Saturday, December 26, 2009
War on terror and the Pakistani Wildlife
War on Terror is terrorizing the wildlife of Pakistan. Let me explain how this is happening.
Pakistan does not have much wildlife to begin with. The population explosion of the country has either made the hitherto wildlife extinct, or in a few other cases has made the animals shrink in numbers and be confined to challenging environments.
Loss of habitat is considered to be the primary reason for the extinction of animals. Homeless animals don’t survive for too long. Tiger that was once found from Balochistan to Assam is now extinct in the present day Pakistan. Whereas the Mughal Emperors used to hunt in the forests that once existed throughout Punjab, today we have the Hiran Minar, but no hiran (deer) in that area and the title of ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ (Lion of Punjab) is reserved for third-rate politicians. In fact, searching out from Pakistan the closest you would find tigers would be in the Ranthambore Reserve in Rajasthan, India. Neel Gaay (a large deer) has met a similar fate. Once found in many parts of Sindh and Punjab, Neel Gaay’s small herds are now found only at the Pakistan-India border. Loss of habitat is not the only way Pakistani wildlife is losing the battle of existence. Any kind of wildlife that can be hunted for its meat is endangered in Pakistan because Pakistanis, as reports suggest, are eager to please their Arab visitors at the cost of the natural beauty the fauna brings to a region.
With Pakistan’s mammalian wildlife retreated to small pockets in Balochistan (in the Kirthar range) and along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border the War on Terror enters the stage. War on Terror is about chasing the terrorists far and wide; it is about looking for the enemy everywhere, even in places people normally don’t go to. You can imagine Pakistan’s shuddering wildlife vexed by such an encroachment on its habitat.
The other way the War on Terror would push Pakistan’s wildlife over the brink is more insidious. Ever since the war started there has been a debate about what makes a person join the ranks of the terrorists. There seems to be a consensus that poorly developed areas with little education, fewer means for people to better their lot, fewer things to keep themselves busy with provide opportunities for the inhabitants to accept extremist ideas. On reaching the conclusion that the development of an area would increase the opportunities for the people of the area, there is a push to make Pakistan’s remote tribal areas more accessible to the connected world. War on Terror has come with an urgent need for “development.” Road construction projects are being planned even before there is any investment in education. With roads comes the evil: people who want to exploit the natural reserves of a region previously inaccessible. When roads would be built to remote areas in the north, that are still forested, one of the first people to use those roads would be the illegal loggers. The grab in the form of logged trees would invariably result in the loss of habitat for the wildlife of that region.
With our present understanding of the environmental issues, Pakistan must put its development strategy in the right order. First there should be education, so that the people would understand the importance of their natural environment and feel motivated to preserve it; building of roads and throwing a region in the cruel market economy should be the last step of development.
As for the War on Terror…if only the Pakistani wildlife could speak. And if the wildlife could speak and be in the audience at the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the booing would have never stopped and it would have been impossible for Obama to deliver a convoluted speech that had obvious contradictions.
Photo of Pakistani leopard courtesy of