By Raza Habib
Going through the national and international media, one keeps on getting the impression that despite the staggering magnitude of the havoc inflicted by the flood, the response, both domestic as well as international, could at best be termed as sluggish. Given the fact that a huge area is still inundated and catastrophe in the form of widespread disease is looming, the response apparently shows a nonchalant behavior. Internationally almost every famous website and newspaper is pointing towards apathy of the international donations. But the buck does not stop at the international response as unfortunately the domestic response is also mirroring it.
So what could be the reason for this kind of response . The spirit which was seen the earthquake relief in 2005 is not being repeated at the international as well as domestic level.
There are basically two reasons for that. Firstly and perhaps more importantly is the loss of credibility of the State, particularly the government, nationally as well as internationally. This is a serious issue and is hampering the process of donations and aid accumulation. Consequently the people of Pakistan are suffering. Second issue is that the world is still underestimating the damage due to this calamity.
Obviously the scale is not being understood but a deeper and somewhat not openly discussed issue is of the credibility of the state.
Internationally Pakistan’s reputation has really been hit hard due to news of double gaming with respect to Islamic militants. Moreover during the recent years virtually every terrorist act or plan was traced to Pakistan. Although the culprits were non state actors, but the bias has already been developed that Pakistani State is supporting at least some groups of the militants or is simply ignoring them by not taking “strict’ action. The credibility is so badly damaged that despite the fact that Pakistan has lost much more than others due to terrorism and has paid a severe price in terms of stability and loss of lives, the world always see it as a double player. The Taliban sympathetic image has gravely dampened the humanitarian sympathy towards Pakistani people. And on top of it the timing could not have worse as the floods came immediately after the revelation of the controversial Wiki leak files.
What I really find amazing is that assuming even if all the allegations are true, why the ordinary 20 million flood ravaged poor Pakistanis, should suffer. The committed or perceived to be committed sins of the State should not in principle stop humanitarian aid from positively affecting literally millions of devastated people whose entire destinies have changed due to events of past few days. After all even, assuming that the State is guilty, the actions of poor average Pakistani have not in any way contributed to its actions. Let’s not forget that State in Pakistan is not reflective of people’s aspirations in the first place.
Moreover, although I do not want to forcefully draw a link between terrorist ideology and poverty, but the fact is that one of the appeals of the radical Islamic organizations such as Jamaat al Dawa is that they are often very effective in grass root level work and they through their supportive actions will be able to win sympathies and create a favorable atmosphere for the hardliners to recruit. Moreover, poverty hunger and deprivation may not cause terrorist ideology but surely provides it a conducive environment.
For those who are concerned that we are today living in dangerous times and who feel that nuclear armed Pakistan is spiraling out of stability and is becoming a haven for the terrorism, let me reiterate that failure to help these millions of devastated people will exacerbate the situation and in a short period of time, confirm the worst fears.
I understand and I know that due to negative propaganda of the national media and the rightwing clergy as well as political parties, the West does not have a good image. But right now is the opportunity to effectively counter the negative propaganda and establish through practical demonstration that West is not what these right wing fanatics are projecting.
Another somewhat related factor is the lack of trust in the Government of Pakistan in terms of financial matters, both nationally and internationally. Internationally, Pakistan does not feature very high in several critical rankings and indexes pertaining to corruption and transparency. For example it fares very poorly in Corruption Perception Index (139th in increasing order out of 180 ranked) and Failed State index (10th in decreasing order out 177 ranked). These rankings coupled with stories about mismanagement of the aid in 2005 disaster have badly eroded the trust of the Government in the international donors eyes and as a consequence people once again are suffering. There is a substantial level of skepticism in the major international institutional donors regarding the eventual usage of the funds. Stories about the earth quake relief funds being misappropriated have been circulating and really denting the credibility of the government. For example according to The Daily Telegraph more than 300 million pounds (370 million euros, 470 million dollars) of aid for the 2005 earthquake, which killed more than 73,000 people, has yet to be handed over to Pakistan’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA). These kinds of news, even if true, badly hamper the aid accumulation process and unnecessarily punish those who desperately need assistance.
What the donors need to realize is that the response should not be to stop aid but to ensure a mechanism where proper accountability is ensured. Secondly for the small private donors, they should donate to various western NGOs who are working at the grass root in case if they are suspicious of the Government.
But perhaps the most dangerous trend is the complete erosion of Government’s credibility in the affluent middleclass Pakistanis. This is the class which in principle should be the main donor and historically has been donating generously. Right now the level of suspicion and mistrust the middleclass is showing about the government is just extreme and will be catastrophic particularly when the reconstruction starts.
I have been a part of NGO sector as well as the Public sector. Let me assure everyone here that there are certain things which only a Government, no matter how inefficient it is, can do. Most of the people I have come across are willing to give money to charities and small scale private initiatives but not a penny to the Government’s relief fund. Obviously the Government is trying its bid to establish transparency as it is aware the kind of mistrust the media watching middleclass has developed.
For those who are skeptic, and are insisting that charities are a better option, let me point out that in the first phase of immediate relief, charities can be effective. But when reconstruction begins no charity can have the institutional power to repair the badly damaged infrastructure, provide housing and to come up with subsidies to jump start the lost livelihoods. Only the Government can do that and it needs money to do that.
The tax base is already narrow and we are in perpetual deficit. At this hour Government particularly the federal government needs support not the kind of opposition this media is whipping. Yes we should pressurize the government to be transparent but at the same time at least trust them with the money. Donate and then expect transparency.
So please, come out and donate generously and contribute also to the Government relief fund.