A A Khalid
The floods have been remarked as an historical event which will change Pakistan’s political and social fabric for the foreseeable future, whether that will be a positive or negative change will remain to be seen and will largely be determined by the crucial decisions Pakistani citizens take.
However, the floods have once again mobilised and made clear the importance of the diaspora communities across the world. In this article I will focus on the British Pakistani community. The efforts of the British Pakistani community have been commendable. For instance the myriad of private Asian television channels in the UK all broadcast large telethons to raise funds for the flood, mosques and cultural centres up and down the country have dug deep in the current economic recession to donate to the cause.
Prominent British Pakistanis, such as Amir Khan and James Caan have done much to use their status as celebrity to highlight the plight of the immense humanitarian crisis. In short one can discern that the Pakistani community has certainly responded to the suffering currently manifesting itself in their native homeland.
Caan wrote a moving piece in the Times, in their Sunday paper about visiting Pakistan and witnessing the devastation first hand. Coverage of the floods in the British press has been mixed. Whilst the tabloid press’s coverage has been simplistic, one dimensional (focusing on just the militant threat), and superficial in the sense it has not been sustained, the coverage in the broadsheets has been impressive. The Guardian leads the way with historical and analytical pieces on the floods whilst scrutinising the international response to the floods with great precision. Their coverage has been marked with scientific, political and historical analysis of the floods, presenting a multi-dimensional portrait of the situation in Pakistan that other international papers have seldom granted to Pakistanis.
For instance just recently, a thought provoking piece on the science behind the flood was published. Other papers such as the Independent, Telegraph and Times have all had pieces on the floods recently (as recently as last weekend) whether in terms of photography in the Times magazine, analysis or personal pieces from British Pakistani public personalities. The BBC presented a frank piece entitled Who Cares About Pakistan. Other quiet heartening pieces are those who humanize Pakistan in terms of its people, cultures and history, and one of the best examples of such pieces was in the New Statesman recently in, ‘’ Why I love Pakistan’’, by a British writer. Indeed the NS just published a whole issue on Pakistan which was critical and analytical; that indicates quiet clearly that British opinion on Pakistan is diverse and in some sections can be quiet profound, nuanced and sympathetic.
Unfortunately the tabloid press which has newspapers which are generally cheaper, more populist in their leaning have a wider appeal in the UK, however we can safely say the broadsheet press is much more nuanced in its coverage of Pakistan.
There also have been very introspective and critical pieces in the British press about the reaction in terms of aid to the floods from wider British society. Although the British government is one of the leading donors to the current crisis in Pakistan, the reaction of the British public has been scrutinised. The questioning has revolved around comparisons with the reaction to the tragic disaster in Haiti and the response given then to the current funds raised from charitable organizations. Why is there this gap? Commentators have usually suggested reasons on the themes of Pakistan’s international image, the trust deficit, the Zardari government. However, there also some domestic reasons such as the economic recession, the fact that the Haiti disaster happened around Christmas time when there is abundant goodwill and people tend to be more charitable.
But there are problems with the British Pakistani community itself revolving around issues of authority, representation and civic engagement. Who speaks for the community, is it the religious scholars, MPs or the burgeoning class of affluent professionals such as doctors and lawyers. More to the point, the British Pakistani community has not had great media coverage from the British press in recent years. The events of 7/7 raised suspicions and started a national debate on the validity of the multicultural experiment in Britain.
What else is being done? Well there is a great amount of grassroots activism in the British Pakistani community. Sadly however, there is tremendous distrust of the government in Pakistan from British Pakistanis, and the overwhelming feeling towards Zardari is one of hostility and profound disapproval. This disapproval cannot be blamed on anti-democratic feelings since British Pakistanis themselves live in a liberal democracy of great maturity but instead it demonstrates disillusionment with Pakistani polity. Whilst British Pakistanis may have no faith in the current government of Pakistan, they have faith in the people of Pakistan and are contributing generously and many like James Caan are taking greater initiative to deliver aid and relief.