Usman Ahmad’s diaries
The day starts immediately after Fajr. I could have done with a little more sleep but given where I am and why I have come it would be churlish to complain. It has rained for a second night and the cool air gently wraps around our tired frames. The weather it seems is once again our friend, but in all honesty, the last thing that this region of the world needs right now is more water.
Basti Rindaan and Basti Sohrani are neighboring villages situated on the banks of the Indus. Almost everything here is destroyed except the spirit of the inhabitants which is resolute and firm. I am told that 6 ft of water inundated the town and spread for many kilometers. Houses were crushed and crops decimated by the racing waters. Piles of rubble and debris are all that remain. Huge cracks ravage the land and the scene is something I would associate more with an earthquake than a flood. The focus of the people is on the future. Over the years, the path of the river has slowly edged closer to their homes and is now only a few furlongs away. Many fear that they will not be able to live here much longer. A sense of uncertainty is palpable. Some want to move away immediately lest further floods strike, others want to remain in the short-term and temporarily rebuild what they have, while others still do not want to go at all. Their lives are intricately linked to each other and to the land making the process of arriving at any decision a fraught one. We distribute the gift packs we have brought and hold meetings in each of the village mosques. Bastin Rindaan – the larger of the two dwellings– has been struck by further tragedy. A day before our arrival one of their youth was killed by a snake bite while out hunting with his friends. He was only 17. A sense of melancholy and sadness prevails and is given physical expression by the pale glow of the morning light. The elders of the town sit huddled beneath a grand old tree lamenting this senseless loss of life. We meet with the father of the deceased and express our condolences. His tenacity and the tenderness of his embrace in the face of total devastation are disarming. It is at once unbearable and inspiring and fills me with a range of ambiguous emotions. Continue reading
Pakistan’s devastating floods have opened up a Pandora’s Box of governance dysfunctions and historical distortions that have plagued the polity since independence. It remains to be seen what will be the outcome of the greatest calamity in our recent history. Various estimates show that the floods have affected 18-20 million people. The death toll has crossed the figure of 2000 while 2 million houses have been damaged or destroyed. Floodwaters are receding in many areas, and though there are concerns about standing water that remains in Punjab and other areas, the worst of the current flooding is taking place in Sindh.
The disaster is still not over but the fissures within Pakistan have started to erupt and once again proving how vulnerable the state is and how fractured the Pakistani society has become. Five key crises have emerged, some old and some new. However, they point to the fact that our continuous refusal to address structural problems remains a key challenge.
Martial state syndrome: Pakistan’s history is an uninterrupted tale of direct and indirect military rule and centralisation. Each time there is a crisis there is a need to resort to the de facto, real governance paradigm: the military rule. Therefore, Altaf Hussain of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) are not saying anything new. The perennial search for a Messiah, rooted in the religious ideology that the state and education system have cultivated, is back in full force. This time the media and other discordant voices are calling for another phase of direct military rule. Continue reading
Pakistan’s recent disaster has exposed the long standing crisis of statehood. It would be a cliché to state that even the best prepared country would have been swamped by the scale of the floods. However, the flood also exposed our failing state and never before have we witnessed such radical damage wreaked on the governance institutions in the country.
Beyond the early recovery phase: The enormity of the humanitarian crisis requires concerted planning and a seamless transition into the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase. A key reason for the skepticism of citizens and the international community relates to the obvious challenges of governing Pakistan and ensuring that the state delivers on its inherent mandates. Humanitarian assistance has been forthcoming and the pundits’ credibility-deficit argument has been trashed by the world as it made pledges of over 600 million dollars. However, resources for the post-relief phase are uncertain. The usual recipe of the international economic order through IFI loans seems to be the only solution in sight unless the world wakes up to the potential long term consequences of this disaster and finds other ways than to increase its debt.
Financing challenges: A bigger challenge that faces Pakistan’s crumbling governance is related to financing the disaster-management. Already, competition between the Pakistani state agencies and the United Nations system seems to be apparent. The intentions of the UN notwithstanding, its inefficiencies (such as high administration costs) are all too well known. Similarly, the funding tensions between the federal and provincial governments will also come to light as and when assistance arrives. The criteria are unclear – Punjab wants it according to the damage while the smaller provinces are already talking about the state of ‘relative devastation’ and losses. This is something that the national council of common interest will have to resolve, lest it creates more fissures and becomes another pretext for an extra constitutional upheaval. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Ironic that the United States has been perhaps the most pro-active and generous country in helping us with flood relief. Pakistanis, especially those were stranded for days are grateful for such a timely help. Contrary to the propaganda unleashed by several vested interests about how great friends China and the Muslim countries are, the US has proved to be our friend when we needed it the most. Yet, there will be many among the skeptics who would term this as ‘strategic’ given the state of things in dear homeland and in its neighbourhood. It is time that we acknowledge what needs to be acknowledged with no ifs and buts. Here is a fact sheet sent to Pak Tea House through reliable sources on the assistance so far. About time the self-styled US haters (rather entrenched in the country) take notice of this. US may have its own interests in stabilizing Pakistan, their response has been (and remains) substantive.
To date, the United States is providing approximately $150 million to support relief efforts in Pakistan, including funding for the operations of the Pakistan National Disaster Management Authority, the UN’s emergency relief plan, and the many local and international organizations responding to this disaster. These funds are also being used to provide critical supplies to flood affected populations.
The U.S. also is providing millions of dollars of additional in-kind and technical assistance. We are expanding pre existing programs in flood-affected areas, providing temporary bridges, and mobilizing significant U.S. military and civilian resources to rescue victims of the disaster and deliver needed supplies. U.S. military and civilian aircraft continue to support flood relief operations.
Through August 22, these aircraft have evacuated 7,835 people and delivered more than 1,600,000 pounds of relief supplies.
Latest Developments: Continue reading
Filed under disaster, USA