Pakistan Floods Are an Issue of High National Security for India

Pakistan’s rainfall is the heaviest in 30 years, in what the UN Chief calls a “monsoon on steroids."

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Pakistan Floods Are an Issue of High National Security for India

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As the philosophers say, there are few disasters that don’t offer opportunity. When Prime Minister Modi reached to offer Pakistan assistance, as the country reels from severe flooding, it’s actually a rare break for both countries.

Both, because neither is going to have an easy going of it in the future; not in climate change, nor in battling a global economic crisis, nor in holding off a pandemic whose virus is proving evolutionary.

Rare, because while both Pakistan and India have had cooperated in natural disasters before, this time it may just prove to be the first step to change. This is now an issue of the highest national security. Here’s why.


A Monsoon on Steroids

Pakistan’s rainfall is the heaviest in 30 years, in what the UN Chief calls a “monsoon on steroids,” something at 780 percent above normal. And it's still raining.

The United Nations issued a flash appeal for $160 million intended to feed some 5.2 million people, and provide water and sanitation, both key issues in a flood. The actual numbers affected are somewhere at 33 million.

But the UN can only do so much in an emergency situation. The tragedy? That Pakistan can't do much either.

It has the institutions and surely the will power, but the problem is the funds. Just prior to the floods, inflation was recorded at a staggering 43 percent in terms of food and essentials, even as electricity bills have skyrocketed, while petrol prices rose to Rs 233.91 per litre.

That was then. Now, the floods have destroyed the standing crop, which Sindh officials say includes the rice, sugarcane and the cotton crop, and the damage is going to be in billions.

The trouble ahead; that the next wheat crop can't be planted, since water logging will remain in the sowing season. Further grim statistics.


With the decision of the International Monetary Fund to disburse the next tranche of loan, the gross debt to GDP ratio was to ‘decline’ from a staggering 74 percent last year to 71.4 percent. Well, that’s not going to happen. Instead, debt will rise to vastly more unsustainable levels. Here’s another figure. Pakistan’s Foreign Direct Investment dropped 43 percent compared to last year. That’s not however due to death, disaster or disease. It's just bad politics.

Bad Politics

With former Prime Minister Imran Khan raging on the streets, and the bickering coalition at the centre, there is hardly anything to inspire investor confidence.

Even as a third of the country went under, bad politics was on public display. With prices of tomatoes and onions expected to cross Rs 700 a kilogram, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said that the country was likely to consider importing vegetables from India; after all the retail price of onion in Chandigarh near the Wagah border was around PKR 69 (per Rs 12 in INR) while potatoes were about Rs 700 per quintal.

The advantage would be obvious to the meanest intellect. But politics demanded otherwise. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif was heard to say “There won’t have been problems about trading with India but genocide is going on there and Kashmiris have been denied their rights.” The linkage was so strange it would have been laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.


But here’s the rub. Remember it was Shahbaz Sharif himself who, as Chief Minister of Punjab, had wanted trade with India, even signing a Joint Statement with his counterpart Parkash Singh Badal in 2013 to that effect.

If that was Sharif’s conviction then, what's the issue now? The answer to that is Imran Khan, who has raised $5 billion for the floods and who will certainly use any trade opening in upcoming elections to squeeze the already embattled coalition.

Meanwhile, the sight of an expensively clad and undoubtedly svelte Sherry Rehman holding forth to the international media was hardly likely to inspire confidence in those struggling through six feet of water.

The problem? That Pakistan’s elite live in a world of their own, unable to see the disaster facing the country. That’s the core of the problem in track one, two or three. The world has changed. Pakistan’s hot shots haven’t.

The Issue

Meanwhile, Indians should hardly crow over Pakistan’s unfortunate situation. The simple fact is that climate disasters don’t recognise borders.

Disaster is happening here too, except that its not nearly so obvious. Torrential rains hit parts of South India even as it almost entirely missed the food producing states like Punjab, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh among others. That has, like Pakistan, adversely affected the next sowing season.


As of 29 July, the area under paddy cultivation lagged by a staggering 3.7 million hectares over last year. Agri-exports is a key target area for government’s spending plans, and while this undeniably saw a healthy rise earlier, the target of USD 23.6 billion is unlikely to be met.

Government, in fact, banned exports of flour and other products as inflation hit hard. Indeed, Delhi’s promise to ‘feed the world’ in the wake of a wheat crisis due to the Ukraine war, had to be abandoned as India’s own wheat crop was hit by extreme heat.

Neighbours like Nepal depend on India for food imports, as does Sri Lanka, who wants as much of everything as possible. To be a ‘regional’ power, you don't need muscle but the wherewithal.

Meanwhile, another ‘strategic’ effect. Rains led to severe landslide on vital roads leading to the border with China, with new landslide lakes forming that threaten downstream areas.

All that has been made worse, much worse, by a frenzy of road building to get to the border. Meanwhile, glaciers in the Pangong Tso region receded 6.7 percent (1990 and 2019), with scientists warning of catastrophe even as this area sees heightened military activity. Here’s a hard fact. Pakistan went underwater this year due also to its rapidly melting glaciers – some 7200 of them. A border can't stop the phenomenon. It's inevitable.


Climate Crisis and National Security

The simple sum of all this is, climate change can hit our national security policy and basic defence.

First, the obvious problem of food security, which means not just that some 70 percent of rural populations depend on agriculture, but also that a 138 crore plus population has to be fed, including free rations to 80 crore post COVID-19. All that costs money. And it outflows into politics.

Then there’s the diseases that follow, including dengue, jaundice, and a plethora of new viruses. Much like Pakistan, changing weather also means that cities in both countries are among the topmost polluted in the world. That has severe human costs.

Then there is hard defence. The United Kingdom has begun to not only evaluate the impact of climate crisis on future conflict – think India-Pakistan-China as the Indus river flow reduces- as well as finding ways to reduce defence contribution to emissions, which according to its 2021 paper Climate change and Sustainability Strategic Approach, accounts for 50 percent of national emissions. And it's not at war. India is, for all intents and purposes, with an adversary who probes and pinches right across the 3488 km long border. Then there’s the hard fact that sustaining its army has just gotten more expensive, and more vital; and with climate change, even more difficult.


Sit Together To Deal With the National Security Threat

India’s national security system needs to do a similar exercise to determine which ‘hot conflicts’ linked to food and water shortages are likely, and also how to not just reduce its environmental footprint, but also make solutions pay.

For instance, consider a series of ‘ski-lift’ type systems linking the valleys to the border, that will take up defence logistics on the one hand, and bring back village produce on the other. The roads can remain, but this will be an all-weather alternative, that can involve private industry.

In another instance, ministries like food, environment and road transport, for instance, have to sit together and talk. What seems a solution for one, may be a disaster for the other.

Meanwhile, as Pakistan sinks into the water, it's worth remembering that a dangerous environmental situation in South Asia needs South Asian solutions. As Prime Minister Modi has realised, these solutions – as for electric vehicles – could actually power up the economy.

Now someone has to convince the governments across the region that preserving our trees, shrubs and grass (yes, that matters too) is vital for our survival; and for Delhi’s future dominance. Meanwhile, give a hand next door. Next time it might be you sinking into that mud.

(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  China    Climate Change   National Security 

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