Monthly International Assessment Report

Deadliest Protests in Myanmar

For over a month now the unarmed civilians have gathered in streets and markets to protest against the illegal grab of power by the new military rulers of Myanmar, who ousted the democratically elected government. The security forces continue the use of lethal force against the demonstrators protesting against the military coup and detention of the political leaders. Protestors in Myanmar are determined to take effective measures for restoring democracy which is an indication of their will to no more live under a dictatorial rule or isolated from rest of the world. The crowds have gathered across the country, sometimes including tens of thousands of protestors demanding the coup to be reversed which ended the decade long transition of the country to democracy.

At least 38 people have been killed as a result of clashes between the security forces and the demonstrators, which marks the highest death rate since the protests began. Despite the crackdown mounted on demonstrations, the number of protestors coming out on streets against the coup remains high. The security forces, including police have been using tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disband the protestors. As a part of crackdown on the protest, the police has arrested hundreds of protestors and journalists. According to some reports nearly 1,500 people have been arrested by the police since the beginning of the protests. Members of media have been arrested on the charges of violating the public law and order. Another incident of police brutality was disclosed when a video shot by security camera showed local police brutally thwacking the crew of an ambulance after they were arrested. Security forces in Myanmar are singling out medical workers and subjecting them to physical abuse because people from medical profession were the ones who launched the movement of civil obedience in the country as a resistance against the junta.

Due to the grave human rights violations, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and European Union are considering to impose sanctions on Myanmar. On such reports, a military representative of Myanmar responded, “We are used to sanctions and we survived.” On being warned about isolation, the same military representative responded, “We have to learn to walk with only few friends.” The White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki said that “the killings represent an escalation of the ongoing crackdown on pro-Democracy protesters.” He further added that the Biden administration is preparing to impose cost on those who are responsible for the outbreak of violence in Myanmar, which is likely to intensify in the coming days. Ten members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which include Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam had virtual talks with the representatives of military to discuss the situation and suggested that all parties in Myanmar must refrain from instigating further violence.

The military on the other hand has been justifying its illegal take over with the claims of voter’s fraud in the general elections of November 2020 which resulted in the return of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power. The election commission office of Myanmar rejects such claims and has called the elections free and fair. The protestors are calling on the international community for help by imposing sanctions and an arms embargo. Earlier such calls to international community resulted in a brutal crackdown against the Rohingya’s in 2017.


Doha Peace Talks

Zalmay Khalilzad the US special envoy to Afghanistan had a discussion yesterday with senior Afghan official in Kabul over ways to accelerate the peace process discussion took place before heading to Qatar, where negotiations with Taliban representatives are going on. US-brokered peace talks between the Afghan government and the militant group began in September but progress has slowed down and violence has risen, while there is also uncertainty over whether international forces will pull out troops by May as originally planned or it will face further delay.

The U.S State Department said that Khalilzad and his team were visiting Kabul and Qatar. It said the US diplomats would also visit other regional capitals as part of a mission aimed at working towards “a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”. The U.S had no choice other than political solution, she had tried each and every way to counter militants and unfortunately the U.S had failed to do so.

Khalilzad discussed the peace process with Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, and he was also expected to meet other Afghan officials to process the peace talks that is beneficiary not only for the region but also for the U.S and for the better future of Afghanistan. “Development of the peace process, accelerating the process and the assessment of the Doha peace agreement by the US new administration were the main topics of discussion”.

Now everything is in the hands of President Joe Biden’s administration conducting a review of a February 2020 deal struck between the Trump administration and the Taliban to determine whether to stick by a deadline to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan, and end America’s longest war.

US and European officials have said the Taliban have not fulfilled commitments they made in an accord reached with the United States in Doha a year ago, that set up the move towards peace talks involving the Afghan government. The Taliban have largely denied responsibility for a rash of attacks in Afghanistan since beginning talks with the government in September.

But there has been a spike in violence during the past few months including targeted killings of officials, activists and journalists blamed by the Afghan government and the US on the Taliban. Both Taliban and government leaders have said that these talks are a “unique historic opportunity” for Afghans to solve their differences.

Afghanistan: Recent Killings

Afghanistan is witnessing a sharp surge in killings since the peace talks and negotiations have started between Afghan government and Taliban. In 2020, Afghanistan has witnessed about 8,820 causalities in total. Most of the killings were carried out during the last three months of 2020, since the peace talks and negotiations began. As per the UN mission to Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) annual report, the number is 15 % less than the causalities that took place in the 2019.  The head of UNAMA, Deborah Lyons, said that “last year could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished”. She further added that the Taliban and the U.S. must recognize the importance of a ceasefire, as soon as possible, to dodge the distressing and devastating consequences which can lead to a high magnitude of tensions and rigidities.

On March 4th 2021, the coordinated attacks were carried out against four women as they made their way home from work in Jalalabad. The attacks were carried out separately. Three of the women were shot dead while one got critically injured. Three of the women that were shot dead had recently finished high school and aged between 18 to 20 years. The women worked as dubbing artists at the privately-owned Enikas TV station in Jalalabad. The women were identified as MursalWahidi, Sadia Sadat and Shahnaz. All three women were killed in separate attacks but in one night as they were coming back after finishing their work.MursalWahidi was shot dead at point-blank range and passed away instantly, while the other two women became victims of open-fire. They dubbed popular and often melodramatic dramas from Turkey and India into Afghanistan’s local languages of Dari and Pashtu. It has been reported that in December 2020, another female worker at the Enikas TV station in Jalalabad, Malala Maiwand, was shot dead in similar conditions. This has spread fear among people working for TV channels. Doorandish, a journalist who often cover corruption, violence and human rights violations, was hit by a roadside bomb attack in May 2020. He survived the attack but lost two of his colleagues. He says that after the attack he is always scared to step out of the house.

Taliban are considered behind the attacks but Islamic State militants have said they shot dead three women who worked for aRadio and TV station in eastern Afghanistan. Authorities have claimed that they have arrested the main suspect called Qari Baserfor carrying out the shootings, insisting that he is a member of the Taliban, and said they are looking for the accomplices. It has not been revealed that how one person carried out two separate shootings in one night at the same time.

International Assessment Report

Pakistan’s struggle to go green while CPEC coal power plants continue to grow

Executive Summary

China and Pakistan have a long-standing economic and political relation. Which has developed stronger with time, establishing China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to honor both countries’ economic relations with each other. This project is an important part of China’s One Belt One Road Initiative and while it may provide economic opportunities, on a broader level it is damaging local climate security (Ascensao et al., 2018). 

The environment is directly aligned with CPEC as the projects have an impact on the country’s air quality, climate change, noise pollution, and waste management (Asees, A, M. and Ali, Y., 2019). However, to meet Pakistan’s energy shortages, Pakistan’s previous Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif agreed to construct coal-based power plants, neglecting the environmental cost. Pakistan’s National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) expects that the coal power projects under CPEC will increase the country’s coal-fired generation capacity to 20 percent by 2025. This particular development will hamper Pakistan’s efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 and in procuring carbon credits.

Pakistan aims to produce 30% of its energy through renewable sources by 2030 (WWEA 2019). However, there is an immediate need to negotiate project deals with China or to introduce green energy sources to achieve the goal by 2030. Pakistan revised its Alternative and Renewable Energy policy in 2019 that aims to reduce carbon emissions by developing a sustainable, efficient, and competitive power market while promoting ARET technology and manufacturing capabilities (AEDB 2019). Despite that, it does not include CPEC coal projects that directly harm the environment which calls for effective strategies for favorable environmental sustainability (Ali et al., 2018). In order to protect Pakistan’s environment, the dependency on fossil fuels must be reduced and the Kyoto protocol must be followed. 

Pakistan must develop policies to maximize the share of renewable energy sources to mitigate the carbon emissions and energy crisis rather than harness indigenous coal for power production (Solangi et al., 2019). There are multiple ways to achieve clean production of energy, even if it involves coal projects. The first step has to be the reregulation of government and federal environmental agencies and secondly by using low carbon advanced technologies that can help achieve sustainable methods of coal energy production. To curb the immediate impact of coal power plants, a comprehensive management strategy must be initiated.

Summary of the Problem

Coal-fired energy has documented negative impacts on the environment and human health. In order to tackle climate change in Pakistan, the relevant Energy and Development Ministries in the country must cooperate with Federal ministers in revising and negotiating energy policies.  There is an immediate concern that the operationalisation of coal power plants under CPEC shall directly have an adverse effect on Pakistan’s biodiversity, water, and air (Zhang et al.2017; Huang et al.2017). However, it is important to note that Beijing has time and again emphasised green development, but under CPEC there is a disconnect between coal power generation and green energy (Downs., E, 2019). China uses coal power plants based on sub-critical and supercritical technology but none of the plants use Ultra-supercritical technology which China itself has mastered and acquired in the 1990s from the West (Siddiqui 2018). Also, none of the coal power plants deploy Carbon Capture & Sequestration technologies, which allows CO2 to be removed during emission and be stored in the ponds or grounds (Siddiqui 2018).  

Policy Recommendations & Explanation

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) coal-fired power plants, which were introduced in Pakistan to overcome energy shortages, have exacerbated environmental conditions. Consequently, the re-evaluation of environmental and production costs of current and prospective CPEC projects are crucial for Pakistan to secure a sustainable future.

The first and second recommendations highlight the significance of advanced technology (i.e. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and ultra-supercritical technology) for continued utilisation of coal-fired power plants in Pakistan. Although the estimated cost to incorporate CCS technology in existing coal-fired power plants is $53/tonne, the retrofitting of CCS reduces CO2 emissions more than 36 times (Ishaque, 2017), thus demonstrating that the environmental benefits outweigh the actual cost. However, if the cost of retrofitting CCS and importing green technologies are considered high, the government of Pakistan should press for locally produced clean technology.

Funds from international organisations like the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations can help achieve this objective (Rashid, 2020). Additionally, the involvement of local industries and professionals (researchers and scientists) can encourage the development of CCS technology locally. This is effortlessly achieved through expansion programmes, proposed by the government, which recruit knowledgeable professionals to exchange ideas on efficient CCS development. With local manufacturing firms offering their assistance and services (Huenteler et. al, 2016) Pakistan’s economy will also experience positive growth.

Furthermore, the implementation of advanced technology that regulates air pollution such as Pressurised-Fluidised-Bed Combustion (PFBC) is crucial for the continued utilisation of coal-fired power plants. Current CPEC coal- fired power plants exploit outdated and inefficient technology (i.e. subcritical and supercritical) which are banned in many countries. Therefore, to safeguard healthy air quality standards in Pakistan, local government officials should engage in negotiations with China to incorporate ultra-supercritical technology – a technology that has been already mastered by China – into the existing coal-fired power plants (Siddiqui, 2018).

The third recommendation in the policy brief emphasizes the need for re-regulation of government and federal environmental agencies. For example, the alleged involvement of Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) officials in irregular and corrupt practices such as issuing No Objection Certificates to industries in exchange for bribes have aggravated Pakistan’s environmental conditions (Anwar, 2015). Although the 1997 Pakistan Environmental Protection Act enforces the conduct of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), the Pak-EPA displays insufficient or poor understanding of the EIA process resulting in obscure evaluations of CPEC coal-fired power plant projects (Baloch, 2018). Therefore, it is imperative that government officials be more selective in hiring competent experts to conduct EIAs to uphold integrity and maintain the quality of these assessments, consequently improving the environment.

Additionally, there are no stipulated legal conditions for Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) to be performed for CPEC projects. SEA is a participatory and analytical approach to evaluate environmental implications in plans and policies while taking into consideration social and economic aspects. It is supposedly more efficient than EIAs as it cites recommendations that encompass environmental-related challenges. For instance, feedback and recommendations (i.e. impose carbon taxes) in the SEA from Rwanda’s energy sector have been incorporated in the country’s policies to lessen environmental issues (Seman, 2015). Hence, it is appropriate to utilise the SEA in CPEC coal-fired power plant projects in Pakistan.

The final recommendation proposes that a central authority be appointed to supervise the implementation of recommendations outlined in EIAs and/or SEAs for CPEC coal-fired power plant projects. The selection committee should adhere to stringent requirements in the appointment process and include external representatives (i.e. representatives from International Governmental Organisations) to reduce bias and corruption, consequently alleviating environmental concerns in Pakistan while generating economic and social benefits.