Who to vote for?

ELECTIONS should happen, and happen on time. There is no excuse for delays. And there is no reason not to give a `level playing field` to all contesting political parties and political leaders.

But we know that there`s been no level playing field in the past and it is unlikely there will be one this time. Elections have always been `managed` one way or the other; it is not likely to be any different this time. In fact, this time, there is not even a pretence of a level playing field. Even the interim prime minister, who really should not be saying anything on the matter, has said that the `law` might not let some people, or even some parties, participate but that the election will be a `fair` one nonetheless.

Will the election be fair if a mainstream party or its leader is not allowed to contest? This is too easy a question. Is Imran Khan more corrupt than some of the other politicians and party leaders in our politics? Is he more corrupt than some of the current and past bureaucrats and generals? Some people might believe that. But for many, this is not believable. Then why are he and the PTI the only ones under the gun? We know the answer to that too, and it is not just May 9. So, most likely if and when elections take place, they will not be conducted on a level playing field, whatever else they may or may not be.

Or, should we say they will be as `fair` as the previous ones? Even if we put all that aside, and even if there was a level playing field, many dilemmas would still remain. Suppose all mainstream parties were running, who should we vote for? All the mainstream parties have, more or less, the same economic agenda. All hold the neoliberal viewpoint of privatisation and liberalisation being the cure for our current ills. They have even shared finance ministers and finance advisers.All of them are going to reduce the fiscal and trade deficits by putting pressure on the poor.

All of them are going to continue to reward the elite and specialised interest groups.

How do we know this? Experience of the last 30 to 40 years tells us so. Do you really see the PML-N, PPP and PTI as parties who will carry out the deep reforms that are needed? Will they impose income tax on agriculture and traders, introduce property taxes for the rich, impose taxes on real estate, reduce or remove subsidies for the elites (the amount is billions of rupees) and extend benefits to the poor? Will they invest in the health and education of the people of Pakistan? If you think so, I would like to be on to whatever you are on to.

Yes, people might have different estimations of the individual leaders of these parties, and there might be very strong associations with particular parties and/ or particularleaders,butin terms of policy choices, and looking at the experience of the last many years, there seems to be little difference amongst them.

The same issues plague all those who are arguing for setting up new parties. There is always space for new parties. But if it involves the recycling of politicians who move from old parties to new ones, what will it do for the people? We have seen such movements many times. Do you expect deep reforms from Mr Tarin`s or Mr Khattak`s party? The sugar lobby has avoided investigations for long, and continues to benefit from subsidies of all sorts. But we expect these parties, whose leaders are beneficiaries of past policies, including those of the larger parties, to be all for reforms and pro-poor! Now we hear that Shahid Khagan Abbasi, Mustafa Khokhar and Miftah Ismail are thinking of making a party too. More power to them.

They have come from the same parties they havebenefited from; they have been ministers, advisers and parliamentarians representing these parties;and they are goingtoherald change and reform! We have seen episodes of `re-imagining Pakistan` where there were a lot of things except for re-imagination.

The smaller parties on the left and right seem equally clueless. In any case, they have no chance of winning the number of seats required to have any impact through legislative bodies on the future, at least for now. There might be an individual candidate here and there from these smaller parties who might appeal to the public at the local level, but winning at the MNA/ MPA level is not going to be easy for them, and winning enough seats to have an impact at the provincial or national level looks very unlikely.

Where does that leave us? We have not even talked about the overbearing role of the establishment in, and its impact on, civilian affairs, which makes it all but impossible for democracy to work, for reforms to get through, and for interests very powerful ones to be effectively challenged. We can deny the role of the establishment as much as we want, and talk about it can be suppressed too, but it is the same as when Galileo apparently said `And yet it moves`.

So, who do we vote for and why? We should vote. It might be unclear how we will get out of the mess we are in, but it cannot be by not voting and/ or not thinking of making democracy stronger. But it does seem that, irrespective of the unevenness of the field, the choice for voters of candidates and parties that will engage in serious reform is not present on the available spectrum. At least not at the moment. • The wnter is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Altematives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.

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Our big opportunity

Pakistan currently finds itself at a critical juncture, grappling with a severe economic crisis that has dominated headlines both within and outside its borders. However, amidst the economic turmoil, there is another noteworthy development stirring within the nation – general elections.

Data from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) indicates a notable increase in the registered voter count over a four-year period, with the total rising from approximately 106 million in 2018 to about 127 million as of July 25 this year.

The latest census, which revealed that 44 per cent of voters belong to the 18-35 age group, highlights the demographic reality that suggests the youth will have significant influence on shaping Pakistan’s political landscape. With a median age of approximately 22 years, Pakistan ranks as one of the world’s youngest nations, coming in as the 36th youngest out of 227 countries globally and the sixth youngest in the Asian region.

Among South Asian countries, Pakistan is the second youngest, with Afghanistan being the only one having a higher proportion of young people.

The PPP, recognizing this demographic advantage, has strategically positioned itself to harness the power of the youth vote (63 per cent of the country’s population is aged between 15 and 30).

PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in a recent statement, has emphasized the importance of Pakistan’s youth, declaring them the country’s greatest asset. This acknowledgment is not merely rhetorical; it is reflected in the party’s policies and initiatives designed to empower and engage the youth.

The PPP’s dedication to the Sindh Flood Emergency Housing Reconstruction Project, with its goal of constructing or renovating 2.1 million sustainable housing units, reflects a sincere commitment to the welfare of those impacted by natural disasters. Notably, 70 per cent of the beneficiaries of this housing scheme are women. By addressing the housing requirements of the most vulnerable, the PPP aims to earn the trust and support of both women and the youth.

The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) has also been instrumental in providing financial assistance to those in need, particularly during the challenging tenure of the PTI government. The reactivation of accounts for 192,000 beneficiaries, who were previously removed by the PTI government, exemplifies the PPP’s dedication to social welfare and economic relief, which resonates with the youth.

However, it is not only the youth that hold the key to the upcoming elections. Women, constituting 50 per cent of the voters, play an equally pivotal role in shaping Pakistan’s democratic future. Ensuring their active participation in the electoral process is not just a matter of equity but a democratic imperative. Women’s voices, choices, and concerns must be heard and represented in the political arena.

We must engage in efforts to encourage and facilitate women’s participation in voting. This engagement goes beyond mere tokenism; it must actively involve women in political discourse and decision-making. When women are empowered and engaged, the democratic process becomes more inclusive and reflective of the diverse voices and perspectives within the nation.

The PPP’s Lady Health Worker (LHW) programme, initiated by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, has a primary goal of delivering essential primary health services to both rural and urban areas. It stands as a testament to the PPP’s dedication to mainstreaming women in the workforce and promoting their social and economic empowerment.

This programme, which commenced in 1994 with a workforce of approximately 30,000 women, has since expanded significantly, with over 125,000 employees now deployed across all districts of the country. In today’s challenging economic climate, Pakistan needs more initiatives like this to address the growing economic hardships.

As the country stands on the cusp of these crucial elections, it is evident that the youth and women can be the driving force behind a democratic transformation in Pakistan. The stakes are high, and the outcome of these elections will significantly impact the trajectory of the nation’s political and economic future. Therefore, it is imperative that efforts be made to ensure a massive turnout of both young people and women at the polls.

Increasing youth participation in elections requires more than just appealing rhetoric; it demands concrete actions. Political parties should prioritize issues that resonate with the youth, such as job creation, education reform, and social justice. By addressing these concerns and crafting policies that directly impact the lives of young Pakistanis, parties can earn their trust and commitment to the democratic process.

The situation regarding young voter turnout seems to be evolving, as evidenced by the rise in young voter participation from 26 per cent in 2013 to 37 per cent in 2018. This change has led to a decrease in the difference between overall voter turnout and youth voter turnout, reducing it from 28 percentage points in 2013 to 15 percentage points in 2018.

The youth should not only be encouraged but actively given a platform within our political systems, as they can play a pivotal role in driving progressive change. In a ground-breaking move, Dubai ruler and UAE PM Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum directly invited applications from the nation’s youth to join his cabinet and represent their demographic on social media.

Pakistan should take inspiration from such initiatives and similarly integrate young voices into the political arena to ensure their representation and influence in decision-making.

The government of Bangladesh, under its Economic Acceleration and Resilience for NEET (EARN) Project, aims to equip about 900,000 economically disengaged youth with skills and alternative education needed for employment and entrepreneurship. What’s more progressive about this project is that 60 per cent of the targeted population consist of women. Projects like these are the need of the hour in Pakistan to empower the vibrant youth of our nation.

The demographic dividend of a youthful population and the democratic imperative of gender equality make the involvement of these two segments of society crucial. It is through their active participation, informed choices, and commitment to democratic values that Pakistan can overcome its challenges and build a more inclusive and prosperous future.

The upcoming elections provide an opportunity for the nation to reaffirm its commitment to democracy and ensure that the voices of its youth and women are not just heard but celebrated.

The writer is a former member of the Sindh Assembly.

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Justice Qazi Faez Isa and the expectations

Judgments on Faizabad dharna and NAB vs Hudaibiya Paper Mills cases are among Justice Isa’s most significant ones.

Amid mounting expectations of the very many disenchanted with the prevailing social and political system, Justice Qazi Faez Isa starts off his stint as Chief Justice of Pakistan. The actions taken so far by the top judge — a 1300cc car in personal use, reduced security staff, live telecast of a high-profile case — are a good beginning. But much remains to be seen.

Hopes make sense as Justice Isa is known by his bold judgments like in the Memogate Commission; Quetta Bombing Commission; Audio Leaks Commission; suo motu case on Hazara killings; Faizabad dharna case; NAB vs Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, etc. All these judgments and findings — except for the one related to Memogate which is considered controversial by many — aim to contain the powers of the executive within the parameters of law, irking the most powerful. In few of these cases he even used suo motu powers and adopted an unconventional approach.

Judgments on Faizabad dharna and NAB vs Hudaibiya Paper Mills cases are among Justice Isa’s most significant ones.

In Faizabad dharna case, Justice Isa declared that the protest violated citizens’ fundamental rights and that the government failed in its constitutional duty to protect citizens and maintain public order. He declared the agreement brokered by armed forces that ended the protest as illegal and unconstitutional, and questioned the dubious role of state agencies, including the ISI, in failing to counter the threat of extremism posed by TLP and others. The honourable judge also declared that spy agencies should never be perceived to support a particular political party. The judgment highlighted the constitutional role of armed forces and stressed that the honour and esteem of those who sacrifice their lives for the country should never be undermined by the illegal actions of a few.

In the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case, Justice Isa declared that the NAB’s petition was filed after a delay of 1,229 days — well beyond the 60-day limit. Stressing the importance of fundamental rights, like a fair trial and due process, he refused to condone the delay, affirming the principle that individuals cannot indefinitely await a prosecuting agency’s discretion, which could turn prosecution into persecution.

All in all, Justice Isa’s judgments portray his unwavering commitment to justice, constitutional supremacy and rule of law. However, his real test has begun now that he has assumed the role of the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

The Chief Justice derives his authority from the Constitution and statutes, and cannot go beyond. In this respect, the most striking feature of the Constitution of Pakistan is Article 184 (3) under which the top court can act on its own or on a plea from an individual in case of violation of the rights mentioned in the Fundamental Rights Chapter.

Today, the country is faced with the lack of enforcement of fundamental rights and adherence to the rule of law and fair trial in relation to: the missing persons, including journalists and political activists; military trial of civilians; disenfranchisement of the electorate to elect their representatives, etc.

Interpretation of the Constitution — right now, in the context of the mentioned issues — is the most fundamental duty of the Supreme Court, being the guardian of the Constitution. Hopes are there that under Justice Isa’s leadership, the top court will ensure enforcement of fundamental rights and interpret Constitution in such way that the executive will have no space to deprive the electorate of their choice of government.

To sum up in the words of Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, “Laws in a democracy, under our constitutional framework, must protect and preserve equality, tolerance, life, liberty, privacy, dignity and freedoms of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship. Laws represent the morality of a nation, the aspiration of its people and not the fiat of the few. Rule of law is at its finest when people are at the centre and it is structured on a rights-based model.”

How to ensure rule of law and achieve this target constitutes the litmus test for the Supreme Court under Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

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The ‘X’ gender

The resumption of registration of transgender persons in the national database is a positive step.

The resumption of registration of transgender persons in the national database is a positive step. It will surely go a long way in compiling and updating statistics of the third sex, and enabling them to become part and parcel of the mainstream population without any bias or sense of otherness. This was necessary because doing away with the sense of neglect and marginalisation that is otherwise prevalent in the society, as such pupils are widely considered as a taboo. Nadra signposting identity cards with ‘X’ prefix for such persons is laudable, and one hopes people from the shadows will come forward to be recognised and make their presence felt in society.

This minority community is pathetically ignored and this is where the problem rests. As per 2017 census estimates, there are more than 10,000 listed people. But no one is sure as to what is the real strength of such souls who are scattered and in the woods, and seek a living on the sidelines as a destitute. At the same time they are discriminated against, and one of the most sexually exploited folks. The process of registration will buoy in them a sense of collectiveness to redefine and live with their nature-blessed identity. They can move on to form associations and seek their due in national strata in terms of political amalgamation, job opportunities and a rightfully-acclaimed legal protocol.

Nadra must lead from the front in ensuring that all such people who proudly introduce themselves as transgender are acknowledged. The superior courts and civil society already have nodded for their due status and rights, and it is high time they are counted and credited accordingly. Misgivings about them, and their birth DNA, in the legal and religious context, must not graduate into a standoff and their fundamental provisions of life, property, security and prosperity must be assured. Nadra has a national mandate to come full circle the plurality of society by honouring transgender souls.

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Sick society brings forth sick people

The whole country is in the grip of serious diseases.

Friedrich Nietzsche has said: “The final reward of death, to die no more.” How will good and healthy people be born in our society and why innocent people are rapidly disappearing into the darkness of death? These are the fundamental questions that we are all facing today, at a time when our society has become old, weak and sick. It has become stinky and covered in complete filth. Now this society can only produce sick patients — and not healthy and good people. Such a society has only given birth to sick people over the last 76 years. These sick people have infected the surroundings with various diseases — the diseases that doctors, scientists, sociologists, intellectuals, philosophers and psychologists do not even have a cure for. It’s because the sick can be treated by healthy people, while the sick can never be treated by the sick.

Currently, the whole country is in the grip of serious diseases. Swarms of sick people are roaming everywhere and the few healthy people that are left are hiding themselves from these hordes. There can be no other nation more pitiful than Pakistanis. They are dying by their own hands; they are dying by their sick fellows; they are dying due to the evil intentions of their rulers; they are dying due to poverty, inflation, unemployment and ignorance; they are dying in the name of religion; and they are dying from greed, corruption and loot and plunder.

In one of his poems, Hermann Hesse writes: “Abel lies dead in the grass, Brother Cain has escaped. A bird comes, dips its beak into the blood, starts up, flies away. The bird flies all over the world, his flight is shy, his voice shrill, he complains endlessly: About beautiful Abel and his agony, about the dark Cain and his soul trouble, about his own younger days. Soon Cain shoots his arrow into his heart, Soon there will be strife and war and death, Carry to all huts and cities, Will create enemies and slay them, will desperately hate her and himself, will she and herself in all alleys persecute and torment until the next world night, until Cain finally killed himself. The bird flies, out of its bloody beak screams death wails over the whole world. Cain hears him, dead Abel hears him and thousands of people under the heavens hear him. But ten thousand and more do not hear him, They don’t want to know anything about Abel’s death, nothing about Cain and his heartache, none of the blood that breaks from so many wounds nothing about the war that happened yesterday and which they now read about in novels. For all of you, the full and happy, the strong and the brutal is not there. Neither Cain nor Abel, neither death nor sorrow and they praise the war as a great time. And when the wailing bird flies by, then they call him a naysayer and a pessimist, feel strong and undefeated and throw stones at the bird, until he falls silent and disappears, or make music so that you can no longer hear it, because his sad voice bothers her. The bird with his little drops of blood on the beak fly from place to place, his complaint about Abel goes on and on.”

We are all Able. The only difference is that Able was killed by Cain at once, while we are being killed slowly and gradually by our own Cains. Therefore, our pain and torture are greater than Abel’s.

Voltaire has written, “Now he knows what is the reality of the human being that insects are sitting on loose soil and eating each other.” While Charles Bukowski has said, “Most people are dead long before they are buried, that’s why funerals are so sad. Most people quit too easy, they accept the short end, and they compete for small prizes and become small. I don’t expect everybody to be a genius but I never guessed that so many would rush to idiocy with such aplomb.”

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Climate battle

The great privilege of being a journalist is that you get to ask questions, and people generally answer them, so you find stuff out. And sometimes that stuff is shocking.

I’ve spent the last few weeks working on a story for the New Yorker about the build-out of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals. With some help from a remarkable editor and an unshakable fact-checker, it came out a few days ago, and at the risk of being repetitive I wanted to share some of the reporting with you, because it seems to me to point in the direction of what might be the next – and perhaps the ultimate – big battle with the fossil fuel industry. It reminds me a lot of the Keystone XL saga, but with perhaps even more at stake.

To put it simply, with the invention of fracking, America – and Canada, and Australia – ended up with huge supplies of fossil gas. It’s not really needed – we could, more cheaply and much more cleanly, power the world with sun, wind, and batteries. But if that happened, the people who own these reserves would have to forego the hundreds of billions of dollars they could get for selling that gas. That is unacceptable to them; they would far rather break the planet.

So they’re in an all-out sprint to get it to market as fast as they can, mostly by exporting it around the world. In the U.S., there are already seven giant LNG export terminals, and there are plans for at least twenty more, mostly along the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana and Texas, which are close by the giant gas fields of the Permian Basin.

If this buildout continues, and if you counted the emissions from this gas against America’s totals, it would mean that American greenhouse gas emissions would not have budged since 2005. Under the arcane rules of global carbon accounting, exported hydrocarbons don’t count against our total – they’re the problem of the country that eventually burns them (in this case mostly in Asia). But the atmosphere doesn’t care; once burned, the carbon quickly disperses around the globe, heating the entire planet.

Just a single proposed terminal that I talk about in the New Yorker piece – the so-called CP2 LNG plant proposed for Cameron Parish, Louisiana – would over its lifetime be associated with twenty times the greenhouse gas emissions of the huge Willow oil complex that Biden controversially approved earlier this year.

The industry insists that selling gas overseas helps slow climate change, because it could replace coal. But scientists in recent years have shown that leaking methane makes fracked gas at least as bad for the climate as coal – and in any event scientists and diplomats have in recent years embraced the idea of net zero instead of slow incremental transition from one fuel to the next to the next. We’re simply out of time to use natural gas as a “bridge” to a cleaner future.

Excerpted: ‘The Fight to End LNG Expansion Could Be the Biggest Climate Battle of Our Lives’.

Courtesy: Commondreams.org

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Life is elsewhere

HISTORIAN Will Durant once stated, `A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.` The patterns and characteristics leading to the downfall of great civilisations, empires, and states are remarkably consistent. This self-destruction is evident in the narratives of civilisations like Egypt, Mesopotamia and our own Indus Valley.

Even the modern-day story of the mighty Soviet Union doesn`t deviate much.

With sociocultural decay, corruption, escalating poverty, ethnic and sectarian strife, and a constant economic crisis, Pakistan`s case is unique. However, a distinctive factor exacerbating these challenges is the `life is elsewhere` mentality fostered by dual citizenship.

Pakistan`s dual citizenship policy, allowing its citizens to hold passports from 21 countries, including developed nations, has created a disconcerting trend. The elite rulers, business tycoons, retired army chiefs and bureaucrats, etc often aspire to maintain their connections with Pakistan while residing elsewhere. This dual identity erodes patriotism, fostering an attitude that nurtures ad hoc decisionmaking and mediocrity.

Pakistan has, in essence, become the proverbial golden-egg-laying duck for its elite. Those in positions of power amass wealth with the intention of relocating abroad, exploiting the nation`s resources for personal gain all the time. The prevailing attitude is one of self-interest, where everyone seems intent on maximising their personal wealth, often at the expense of national welfare. The moment these elites exit power or retire, their focus swiftly shifts elsewhere, leaving behind a void in the leadership.

India has taken a different approach.

India does not allow dual citizenship.

Instead, it offers the status of Overseas Citizenship of India to its citizens who acquire foreign citizenship. The OCI card comes with several benefits, including a lifelong free travel visa to India, and the freedom to live, work, conduct business, and own assets/properties there. However, OCI cardholders do not have an Indian passport, the right to vote or hold public positions, and are subject to restrictions on purchasing agricultural land.

The question of dual citizenship`s impact on a developing country like ours is complex. On the one hand, it can lead to `brain drain`, as skilled individuals may permanently reside in their second country, resulting in a loss of talent. Dual citizens may also have divided loyalties, potentially causing a conflict of interest in politics and business. Their involvement in domestic politics can contribute to polit-ical instability, and overreliance on remittances from dual citizens can create economic vulnerabilities. Additionally, governments may worry about the loyalty and security of dual citizens, especially during times of political unrest or conflict.

It is imperative to reflect on the role of dual citizenship in exacerbating Pakistan`s myriad challenges. The `life is elsewhere` mentality among the elite must be addressed. Re-evaluating the dual citizenship policy could potentially compel the nation`s well-educated and influential figures to invest in Pakistan`s prosperity, rather than viewing the country as a stepping stone to personal enrichment abroad.

Many dual-national Pakistanis are diverting remittances to real estate, rather than productive areas such as industry and infrastructure. This shift hinders industrial and service sector investment, redirecting working capital and concessional finance into real estate.

Speculative real estate investments driveup housing prices, worsening wealth inequality and failing to address the need for affordable housing.

Banning dual citizenship could prompt positive change by necessitating elite com-mitment to national prosperity. Despite corruption, it could redirect the focus towards domestic investment, benefiting industry and development. While not the sole cause of Pakistan`s issues, dual citizenship fosters self-interest. Re-evaluating this policy could rejuvenate national development commitment, pushing leaders, including the military, politicians and businessmen, to prioritise their homeland`s well-being. Coupled with proactive policies, it could steer Pakistan towards recovery and prosperity.

The quick-profit-making spree of the elite must know the old way of Eskimos killing wolves. The Eskimo coats a knife blade with animal blood, allowing it to freeze in layers. When a wolf finds the blood-scented knife and licks it in frenzy, it eventually exposes the sharp blade. The wolf`s intense craving for blood blinds it to the pain of the blade, leading to its demise.

The `wolf` here is definitely licking its own blood now. Time to wake and howl. • The writer is the founder of Clifton Urban Forest, Karachi.

miohar@gmail.com X (formerly Twitter): @masoodlohar

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Growing ransomware attacks

WHILE one part of the world remains immersedin territorialwarfare-Russian tanks versus Ukrainian missiles another attacker, which is not so much in the news, has been gaining strength over the years. As businesses increasingly operate digitally, computer hackers now wield weapons that have the potential to shut down billion-dollar enterprises, eradicating revenue and collecting the data of millions of unsuspecting people who have few means of protecting themselves.

The past couple of weeks have seen some major ransomware attacks, in which the hackers threaten to take down digital systems or misuse data unless they are paid huge sums of money. A few days ago, various news sources reported that a new ransomware group called ransomed.vc had allegedly hacked Sony. The hackers announced they had successfully breached Sony`s systems, and that because Sony had not agreed to pay them, they were putting up its data for sale.

While Sony itself did not confirm the news, the malware group says it has accessed around 6,000 of Sony`s files. It must be noted that corporations often keep information about ransomware attacks away from the public because they do not want to eviscerate consumer confidence in the security of their data.

A ransomware attack also targeted the hotel and casino chain MGM Resorts this month, when hackers proceeded to lock down MGM`s systems.

This means that everyone from guests checking in digitally to those using compromised ATM kiosks found MGM`s services severely disrupted.

Wifi networks and entertainment systems were also brought down.

The MGM attack followed the targeting of the chain`s rival Vegas super player Caesars` casinos, where digital systems were also hacked. Just as in MGM`s case, operations at the casino were halted, causing millions of dollars in losses. Once again, the data of Caesars` clients, who were using credit card and bank accounts, was stolen.

The availability of all this data in an era when so many people have electronic bank accounts and their money is basically numbers on a screen is a huge problem. While at this time only these mastermind hackers can attack the systems of enormous companies, the data they sell can enable lesser actors to hack individual accounts andhold those who own them hostage to ransom. If such individuals do not pay, they are not able to regain access to these accounts. Lesser actors use the same means to gain access to social media accounts of celebrities and other influencers.

Once again, if these individuals do not pay, they lose access to their followers, and thus to income streams they may be getting from their social media accounts.

All of this underscores the fact that, in the world of the future, it is data that is going to be the most valuable asset. Pakistani consumers who are benefiting from online retail and are entering their data into the systems of companies they do not know well are taking a big risk. Small and unknown companies do not invest much in the security of their systems, making them vul-nerable to being breached by ransomware and hackers. Even downloading unknown applications and games is risky because they can contain spyware that similarly provides all the data on your phone to hackers.

However, as the alleged Sony hack, and those so many others before it, proves, even the most well-known companies are at risk from bad actors. Unfortunately, many of these companies themselves may not think so. An organisation called SpyCloud recently released a report that indicated how security industry leaders are assessing the risk posed by ransomware.

Ironically, despite most American, British and Canadian organisations admitting to the need for better protection against the risk, 79 per cent also felt very confident about their ability to withstand a ransomware attack. The confidence seems bizarre given that most of these organisations reported having suffered some version of acyberattack.

In Western countries, this disparity in risk assessment and actual action is becoming the subject of lawsuits. In the aftermath of the attacks on the resorts and casinos, the consumers affected by the data breach at Caesars and MGM are pursuing representative lawsuits against the companies for improperly protecting their data and losing it to hackers. A representative, or class action, lawsuit combines all the lawsuits of individuals who have been affected into one case, which often results in one large sum paid out by the defendants.

In addition to lawsuits, it is likely that new consumer protection laws will also be used to protect clients.

The ease and convenience of online shopping means that Pakistani vendors can increasingly make their goods available to overseas consumers who wish to buy them. Digital platforms now provide a huge opportunity for online retailers, particularly those that focus on fashion, jewel1ery, handicrafts, sports equipment, and even spices. However, this requires that retailers successfully reassure overseas consumers that their credit card data is secure and not available to hackers. If this hurdle can be overcome, Pakistan`s online economy can flourish domestically as well as internationally. The huge diaspora communities of overseas Pakistanis present readymade markets that can help retailers ride through the current economic crisis.

How Sony recuperates after this massive malware attack remains to be seen. Either there will be some secret arrangement and the ransomed.vc hackers will surrender the systems for money, or Sony`s own engineers and security specialists will be able to recover the compromised systems.

Whatever it may be, this particular arena of security and warfare is likely to be one that endures for generations. No matter who you are or where you may be, pay attention and be careful next time information of CNIC numbers, bank accounts, credit card numbers, etc, is entered or ATMs are accessed. Not everything that seems safeis secure against hackers. The wnter is an attomey teaching constitutional law and political philosophy rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

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How IMF policies undermine rights

Rashida, 40, works as a domestic worker in three houses in Lahore. She told Human Rights Watch that her 11-year-old son, Arif, wants to know where he can post a letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He wants to tell them that even though both his parents each work three jobs, they must ration food supplies and keep the fan off even in 40 C temperatures due to high electricity bills. They are among the millions of Pakistanis forced to make these choices, between food and books, electricity and medicine, dignity and debt.

The deepening economic crisis in Pakistan has historical and structural reasons. However, the recent spike in inflation, increase in electricity and fuel prices, and currency depreciation comes as a result of a $3 billion deal between the IMF and Pakistan in July 2022. It requires the government to end energy and fuel subsidies, increase taxes, and move to a market-based exchange rate.

Both the IMF and the Pakistani government have human rights obligations to pursue economic recovery measures that protect and advance rights in the short and long term, yet the deal puts the burden of recovery on people who are already struggling the most.

On Friday, September 22, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva sent a message to the “people of Pakistan” in a tweet that asked to “please collect more taxes from the wealthy and please protect the poor people of Pakistan.” The government should heed her request, but so should the IMF.

Pakistan is a stark example of IMF conditions that risk undermining people’s economic, social, and cultural rights, but it’s far from the only one. A new report from Human Rights Watch on recent IMF loans around the world found that the vast majority are conditioned on austerity policies that reduce government spending or increase regressive taxes in ways likely to harm human rights. By conditioning its loans on policies that have a long track record of exacerbating poverty and inequality, the IMF is violating its own commitment to respond to the current economic crisis in ways that address deep-seated inequality and build more inclusive economies.

Austerity measures reducing government spending or increasing regressive taxes have a well-documented history of undermining rights. The United Nations Human Rights Council in 2019 adopted guiding principles to ensure that economic recovery measures further “the benefit of the whole population, instead of only a few”. The principles prohibit governments from pursuing austerity unless they meet strict criteria, including avoiding, or if absolutely necessary, limiting and mitigating, any negative effect on rights.

The IMF’s internal research indicates that these policies are not effective in achieving its primary objective: to reduce debt. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook, published in April, observed that fiscal consolidations – a term usually linked to austerity programs – “do not reduce debt ratios, on average”.

Human Rights Watch’s analysis of IMF programs approved to 38 countries since March 2020 finds that over half contain or reduce spending on public wages, compromising governments’ ability to deliver quality public services that are guaranteed as rights. Over half impose value-added taxes, an indirect tax that tends to be regressive and exacerbate inequalities since the rate is the same for people regardless of income.

And over half remove or reduce consumption-based fuel or electricity subsidies or develop plans to do so without adequately investing in social security or other compensatory measures or in clean sources of energy. Fossil fuel subsidies place enormous economic burdens on governments, but they also artificially reduce the costs of fossil fuel production and use, driving fossil fuel dependence at a time when governments should be transitioning to renewable energy to address the climate crisis. At the same time, removing subsidies without adequately investing in social security often means that price increases disproportionately affect those on low incomes.

To mitigate the impacts of these programs, many IMF programs rely on small improvements to cash transfer programs. In Pakistan, increased spending on the Benazir Income Support Program, a government cash transfer program that targets women living in extreme poverty. The program was initiated in 2008 to mitigate the impact of then-record levels of food and fuel inflation, and continues to be Pakistan’s largest social safety net program.

BISP is an important initiative assisting millions of households, and it needs to be expanded significantly to move toward universal social protection that would provide benefits to a broader range of people who have heightened risks of income insecurity, such as children, older people, and people with disabilities. Research has shown that these types of programs are far more effective than those with eligibility-based on socioeconomic status.

A 47-year-old rickshaw driver in Lahore told us, “I can either get medicine (insulin) for my diabetes or pay for my daughter to go to school or keep the lights on at my house. I can do only one of the three. The IMF should come and see how I am managing my life.”

Social security is a human right enshrined in various treaties ratified by Pakistan, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The right to social security plays an important role in realizing a range of other rights, including the rights to education, food, healthcare, and housing. The IMF needs to change course and put people’s economic and social rights at the front and center of their programs.

Saroop Ijaz is the senior counsel, Asia and Sarah Saadoun is a senior economic justice researcher, both at Human Rights Watch.

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Carbon markets

AS COP28, the annual global climate conference, approaches, the demand for carbon offsets has surged, particularly from this year`s host, the United Arab Emirates, and its neighbour Saudi Arabia.

With relatively small populations but with large emissions-intensive industries, such as those producing oil and gas, petrochemicals and fertilisers, both nations are among the top 10 globally in terms of per capita emissions (2021), and are gearing up to decarbonise their respective economies.

Private entities or governments can use voluntary carbon markets (VCM), where they trade carbon offset credits representing the avoidance or removal of greenhouse gas emissions, to mitigate any greenhouse gases they generate. The UAE recently updated its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) the GHG reduction commitment to the United Nations Framework on the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) increasing its emissions reduction target from 23.5 per cent to 31pc by 2030.

Saudi Arabia is also investing in the green economic transition through the Middle East Green Initiative and significant purchases of carbon offsets from voluntary markets, signing agreements with African governments to protect and preserve large tracts offorests. These dense forests serve as natural carbon sinks, which absorb GHGs such as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert them into biomass through the process known as photosynthesis.

Nature-based solutions both reduce and remove harmful emissions from the atmosphere, either through the protection of forested landscapes to prevent deforestation, or the restoration of degraded ecosystems to enhance GHG removal from the atmosphere. Each metric tonne of carbon dioxide or equivalent emissions reduced or removed is equal to one carbon offset. These carbon offsets can be traded in internationalVCMs.

Owing to a combination of factors, it is easier and cheaper to reduce and remove GHGs in some locations than in others.

These include a country`s existing emissions profile, the availability of feasible, low-cost solutions to reduce or remove atmospheric GHG emissions, the availability of significant natural resources and access to cheap labour. However, in the absence of a robust carbon market policy, Pakistan will lose out on a critical source of international climate finance that could have provided a vital boost to its ailing economy.

Nature-based carbon sequestration projects can generate revenue over many years. Governments and project developers can earn revenue by establishingnature-based carbon offset projects either through avoiding deforestation, or through reforestation and restoration of degraded land. Typically, such projects have low capital costs and additional environmental and social co-benefits through job creation, enhanced environmental quality, etc.

The Paris Agreement allows private entities to offset their emissions using carbon offset credits purchased from the VCMs.

However, to avoid double-counting, these cannot count towards the NDCs of the country generating these offsets. Private entities need an undertaking from the national government that it will make `corresponding adjustments` in its NDC targets by excluding those private carbon credits. To make corresponding adjustments, a government needs a carbon market policy to regulate the trade of carbon credits so that NDC commitments are not compromised.

The absence of a carbon markets policy increases investor risk, as there are no clear guidelines for potential carbon offset project developers to invest in Pakistan.There is a lack of clarity regarding revenue distribution from carbon offset projects between the federal and provincial governments. The Delta Blue Carbon Project, a mangrove restoration project in Sindh, has beengenerating revenues from carbon offsets since 2015. The Sindh Forest Department, one ofthe project developers, sought a noobjection certificate from the federal climate change ministry to continue selling the carbon offsets generated from the project in international VCMs. However, the ministry tried to convince the Sindh government to allow the carbon offsets to count towards Pakistan`s NDCs to the UNFCCC. In addition, these carbon offsets cannot be sold to entities within Pakistan, as there is no national carbon market policy to govern such transactions.

Jordan has successfully developed a robust institutional and regulatory framework to participate in international carbon markets backed by digital infrastructure to transparently track and transact GHG emission reductions. Pakistan can develop similar infrastructure to encourage the development of high-quality carbon offset projects which can generate essential funds and protect the country`s vast nature reserves for its future generations. • The wn~ter is a climate finance and sustainability expert.

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