the best institutions in higher education. Pakistan, too, has some excellent institutions. Bright Pakistani students can, therefore, come to study in India in large numbers ─ and vice versa. India also has many world-class hospitals, which can provide medical care to Pakistanis at a much lower cost than if they went to London or New York.

Then, there is the urgent need to promote religious tourism. Why should Pakistani Muslims be prevented from coming to many revered Sufi shrines in India ─ and vice versa? Why shouldn’t large numbers of Hindus in India have opportunities to visit places of pilgrimage in Pakistan, such as the Katas Raj temple near Lahore and the Hinglaj Mata Temple in Balochistan? The government of Pakistan deserves compliments for renovating the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara complex grandly and aesthetically.

The Kartarpur Sahib Corridor has enabled Sikhs from India to travel to this sacred shrine. On similar lines, should India and Pakistan not cooperate to create a Sharada Peeth Corridor across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir? This will help in the renovation of an ancient Hindu temple and create enormous goodwill for Pakistan among Hindus in all parts of India and the world.

Modi should invite Pakistan’s COAS and PM for a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue

Fifth, and lastly: What should be done with the Kashmir issue, the knottiest problem that has bedeviled India-Pakistan relations? The truth is that history itself has rendered many traditional claims of the ruling establishments of our two countries irrelevant. Pakistan can never capture the Indian side of Kashmir, nor can India ever succeed in taking the Pakistani side of Kashmir. The prospects of the two sides of Kashmir uniting and becoming independent are nil. Any coercive attempt by either side to alter this reality will trigger yet another war, which could potentially become a nuclear conflict.

Neither side can win the war, but both sides will suffer destruction on an unimaginable scale. In short, history is shouting its lesson in the ears of the leaders and peoples of India and Pakistan: “Goli nahin, boli” (No to war, Yes to peace through dialogue). The dialogue can yield the desired results if both sides respect each other as equal sovereign nations that do not harbor overt or hidden ill intentions toward one another.

If this is the unalterable ground reality, the only workable solution is a variant of the “Four-Point Formula” mooted by Gen Pervez Musharraf and broadly supported by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh. Modi and his counterparts in the civilian and military establishments in Pakistan have no option but to return to discussing the “Four-Point Formula” (with some mutually acceptable modifications) if they are at all serious about discussing and finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue.

If Modi puts his political weight behind this idea, and if Pakistan responds with sincerity and commitment, this can become his lasting legacy. History will then hail him as a hero.

To a limited extent, both countries have shown sincerity and commitment by adhering to the Ceasefire Agreement announced on 25 February 2021. The prolonged ceasefire along the LoC has indeed brought benefits to both sides. Thousands of lives of soldiers and civilians, Indian as well as Pakistani, have been saved. The credit for this sagacious agreement should go to Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Advisor, and his counterparts in Rawalpindi.

This shows that Modi should not hesitate to open a direct and publicized communication channel with the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. After all, if the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, can welcome Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Beijing (June 2024), why should Modi not extend a similar invitation to Pakistan’s COAS?

Modi ji, visit Pakistan for the SAARC Summit in 2024

So, where should Modi and Shehbaz Sharif (backed fully by the military establishment) begin? An excellent opportunity for the resumption of bilateral dialogue will open up if Modi announces his willingness to visit Pakistan to participate in the long-stalled SAARC Summit in 2024. (The last SAARC summit was hosted by Nepal in 2014.) Let us revisit the aforementioned India-Pakistan joint statement issued in Ufa in 2015. It said: “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his invitation to Prime Minister Modi to visit Pakistan for the SAARC Summit in 2016. Prime Minister Modi accepted the invitation.” (Italics mine)

This means Pakistan’s invitation and Modi’s acceptance are as valid today as they were nearly a decade ago. The ensuing developments have only demonstrated the futility of the continuing hostility between the two great South Asian neighbors.

The real question is: Will Modi think big and become bold in his third (and last) term in office by attempting to normalize relations with Pakistan? The other equally important side of the same question is this: Will Pakistan’s civilian-military leadership show the wisdom, guided by their own country’s self-interest, to respond to Modi’s initiative in a trustworthy manner?

Let’s hope and pray that God Almighty shows the right path to the two brother-nations, which are estranged by the past but can embrace in permanent dosti in the near future.

The Federal Budget

0
On Wednesday, Federal Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb announced the budget proposals for the financial year 2024-25.

On Wednesday, Federal Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb announced the budget proposals for the financial year 2024-25. These proposals are intended to provide an all-encompassing plan for a nation striving to overcome an economic crisis. Despite the necessity for new loans and stringent measures, this budget reflects a concerted effort to balance the economic landscape and address the critical challenges faced by the country.

The federal budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 is set at 18,877 billion rupees, with a projected deficit of 8.5 billion rupees, which constitutes 5.9% of the GDP. This significant deficit underscores the nation’s ongoing struggle with its finances. To bridge this gap, the budget introduces direct and indirect additional taxes amounting to 38 trillion rupees, the highest in the country’s history. Such measures are seen as crucial steps in generating the necessary revenue to stabilize the economy.

The total revenue/receipts are estimated at 12,970 billion rupees, with provinces sharing 7,438 billion rupees, reflecting a collaborative effort to distribute financial resources effectively across the nation.

A substantial portion of the budget, amounting to 9,775 billion rupees, is allocated for interest payments on loans. This allocation highlights the pressing debt situation and the significant burden of debt servicing on the national exchequer. Amid ongoing negotiations for a higher volume and longer-term loan program from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the budget incorporates the IMF’s proposals. Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb mentioned in an interview that the IMF would review the budget if required, indicating the government’s commitment to aligning with international financial standards.

The budget proposals show that the salaried class will remain under pressure, with five new tax slabs introduced. Non-filers will face stringent measures, including a ban on foreign travel, to encourage compliance and broaden the tax base. The decision to impose additional taxes reflects the government’s effort to increase revenue but also raises concerns about the financial burden on the middle class.

In an effort to mitigate the impact of inflation, the budget proposes a 25% increase in salaries for government employees from Grade 1 to 16 and a 20% increase for those above Grade 16. This measure is seen as necessary to help employees cope with rising living costs. Additionally, a 15% increase in pensions will provide some relief to retired employees, while setting the minimum wage at 37,000 rupees per month offers support to workers across various institutions. These measures are aimed at cushioning the impact of inflation and ensuring that employees and retirees can maintain their standard of living.

The Benazir Income Support Program sees a 27% increase in allocation, totaling 593 billion rupees. This increase is intended to enhance social safety nets and support the most vulnerable segments of society.

Several initiatives, including financial autonomy programs, will be introduced under this program to promote economic empowerment and self-sufficiency among the beneficiaries.

The defense sector receives a significant allocation of 21 trillion 22 billion rupees, which is 263 billion rupees more than the previous year. This increase underscores the importance of national security and the need to ensure that the defense forces are well-equipped to handle emerging threats. The public sector development program allocates 14 trillion rupees for various projects, including foreign assistance of 3 trillion 16 billion rupees. These funds are earmarked for infrastructure development, healthcare, education, and vocational training, reflecting the government’s commitment to long-term economic growth and development.

Education receives particular attention in the budget, with 25 billion 75 crore rupees allocated for development schemes and 66 billion 31 crore rupees for higher education initiatives. These investments are aimed at improving the quality of education, enhancing vocational training, and ensuring that the workforce is equipped with the necessary skills to compete in a global economy.

In terms of sector-specific provisions, the budget proposes to increase the petroleum levy to 20 rupees per liter, affecting fuel prices and potentially increasing transportation costs. However, amid rising costs, the reduction in prices of solar panels offers a glimmer of hope for sustainable energy solutions. This measure is aimed at promoting renewable energy and reducing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Healthcare remains a priority, with a focus on ensuring that medicines, which are crucial for saving lives and restoring health, remain affordable and easily accessible. The budget recognizes the importance of basic commodities such as milk and sugar, which are essential parts of the diet for both children and adults. These items should be protected from inflationary pressures to ensure that they remain within reach of the average household.