Pakistan’s green initiatives like ‘Clean and Green Pakistan’, ‘Ten Billion Tree Tsunami’, ‘Protected Areas Initiative’ and ‘Recharge Pakistan’ have received global recognition. Despite all these ambitious efforts and global recognition, there remains a huge gap in these conservation initiatives, policies and strategies of the incumbent government.
Although the government claims that it is focusing on nature-based solutions for ecosystem restoration to benefit the people and devising conservation projects for sustainable development, these solutions have served to embed the power of capital over local ecologies and communities.
The top-down implementation of conservation policies has proved counter-productive and created conflicts among communities and state authorities. Studies show that only five percent of national parks are managed properly. It makes no sense to establish more national parks on the fortress model without proper management and implementation plans.
National parks are designated without any scientific findings, environmental impact assessment and taking local communities into confidence in an inclusive manner while addressing their concerns.
The borders of the parks are demarcated without visiting the area, bringing collective communal land and private property under national parks, which creates conflicts among people and state authorities.
Likewise, the proposed green projects, especially protected areas, are in conflict with the government’s strategies and demands of local communities.
Although the government claims that it is providing green jobs through green stimulus programme to the locals, vociferous protests and resistance by indigenous people in different regions of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) show a different picture. The locals feel that they are being deprived of their livelihood by the forceful conversion of their ancestral land and pastures into national parks without their consent. Pastoralist and agricultural activities in pastures and collective lands are the mainstays of the livelihood of mountainous communities in many regions of GB.
During each intervention – under the garb of conservation in Gilgit-Baltistan – the authorities have ignored the fundamental rights, customary laws, cultural values and collective ownership of indigenous communities.
Gilgit-Baltistan covers an area of more than 70,000 sq km, out of which 94 percent consists of mountains, four percent is forest and only one percent of the total area is cultivable. Today, more than half of the total land of Gilgit-Baltistan is converted into national parks and protected areas that were once managed through customary laws.
Historically, local communities are in a better position and have created a natural balance in the ecosystem as the survival of humans and wildlife are interdependent. Local people have indigenous knowledge and wisdom to protect endangered species. They understand traditional conservation, issues, weaknesses, strength and potentials.
There is a dire need to differentiate between commodification and conservation of nature and natural resources. So far, conservation strategies in Pakistan show the commodification of nature for the elite – rather than its conservation with its true essence.
The fortress model of nature conservation stresses on the exclusion of humans from nature or delineating borders between humans and the ecology. The forced imposition of such strategies creates conflicts among the people and governments.
We have the example of Khunjerab National Park (KNP) which was established in 1975 by then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto primarily for the protection of the Marco Polo sheep. The idea was to make it a world-class park. But it became a bone of contention between government authorities and local communities.
National conservation policies do not support the inclusion of local communities in the process of policymaking and decision-making. Such projects are designed for the exploitation of indigenous people’s resources without taking their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), which creates discord, conflict and social tension in the region. The top-down unilateral imposition of decisions and policies has always proved to be a failure.
I am curious why the country has been repeating the same failed and outdated strategies since 1975. If the authorities push such conservation policies, it would not only deprive communities of their livelihood but also aggravate conflicts and increase the sense of deprivation and alienation among communities living in the peripheries of the country.
Government authorities and development experts should keep in mind these realities and strengthen the capacities of local communities in green development and conservation initiatives while working closely with them.
Instead of establishing more national parks, the government needs to focus more on the management of the current parks. It is mandatory to include the people in green initiatives and develop a management framework and management plans, followed by the implementation of projects.
The government should focus on developing robust public-oriented green policies to enhance the adaptation capacity of vulnerable communities to prepare them for climate-induced risks.
The writer is a project assistant at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad.
The views expressed by the writer are his own.
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