Smoke drifts over grounded planes at the airport in Karachi after the attacks. Photo: Getty
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For people in Karachi, the airport attacks show once more that fear has become a fact of life

It is mind-boggling that such an audacious attack should be possible in such a major airport in a major city. What does it say about the state of Karachi, and of Pakistan, that it was able to happen at all?

Every time I fly through Karachi’s Jinnah International airport, I am struck by the sheer volume of security checks. Your bag is scanned and ticket checked before you enter the airport, then again when you check in, and again before you go through to departures. Of course, if metal detectors made that much difference to terror attacks, Karachi would hardly have any: the city is dotted with the things. They stand incongruously outside bakeries, mobile phone shops, malls; a sort of comfort blanket against the dangers outside.

Around midnight last night, around 10 Taliban gunmen launched an attack on the airport. Wearing military uniforms, they shot their way into the facility. And of course – what good is a metal detector when someone is armed with guns, rocket launchers, grenades, and suicide vests? There were dramatic photographs of planes on fire (subsequently, it transpired that the fires were simply near the planes). It was reported that militants had hijacked one; it has been suggested that this was the aim but that it was ultimately unsuccessful. Terrified passengers trapped on planes on the runway tweeted about their predicament and desperately phoned home. Security forces battled the gunmen all night. In total, at least 28 people – including the 10 or so militants – were killed. The operation to secure the area is ongoing.

What does this say about the state of Karachi, and of Pakistan? Firstly, it should be noted that this coastal megalopolis is not just the biggest city in Pakistan, but one of the biggest in the world. Home to around 25 million people, it is the economic hub of Pakistan and one of the most important cities politically. It is mind-boggling that such an audacious attack should be possible in such a major airport in a major city. To their credit, security forces were fast on the scene, but how did it happen at all? This comes at a time when the conservative government is emphasising the need for peace talks with the Taliban. Once again, this incident raises the question that many outraged commentators have posed: what is there to discuss? And where do discussions begin when one party seeks the destruction of the state as its basic starting point?

Secondly, terrorism aims – as its name implies – to create terror. As I sat in London last night, watching the news and running through a list of friends and relatives in Karachi and their travel plans, I certainly felt that. But in much of Pakistan – particularly Karachi, a city beset by more than three decades of political and terrorist violence – people live in a chronic state of fear. It is mundane and normalised, a boring fact of life that hovers in the back of people’s minds and becomes more acute only when incidents like this raise the stakes. When I lived in Karachi I was struck by how people’s energies are directed simply towards getting on with things. Rioting breaks out, or a terror attack, or sectarian violence, and the first response is not panic, but how to get home, how to check on friends and family, and how to ensure that basic needs will be met. In this way, the fear is not debilitating, it is simply – tragically – a fundamental fact of life.

Today, recriminations will start. There have been reports that some of the gunmen were Uzbek, which provides a neat excuse for those within Pakistan who wish to deflect the debate away from the country’s very real homegrown militancy problem. Already, many are asking – with some justification – how the security agency failed to deflect such an attack. On social media last night, many were distressed: “I don’t know how much more of this we can take.” For people in Karachi, and across Pakistan, this is just one more assault on their right to a normal life.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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