The Climate Crisis And Extremism In Pakistan

The Climate Crisis And Extremism In Pakistan
To be on the forefront of climate change is to be born into unique misfortune, in that nature routinely puts on its boxing gloves in order to retaliate against those that harm it, only to miss completely and smash its fist right into those who are perhaps the most innocent as far as causing climate change is concerned.

It's a routine most people in the world are unfortunately familiar with, wherein the sins of greater powers torrent onto less fortunate nations. It's a familiarity polished with stolen oil, and buried amongst foreign guns.

I am not writing this, however, to lament over the history that has led us to today. Instead, I am here to write about the boiling point Pakistan is quickly approaching, and how the climate crisis is not only ushering us to a future with water scarcity, food insecurity, routine droughts, floods and torrential rains, but also by exacerbating extremism.

The sins of greater powers torrent onto less fortunate nations.

Let's start at the roots of the issue - what causes someone to fall into extremism? They could possibly be categorized into the following: echo chambering, propaganda, conformity, and desperation.

Echo chambering is when people lock themselves into a specific worldview through falling victim to online algorithms, or by simply not engaging with groups holding opposing opinions, and are slowly radicalized as the discourse they are exposed to inches closer and closer to the edges of the political compass.

Propaganda is when a government or authoritarian entity attempts to indoctrinate its people by pushing certain worldviews and information in every form of media to cement an idea in the heads of the people.

Conformity has to do with the push and pull of peer pressure. In a society that is extreme, or that holds extreme opinions as the norm, someone who might generally disagree with said extremism might instead keep quiet. Because people like having friends, and friends tend to like it when you agree with them.

Finally, there is desperation, the aspect of extremism that I wish to talk about today. It is when people can no longer put food on their tables, and can no longer keep roofs over their heads, and the government - through simple neglect or genuine incapability - does not help them. In a desperate plea for survival, these people turn to anybody who promises them food, shelter and security.

Now let's set the stage, what does Pakistan look like for its most vulnerable people today?

Inflation has struck the purchasing power of salaries of many down from the barely livable to the completely impossible. Basic food is out of reach for millions, to the point where people are trampling over each other in an attempt to grab grain being given out for charity. Massive wealth inequality - greater than that of the feudal era - further exacerbates economic frustration, as people who have to fight for grain from charity, sit and watch as people build houses the size of some neighborhoods. Political tensions are at a high, with the giant question marks over the political futures of Imran Khan, Nawaz Shareef and their friends floating over the political scene, meaning many are both politically and economically frustrated.

Only now can we act to prevent what feels like inevitable climate disaster; only now can we act to hold this nation together.

Now add to all this the catastrophes added by the climate crisis. As you probably know, Pakistan was hit with some of the worst floods in history in the summer of 2022, displacing nearly 8 million people, one of the largest displacement of people in the last decade.

And what were these people to do afterwards? Wander back to the very plains that washed away their homes? Or, more likely, migrate to the great cities like Karachi or Lahore, where they find themselves forced into shanty towns, and at the bottom of the economic ladder, as a result of having no experience in anything other than farming? Furthermore, with such an influx of people, what labor they can offer has gotten cheaper, which further plunges them into desperation.

Then, as a sort of cruel cherry on top, Pakistan is set to face a massive food shortage this coming December, as erratic weather conditions shake the expected output of food to critical levels. Meaning that food prices, which are already out of reach for most, may skyrocket to the point of starving the nations needy.

Another issue Pakistan is facing - amongst the many other issues - is the resurgence of terrorism. Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the previously beaten down TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) have been given a sanctuary to hide where the Pakistani military cannot reach them - Afghanistan. What this has resulted in is a rise in TTP terrorist attacks across the nation, including bombings and even high-profile assassinations.

It is at this point where the concern becomes clear: if another climate disaster were to hit Pakistan, if the Biparjoy cyclone were to have hit Karachi, if a potential famine isn't averted, how many Pakistanis would throw up their arms and give in? How many Pakistanis would turn to violence, turn to guns, turn to organizations like the TTP, for salvation? When the government has repeatedly failed to do anything for these desperate people, where else do they have to turn?

Pakistan right now is in a moment of now or never. Only now can we act to prevent what feels like inevitable climate disaster; only now can we act to hold this nation together. Pakistan is not a failed state. It is not a state riddled to its core with terrorism, but increasingly, it looks like a state at war with itself.

Sultan Khawaja is a student, writer, and an avid climate activist