ENVIRONMENT: Ecological borders —Saleem H Ali
It is high time that India and Pakistan consider the primacy of ecological cooperation as a means of lasting conflict resolution. Several proposals have already been presented to both governments to consider jointly managed ecological conservation zones in border areas which could help to reduce tensions
Amidst the political circus in Islamabad, it was refreshing to see that there could still be some meaningful discussion of how to mend relations between India and Pakistan. Despite all the negative rhetoric emanating from New Delhi, the visit of Dr RK Pachauri to the Pakistani capital this past week shows that many in India are still committed to a healthy and meaningful relationship with Pakistan
As the director general of India’s most prestigious environmental research centre and university (The Energy and Resources Institute), his visit to Pakistan during these difficult times shows that science and the environment should defy borders.
I met Dr Pachauri about five years ago at an international conference on environmental security in the Netherlands and have maintained an occasional correspondence with him since then. Originally educated in Lucknow, he speaks Urdu impeccably and has the demeanour of a poet. He is also a man of many professional lineages, including assignments ranging from an engineer’s position at a diesel locomotive company to an economist’s portfolio at the World Bank, which reflect his talents as a remarkable integrator of knowledge.
He has also been a proponent of Indo-Pak cooperation at the scientific and technical level. As early as 2004, he wrote an article for the Times of India about the importance encouraging the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project. As chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Pachauri has managed an assemblage of over 2500 scientists from all over the world in drafting advisory reports to the United Nations. The work of the IPCC as a forum to get scientists from all over the world to collaborate over a common planetary goal earned it the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
This global recognition clearly helped to bring the work of the IPCC to the attention of policymakers worldwide, including the Pakistani government. The president and prime minister both heard Dr Pachauri speak during his visit at the conference organised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The Pakistani leadership was clearly alarmed by the forecasts presented by Dr Pachauri about the dangers of environmental change to our economy and social well-being, with Pakistan ranked as the twelfth most vulnerable country to global environmental change. The organisers of the event deserve to be congratulated for raising environmental issues to such prominence.
Apart from the environmental connection, the role of educational institutions in fostering change was also brought to prominence by this event. All too often, universities are considered hotbeds of student activism and violence. When I recently visited Karachi University, I was told of the need for Rangers on campus to curb the political violence on campus. Yet educational institutions can still have tremendous resilience if given honest determined attention. Even at the beleaguered campus of Karachi University, world class institutions such as the HEJ Institute for Chemical Research have flourished with good leadership, just as TERI has blossomed in India under Dr Pachauri’s tenure.
Coincidentally, a few days ago, I watched the film, Ramchand Pakistani, produced by former information minister and environmentalist Javed Jabbar and his daughter Mehreen Jabbar, and then also learned that Mr Jabbar was among the speakers at the aforementioned environmental conference. The impact of heavily militarised borders on human lives is poignantly portrayed in this film but the ecological toll of Pakistan’s enmity with India deserves equal attention. The ecological toll of warfare, particularly in the Himalayan ecosystems, is severe and may be irreparable if collective action is not taken by both countries.
Perhaps Mr Jabbar and Dr Pachauri made these connections as well in their conversations with the establishment. It is high time that India and Pakistan consider the primacy of ecological cooperation as a means of lasting conflict resolution. Several proposals have already been presented to both governments to consider jointly managed ecological conservation zones in border areas which could help to reduce tensions.
In these pages, I have argued before for how ecological factors can be used as a catalyst to help and resolve the Sir Creek and Siachen border disputes. It is never too late to reconsider these prospects nor is it idealism to consider rapprochement during times of acrimony. It is high time that scholars and diplomats of Dr Pachauri’s stature be given a greater voice in resolving the conflict between our two great countries.
Dr Saleem H Ali is associate professor of environmental planning and Asian studies at the University of Vermont. His latest book is Islam and Education: Conflict and Conformity in Pakistan’s Madrassahs (Oxford University Press, 2009). www.saleemali.net