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Analyzing the evolving non-traditional security threats for Pakistan

Pakistan’s environmental vulnerability and challenges indicate that the country will become unlivable if the situation continues to deteriorate at the current pace. The country's policymakers and practitioners need a change in mindset and consider environmental degradation a serious threat.

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Pakistan faces a plethora of traditional and non-traditional security threats. The entire national security domain of the country, since its establishment, has focused primarily on traditional security threats. Traditional security deals entirely with conventional threats revolving around a country’s military. The non-traditional security domain includes non-military threats such as human capital, energy resources, pandemics, food insecurity, economy, and environment. The expansion of the concept of security emerged in the later years of the Cold War. In the post-Cold War world, Non-Traditional Security threats began to be recognized as legitimate threats to states.

The UN Human Development Report 1994 identified key areas of non -traditional security threats, including Environmental Security. Pakistan is battling with almost all identified facets of non -traditional security. But it is the environmental challenges that receive the least attention, enforcement, and even recognition as an element of a national security challenge.

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How environmental crises are being tackled in Pakistan?

Various initiatives have been undertaken to address Pakistan’s environmental foes, such as the  Billion Tree Tsunami in KPK province, several nationwide plantation drives, and campaigns to reduce air pollution and smog. The largest and most concrete among all the mentioned initiatives focuses mainly on reforestation. Deforestation is just one aspect of Pakistan’s environmental challenges; the country faces rapid melting of glaciers, urban flooding,  an increasingly erratic monsoon season, smog and air pollution, soil erosion, heat waves, and climate change.

According to IBERDROLA, Pakistan is among the top five countries most affected by climate change in the twenty-first century. According to the Long Term Climate Risk  Index 2000-2019, Pakistan stands as number eighth most affected and vulnerable country. The report particularly mentions that Pakistan is consistently battling an environmental catastrophe and hence regularly features in the top lists of both the long-term index and the respective year index. According to the IQ Air’s World’ Most Polluted Cities  2021, three Pakistan cities (Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, and Peshawar) feature in the top ten most polluted cities at number six, eight, and nine, respectively, followed by Lahore at number fifteen and Sahiwal at number twenty-three.

Toxic gases are released from the industrial units and brick kilns, particularly in Punjab province, while  GHG emissions from vehicles are the main contributors to air pollution in Pakistan.  Owing to a lack of planning and enforcement, Pakistan’s industrial units are prone to disposing of industrial wastes in lakes and rivers, which not only threatens the country’s marine life but also the entire ecosystem and the food chain.

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Pakistan’s monsoon season has become increasingly erratic, often times resulting in flash floods owing to climate change and global warming. In 2020, Sindh province, particularly Karachi, was devastated by heavy rains and the consequent urban flooding. In 2018 the total monsoon rain recorded in Sindh was one millimeter, 323 millimeters in 2019, and a staggering 450 to 500 millimeters in 2020.

Such an abrupt increase in seasonal rain demonstrates a pattern with Pakistan’s environmental foes, which become even more ominous for Pakistan, keeping in view the Climate Change Risk Index 2021’s reference to the country’s continuous struggles with high-magnitude environmental calamities.  The Arabian Sea has also been heating up from twenty-nine degrees Celsius to thirty-one degrees Celsius within two years, prompting sea storms into the Indus Delta, meting out damage to coastal communities.

Gilgit Baltistan region of the country houses three of the world’s biggest glaciers

Water flowing from these glaciers addresses Pakistan’s water needs for both household consumption as well as irrigation. Owing to the GHG emissions which trigger warming temperature, these glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate. According to research published in the Environmental Science and Pollution Research journal, the increased rate of GHG emissions and the exponential melting of glaciers could result in water scarcity in Pakistan as early as 2025.

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Droughts have also become more frequent in the last decade, in 2012, Sindh’s Tharparkar region was one of the deadliest droughts in South Asia. Pakistan’s desert areas are constantly at risk of droughts, the causes of which primarily includes climate change.  Owing to the increased glacier melting and heavy monsoon, the Karakorum Highway has become more and more prone to landslides in the last two decades.

Heatwaves in southern Pakistan have become a common phenomenon

The recent heat wave starting in the month of March and April has resulted in more than sixty fatalities throughout the country. This year Pakistan experienced the hottest month of March in approximately sixty years while the hottest April in over sixty years. The All Pakistan Fruit & Vegetable Exporters, Importers & Merchants Association has already assessed a  twenty percent drop in mango exports this year, along with the harvest of green vegetables owing to climate change disruptions. It is also speculated that extreme temperatures are one of the primary reasons behind the reduction in Pakistan’s wheat production.

Besides a public health emergency, potential food insecurity and disruption of daily lives, these extreme temperatures triggered the early melting of glaciers. The Shishpar glacial lake flooded, resulting in the collapse of Hasanabad Bridge in Hunza. Due to extreme temperatures this glacial lake formed in April, a month earlier than anticipated. The last time such a deadly heat wave struck Pakistan was in  2015, causing more than one thousand deaths. Since then, heatwaves have continued to occur in the country.

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Along with human costs, heat waves impact the country’s agricultural growth, for instance, in 2019, Pakistan experienced a cotton emergency when farmers in Sindh could not harvest two-thirds of their crops owing to the scorching heatwave. Environmentalists trace this increasingly frequent phenomenon to the rising temperature and climate change. Climate change and global warming are the main culprits behind a number of environmental problems. The use of non-renewable energy and emissions of GHG gases are the main causes of climate change and global warming.

Pakistan needs to address its fossil fuel-based energy production and to prevent the long terms environmental damages; the country needs to shift toward renewable energy sources. Pakistan’s environmental vulnerability and challenges indicate that the country will become unlivable if the situation continues to deteriorate at the current pace. The country’s policymakers and practitioners need a change in mindset and consider environmental degradation a serious threat.

But the problem with Pakistan is less about planning and more about implementation. Pakistan has comprehensive environmental protection laws; the implementation of these laws, however, is shoddy at best. In 1997 the Pakistan Environment Protection Ordinance was passed, which was then devolved to provinces in 2010. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, environmental governance became a jurisdiction of provinces; by 2014, all of Pakistan’s provinces developed their own environmental protection acts. The enforcement of these laws and frameworks has been particularly weak.

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Perhaps Pakistan should move its environmental issues into the domain of national security rather than an isolated issue. Being a security state, Pakistan is prone to react more consciously to the issues of security. The limited acknowledgment of the environment as a non -traditional security threat relates to the country’s poor governance and political history, where security reigned supreme while elements of human security received minimum attention. The country’s volatile history with its neighbors and its penchant for preserving the status quo meant that the state machinery focused entirely on traditional security threats at the cost of non-traditional security.

The way forward

Even among the non-traditional security threats, the environment is least covered or studied in the public discourse. Pakistan’s first-ever National Security Policy unveiled in  January 2022 makes mentions non-traditional security threats. The reference to environmental challenges is made under the heading of Climate and Water Stress.  Considering the scope of challenges Pakistan faces, the mention is extremely brief, limited to just one aspect and exhibits the low priority status of this issue. Having said that, in a security state like Pakistan, the precedent to officially designate even one factor of an environmental challenge as a security threat should be appreciated.

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Keeping in view the country’s poor governance with regard to human security and non -traditional security, it is critical that these elements are discussed more vigorously in the national security discourse. It is also important that policymakers are urged to incorporate all elements of the environment into the national security policy. To ensure the seriousness of the environmental threats Pakistan faces, the acknowledgment of this issue as a national security threat is vital.

The mention of human security in the National Security Policy was the first step and an ideational change of sorts. However, the implementation can occur only with a change in the mindset of the policymakers as well as the executives and practitioners. The retagging of an issue from a mere domestic issue to a national security threat may result in the much-desired vigilance.

 

The writer is a Political Scientist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.