Zubair Torwali, stranded in Swat reports on how misleading stories of relief operations are being filed by powerful quarters
Since the floods hit Swat and Kohistan, the residents are complaining that the situation has become grim. The media is apathetic and state institutions are conspicuous by their absence. The locals are angry about the fact that their self-help initiatives such as makeshift bridges with wooden planks are being touted by the state institutions as the ‘relief’ given to the area.
More than 200,000 people of the valley beyond Madyan up to Utror via Bahrain and Kalam have run out of food. On clear days, helicopters appear and the mainstream media reports that food and medicine are being distributed. One wonders who is generating such news as the media persons thus far have no access to the area.
Again fingers are pointed at the most powerful institution, which flies around selected media personnel for publicity. Pakistanis are being misled by such a propaganda campaign. The plains of the Swat region are badly hit but not as worse off as the upper hilly regions. Here the cruel river and turbulent streams have wreaked havoc. In the valley, no mobile or telephone network is functional. People here feel that the delay in restoring the mobile network is a tactic to cut off Swat valley from every means of communication so that ground realities remain invisible to Pakistanis and the world.
The humanitarian organizations are forced to distribute relief goods where those who are calling the shots want them. This constraint has forced many of the relief agencies to abandon the area altogether, making for a highly inefficient rescue and rehabilitation operation.
Where is the state? It is hovering in the air while women and children cry below. Where is that zeal which was characteristic of our public institutions? Has it been washed away by power point presentations, debriefings and mercenary proposals? We are a state that behaves like a business enterprise, which makes money through disasters, natural and manmade.
The civilian government and the military have no coordination to combat the disaster. They are holding press conferences to mislead the nation in this time of turmoil. There is panic within the civil administration offices. The district coordination officer does not know where his subordinate sub-divisional magistrate is. The commandant does not know where the minister or the MPA is. The Chief Minister visited Kalam and disappointed the people by lamenting lack of funds. He met with a few tourists, talked to them and made headlines and breaking news stories.
The electronic media’s response paints a dark picture as well. It is a fallacy that Pakistan has now a free and vibrant media in the form of powerful news channels. This electronic media is controlled by powerful quarters in Rawalpindi. Talking to a few news reporters of these channels in Swat I protested that the news they were broadcasting about ration being distributed among the people of Bahrain and Kalam was false. They told me to take up the matter “somewhere else”.
The people are left with no strength to even protest. They can only hope that the state and its institutions will try to improve their performance in the future and pray that they can survive this hardship.