Three weeks after the floods have broken Pakistan’s back, the international community is yet to show its resolve in helping a drowning country. The reasons for such a slow response are erroneously being understood in the context of the Pakistani government or the current crop of civilians in power. However, this is a narrow twist to the reality. The real angst and distrust being displayed by the world is at the Pakistani ‘state’. The situation is also reflective of the duplicity of international opinion makers and power-centres in labelling Pakistan as a country with an ‘image problem’.
One is sick of reading nauseating reports on how the post-earthquake assistance was ‘diverted’ or squandered. The truth is that in 2005 a military dictator was ruling Pakistan and the entire world was doing business with him. At that moment, the issues of democracy, transparency and human rights all took a backseat and strategic imperatives prevailed.
Pakistani, and by extension the global media, are regurgitating tiresome cliches about corruption without talking about reforming state institutions. For instance, not a single commentator has said that we have a new accounting system in the form of the Project to Improve Financial Reporting and Auditing (Pifra) in place. But it has not been put into place effectively at the provincial and district levels. This is the way we will ensure transparency and good tracking of money received and spent.
The Pakistani state is already a weakened entity and has to be rescued and aided, not trashed and further weakened. The existing provincial governments and their machinery require capacities, resources and a robust reporting framework such as Pifra. Donors should focus on how state systems can be improved instead of diverting funds to largely non-accountable NGOs. Already, the propaganda is so pernicious that militant organisations are collecting funds and extending services when the state is paralysed and dealing with widespread invective.
Pakistan’s foreign debt has already become out of control with billions annually spent on servicing the debt. How about finding creative solutions to the existing loans by extending their date of closing and broadening their scope to include reconstruction? One does not even see a debate for making a case for deferred payments now that the foreign minister has told the UN that we have suffered losses worth $43 billion.
In a time when an economic collapse is being predicted, it would be absurd, nay cruel, to talk of a change in government. The scale of the floods was indeed massive but misinformed reporting and half-baked analyses will only serve to fuel political uncertainty and this could damage the path to economic recovery.
Even if a change in the existing system of power-sharing is altered it will waste time and lead to divisive politics, undermining the relief work. Such turbulence will also suit the designs of many militants and their patron, al Qaeda.
Pakistan’s grave governance challenges have been magnified due to the floods. All predictions and scenarios have become redundant. But state reform remains as pressing an agenda as ever. For Pakistani philanthropists and the international community, the only structures that can deliver aid and undertake reconstruction are the state and its various agencies. Undermining them at this stage is akin to proposing recipes to destroy Pakistan. There is no alternative to rescuing the Pakistani state at this critical juncture of our history.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2010.