Climate, nuclear crises spark fears of worst

In the picture taken on August 31, 2022, a flood-affected man sits along with his children alongside flood waters after heavy monsoon rains in Jaffarabad district of Balochistan province. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 06 December 2022
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Climate, nuclear crises spark fears of worst

  • A Swedish monitor says the threat of nuclear weapons use is currently the greatest since 1945
  • In climate extremes, floods submerged a third of Pakistan and China sweat under a 70-day heatwave

WASHINGTON: For thousands of years, predictions of apocalypse have borne little fruit. But with dangers rising from nuclear war and climate change, does the planet need to at least begin contemplating the worst?

When the world rang in 2022, few would have expected the year to feature the US president speaking of the risk of doomsday, following Russia’s threats to go nuclear in its invasion of Ukraine.

“We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis” in 1962, Joe Biden said in October.

And on the year that humanity welcomed its eighth billion members, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the planet was on a “highway to climate hell.”

In extremes widely attributed to climate change, floods submerged one-third of Pakistan, China sweat under an unprecedented 70-day heatwave and crops failed in the Horn of Africa, all while the world lagged behind on the UN-blessed goal of checking warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The Global Challenges Foundation, a Swedish group that assesses catastrophic risks, warned in an annual report that the threat of nuclear weapons use was the greatest since 1945 when the United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in history’s only atomic attacks.

The report warned that an all-out exchange of nuclear weapons, besides causing an enormous loss of life, would trigger clouds of dust that would obscure the sun, reducing the capacity to grow food and ushering in “a period of chaos and violence, during which most of the surviving world population would die from hunger.”

Kennette Benedict, a lecturer at the University of Chicago who led the report’s nuclear section, said risks were even greater than during the Cuban Missile Crisis as Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared less restrained by advisers.

While any Russian nuclear strike would likely involve small “tactical” weapons, experts fear a quick escalation if the United States responds.

“Then we’re in a completely different ballgame,” said Benedict, a senior adviser to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which in January will unveil its latest assessment of the “doomsday clock” set since 2021 at 100 seconds to midnight.

Amid the focus on Ukraine, US intelligence believes North Korea is ready for a seventh nuclear test, diplomacy has been at a standstill on Iran’s contested nuclear work and tensions between India and Pakistan have remained at a low boil.

But Benedict also faulted the Biden administration’s nuclear posture review which reserved the right for the United States to use nuclear weapons in “extreme circumstances.”

“I think there’s been a kind of steady erosion of the ability to manage nuclear weapons,” she said.

UN experts estimated ahead of November talks in Egypt that the world was on track to warming of 2.1 to 2.9 C — but some outside analysts put the figure well higher, with greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 again hitting a record despite pushes to renewable energy.

Luke Kemp, a Cambridge University expert on existential risks, said the possibility of higher warming was getting insufficient attention, which he blamed on the consensus culture of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and scientists’ fears of being branded alarmist.

“There has been a strong incentive to err on the side of least drama,” he said.

“What we really need are more complex assessments of how risks would cascade around the world.”

Climate change could cause ripple effects on food, with multiple breadbasket regions failing, fueling hunger and eventually political unrest and conflict.

Kemp warned against extrapolating from a single year or event. But a research paper he co-authored noted that even a two-degree temperature rise would put the Earth in territory uncharted since the Ice Age.

Using a medium-high scenario on emissions and population growth, it found that two billion people by 2070 could live in areas with a mean temperature of 29 C (84.2 F), straining water resources — including between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

The year, however, was not all grim. Vaccinations helped much of the world turn the page on Covid-19, which the World Health Organization estimated in May contributed to the deaths of 14.9 million people in 2020 and 2021.

The world has seen previous warnings of worst-case scenarios, from Thomas Malthus predicting in the 18th century that food production would not keep up with population growth to the 1968 US bestseller “The Population Bomb.”

One of the most prominent current-day critics of pessimism is Harvard professor Steven Pinker, who has argued that violence has declined massively in the modern era.

Speaking after the Ukraine invasion, Pinker acknowledged Putin had brought back interstate war. But he said a failed invasion could also reinforce the positive trends.

Drawing a parallel, he said, “After the biblical Israelites abandoned human sacrifice, they kept having to take measures to prevent backsliding.”


Punjab health minister says lack of ‘informed consent’ led to blindness caused by experimental drug

Updated 27 September 2023
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Punjab health minister says lack of ‘informed consent’ led to blindness caused by experimental drug

  • Nearly 70 patients of diabetes across the province suffered vision loss after being administered Avastin medicine
  • The drug is primarily used to treat cancer but is also prescribed for diabetic retinopathy-related edema in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Punjab’s interim health minister Dr. Javed Akram announced on Tuesday an experimental medication suspected of causing vision loss among dozens of diabetics across the province was administered by hospitals without following proper procedures that included obtaining “informed consent” from patients.

Nearly 70 individuals from various districts in Punjab reported eye infections leading to blindness in recent weeks after receiving injections of Avastin. The medication is primarily used to treat cancer but is also prescribed off-label in Pakistan for diabetic retinopathy-related edema.

Pakistan imposed a temporary ban on the drug earlier this week after patients began losing their vision and initiated an inquiry to assign responsibility.

In a media briefing in Lahore, the provincial health minister said the off-label use of any medication required prior authorization from the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP).

“This did not happen,” he clarified. “Moreover, the good clinical practice of securing informed consent [from patients in such cases] was also not followed.”

Dr. Akram emphasized that it was mandatory to seek a patient’s consent “in the local language when administering an experimental drug.”

He disclosed that the government had now decided to require audiovisual recordings from hospital authorities, demonstrating that patients had been clearly informed of the benefits and risks associated with off-label medication use.

The minister reiterated the government’s commitment to bringing those responsible for this criminal negligence to justice and confirmed that Avastin would be available only for cancer treatment while the inquiry continued.


Minister says Pakistan to finalize first artificial intelligence policy by December

Updated 27 September 2023
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Minister says Pakistan to finalize first artificial intelligence policy by December

  • The information technology minister says it is important to help people develop AI skills since they are quite valuable
  • The government is setting up a policy committee of experts from IT industry and academia to finalize the draft policy

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interim information technology minister Umar Saif said on Tuesday his team had prepared the draft of the National Artificial Intelligence Policy and was currently in consultation with relevant stakeholders to finalize it by December.
Artificial intelligence, often abbreviated as AI, refers to the development of computer systems that can perform tasks typically requiring human intelligence. These tasks include learning from data, recognizing patterns, making decisions, and solving problems. AI aims to create machines that can mimic human-like thinking and decision-making processes.
With this technology becoming more readily accessible, governments and private sectors across the world are beginning to reap its benefit while performing day-to-day functions. Pakistan’s planning ministry also acknowledged in April the AI incorporation in different government sectors would lead to better decision-making processes, personalized medical treatments, and enhanced learning experiences and solutions that were previously unattainable.
“There are far reaching consequences of this policy,” the information minister told Arab News in a brief conversation. “We have put it for public consultation. There is a draft which helped us get public comments from outside as well as inside the country … We need to train people to develop AI skills according to the policy since they can be quite valuable.”
“My goal is to finalize and notify this AI policy by December,” he continued.
Syed Junaid Imam, the spokesperson for the information technology ministry, also informed Arab News the country’s official artificial intelligence would be finalized after consultation with all stakeholders before being sent to the federal cabinet for approval.
“It is based on four main points,” he said while sharing details. “Enabling AI through awareness and readiness, AI market enablement, building a progressive and trusted environment, and its transformation and evolution.”
A recent notification by the information ministry said it was “forming a policy committee that will lead the policy consultation process and finalize the draft,” adding that the members of the committee would have experts from industry, academia and the government.
“The National AI Policy is crafted to focus on the equitable distribution of opportunity and its responsible use, having the defining attributes such as evidence-based and target oriented, user-centric and forward-looking, objective and overarching,” according to the draft of the policy, a copy of which was seen by the Arab News.
The draft also outlined how Pakistan would collaborate with other countries to share best practices and expertise in the AI field.
“The policy proposed the establishment of an AI regulatory directorate that ensures the ethical and responsible use of AI,” it read.
The draft policy also addressed the potential job displacement that could result from the global proliferation of the new technology.
“AI can help to promote economic growth by encouraging investment in AI research and development which can lead to the creation of new jobs and industries, as well as improved productivity and efficiency,” it said.
It further stated that owing to the impact of artificial globally, the Pakistani government envisioned embracing it by appreciating human intelligence and stimulating a hybrid intelligence ecosystem for equitable, responsible and transparent AI use.


Russia confirms delivery of first LPG shipment to Pakistan via Iran in expanded energy ties

Updated 27 September 2023
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Russia confirms delivery of first LPG shipment to Pakistan via Iran in expanded energy ties

  • Pakistan imported 100,000 tons of discounted Russian oil under a government-to-government arrangement in Juna
  • Consultations on second LPG shipment are underway after the first was routed through Iran’s Special Economic Zone

KARACHI: In a move marking an expansion of energy ties between the two countries, the Russian diplomatic mission in Islamabad confirmed the delivery of 100,000 metric tons of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to Pakistan through Iran on Tuesday.
The delivery follows an earlier government-to-government (G2G) deal that saw Pakistan import 100,000 tons of discounted Russian crude oil on June 11, which prompted former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to describe it as a “transformative day” for the economically struggling South Asian nation.
The LPG shipment, announced by the Russian embassy in a social media post, comes as Pakistan seeks to diversify its energy portfolio with more affordable options.
“Russia has delivered the first batch of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the amount of 100 thousand metric tons to Pakistan through Iran’s Sarakhs Special Economic Zone,” it said on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “Consultations on the second shipment are underway.”

Pakistan has already started blending Russian oil with imported crude from the Gulf markets.
Zahid Mir, a top official at Pakistan Oil Refinery, told Arab News last month that the Russian crude had been successfully processed by the country, adding that the spot deal with Moscow was both technically and commercially viable.
He also informed negotiations for further cargo imports were underway.
Pakistan plans to import about 20 percent of its crude oil from Russia at discounted rates to meet its growing energy demand.
It meets about 43 percent of its LPG requirement, with a total annual consumption of 4,600 metric tons, through local production, according to data compiled by the Petroleum Club of Pakistan.
Pakistani officials could not be approached for comments on the story.


Pakistan cricket team departs for India to participate in World Cup 

Updated 27 September 2023
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Pakistan cricket team departs for India to participate in World Cup 

  • Bowling coach Morne Morkel to join squad in Dubai, Team Director Mickey Arthur to meet team in Dubai
  • Pakistan last played cricket on Indian soil in 2016 when Shahid Afridi led them in the T20 World Cup that year

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan men’s cricket team left for India late Tuesday night to participate in the 50-over World Cup, which kicks off on Oct. 5. 

It is the first time in seven years that the South Asian country is sending its cricket team to India. The last time Pakistan’s men’s cricket team set foot on Indian soil was in 2016 to take part in that year’s T20 World Cup. 

Political tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors mean they only play against each other at international venues. Skipper Babar Azam’s side will play two warm-up matches against New Zealand and Australia on Sept. 29 and Oct. 3 respectively before they begin their World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Oct. 6. 

Pakistan's World Cup squad gets photographed in Lahore, Pakistan, before departing to India for the upcoming Cricket World Cup on September 26, 2023.(Photo courtesy: @TheRealPCB/X)

“Pakistan cricket team are at the Lahore airport to depart for India to participate in the World Cup,” the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said in a statement. 

A short video clip shared by the PCB showed Azam, vice-captain Shadab Khan, and the other cricketers enjoying snacks at the airport lounge before their departure. 

“The travel contingent consists 18 players and 13 player support personnel,” the PCB said, adding that South African bowling coach Morne Morkel will join the team in Dubai while former Pakistan coach and current Team Director Mickey Arthur will join the squad in India. 

“Pakistan are scheduled to land in Hyderabad, India at 8:15pm (local time) on 27 September,” the PCB said. 

In his pre-departure press conference, Azam told reporters the team was enjoying a “very high morale” heading into the showpiece tournament.

“We are leaving tonight for the World Cup and as a team our morale is very high, there is confidence,” Azam said. “We will try to play our best cricket.

“We could not deliver up to the mark [in Asia Cup], but we learned from it. We just don’t point out our errors, but we also talk about how to improve those sides.”

Pakistan started the Asia Cup on a high note, beating minnows Nepal and Bangladesh and also bowling India out for 266 in the group fixture match between the two sides on Sept. 2. 

However, the hosts suffered a mammoth defeat of 228 runs at India’s hands in the Super Four stage of the tournament before a last-ball defeat against Sri Lanka meant they couldn’t qualify for the final. 

Only two players from Pakistan’s current squad have traveled to India before: Mohammad Nawaz, who was part of Pakistan’s 2016 T20 World Cup squad, and Agha Salman, who was in the Lahore Lions’ squad for the Champions League T20.

“I’m very excited to play in Ahmedabad. It is the biggest stadium in the world and will be jam-packed for the India-Pakistan clash,” Azam said about playing in India for the first time in his years-long career.

 “I have spoken to former cricketers about the condition and they are not that different … I will try to perform to the best of my ability. I can’t exactly tell you how I will do since I’m not an astrologer.”


Ex-PM Khan shifted to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail on court’s orders

Updated 26 September 2023
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Ex-PM Khan shifted to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail on court’s orders

  • A day earlier, Islamabad High Court ordered authorities to shift Khan to Adiala Jail 
  • Khan had filed a petition seeking to be transferred from high-security prison in Attock

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan was moved on Tuesday to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail from a prison in Attock two days after orders from the Islamabad High Court, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said. 
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said earlier during the day that its chairman was not shifted to Adiala Jail despite the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) directives on Monday. The cricketer-turned-politician was arrested on Aug. 5 and taken to a high-security prison in Attock after a trial court in Islamabad found him guilty of “corrupt practices” in a case involving the unlawful sale of state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022.
The IHC suspended Khan’s sentence on Aug. 29 but he remains in jail on remand in another case, popularly called the cipher case, in which he is charged with leaking state secrets. The latest extension of the remand order will keep Khan in jail until Oct. 10. Meanwhile, the former PM had filed a petition with the IHC seeking his transfer to Adiala Jail.
“PTI Chairman Imran Khan, who has been serving a three-year sentence in the Toshakhana case at the Attock Jail, was on Tuesday shifted to Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail on directives of the Islamabad High Court (IHC),” Pakistan’s English-language daily Dawn said.
Separately, the PTI shared a video from the Islamabad Toll Plaza in which a few party supporters could be seen showering rose petals at the convoy of police cars transporting Khan. 

On Monday, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq observed that under-trial prisoners (UTPs) of all the courts in the federal capital were kept at Adiala, issuing directions to shift Khan to that prison.
In the state secrets case, Khan is charged with making public the contents of a confidential cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States and using it for political gain, according to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
Khan alleges that the cable proves the United States had pressed Pakistan’s military to orchestrate the fall of his government because he had visited Russia shortly before its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Washington and the Pakistani military have denied Khan’s accusations.
The former prime minister also faces a range of other legal cases he says are politically motivated.