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
Nasima Zehra Awan laments the media romances with sectarian Islamists while the country drowns
The August 21st editorial by DAWN is a good example of what is wrong with the media in Pakistan. “Hardliners and Flood Relief” is precisely the kind of vacillating apologia for extremists that is the bane of the local media.A media that has anointed itself as “Independent” for hounding out elected politicians at the behest of a powerful establishment, has failed in informing the public about the various Islamist militant groups and their agendas. In this regard, it is baffling that DAWN’s editorial prefers to maintain an Ostrich-like approach to the exponentially growing existential threat from these sectarian bigots.
President Zardari is absolutely correct in pointing out this threat. The exclusive bashing of elected PPP leaders is the national sport in our elite drawing rooms and reflects our impotent rage that can never be directed at the actual source of our problems but at those who cannot strike back. It is therefore sad that DAWN follows suit and completely disregards the warning of Pakistan’s elected president and chooses to maintain the establishment-led status quo in protecting its Jihadi assets.
In covering the hundreds of targeted killings of minority sects and religious groups like the Ahmadis, Shias and Christians, DAWN studiously maintains a policy of obfuscating the issue via the use of euphemisms. In doing so, it dishonestly creates a false symmetry between the victims (Ahmadis, Shias and Christians) and their killers, the vast nexus of sectarian Salafist Jihadi groups like Sipah Sahaba, its militant wing, Lashkar Jhangvi, Lashkar Tayabba, Jaish Mohammad and Harkat ul Mujahideen amongst a host of other related subsidiaries. For a newspaper that allies itself with Jinnah, the irony that the country’s Shiite Muslim founder would have been a fair game for these sectarian groups is completely lost on DAWN!
Since the beginning of the flood crisis, Pakistan’s media has preferred to lynch the elected government as opposed to galvanizing the public and the International community towards relief efforts. In trying to divert attention away from banned groups who are using the tragedy of these floods to increase their hold on Pakistan, DAWN has allied itself with the same reactionary and bigoted class that prefers an authoritarian future for Pakistan under an Continue reading
Usman Ahmad has sent this exclusive post for PTH that highlights yet another fissure in our collective conduct – denying relief to people on the basis of their faith is cruel and inhuman. We strongly condemn the treatment meted out to minorities even in these disastrous times. Each time such a report makes news, we are cruelly reminded that this is neither Jinnah’s Pakistan nor the country envisioned by millions who moved to this land in 1947. Raza Rumi
There is increasing evidence to suggest that in their efforts to relieve the victims of the recent floods the authorities and elements of the local population have taken upon themselves the right to decide whom among them is actually ‘deserving’ of aid. This may, to some extent have been justified had there been a clearly set forth criteria for prioritisation based on factors like, the age, gender and the health of victims or the extent of loss and injury suffered by those displaced in the disaster. But in the flood-affected areas of south Punjab, when it comes to the Ahmadis, the over-riding concern seems to be their religious beliefs and not the common bond of humanity.
Since flooding began, almost 450 Ahmadi families have been displaced in the districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur. Many have been turned away from relief camps and other accommodation, either for fear of ‘unrest’ or because of pressure from local clerics and the lay population, while most have been left to fend for themselves. Not only this, but Ahmadis have also seen Fatwa’s issued that they should not be lent any form of assistance.
According to the spokesperson of the community, Mr Saleem-ud-Din, absolutely no help or relief has been offered to the Ahmadis by the authorities. “We do not make any demands from the government”, he said, “but in the initial stages of the relief operation they should have deployed their various resources, to help the region’s Ahmadis, in the same way that they assisted the non-Ahmadi population. Not a single boat or helicopter was used to rescue Ahmadi families. Instead, the Jama’at hired whatever transport we could and rescued the stranded victims ourselves. When all this is over the Jama’at will itself undertake the task of reconstructing their homes. We expect nothing from anyone.”
In Basti Rinda, not only were the Ahmadis offered no assistance to evacuate the town but were threatened with a lathi charge if they did not make their own arrangements to leave the area. According to one Ahmadi, Muhammad Iqbal Sehrani, the rest of the population were assisted in the evacuation immediately provided with food and shelter. Later, under pressure from locals, Ahmadis were ejected them from a number of private homes where the owners had given them shelter and were forced to look for rented accommodation during this time of crises.
Elsewhere an aid-worker who had visited Rajanpur told me that he was approached by locals who warned him not to assist the Ahmadis there because they ‘rejected’ the Prophet Muhammad. Members of the Jama’at have also been turned away from relief camps in Muzaffargarh.
Owing to this chronic lack of help, almost 200 hundred Ahmadis have sought shelter in Rabwah, where they are being accommodated in guest houses or private homes. There the Jama’at has taken upon itself to provide them with food and any other assistance they may require.
South Punjab has proved a hotbed of anti-Ahmadi feeling in the past. A number of cases have been registered against Ahmadis in the area under the various provisions of the Blasphemy Law, while in 2003, the head of the Ahmadi community in Rajanpur, Mr Mian Iqbal Ahmad, was murdered in a religiously motivated target killing.
The hideous spectre of hate and discrimination continues to haunt the country even in this time of great peril and casts further doubt on the ongoing relief efforts which many Pakistanis have come to view with suspicion. Instead of putting each other’s differences aside and fostering a spirit of togetherness, there are still elements who seek to use every possible opportunity to foster mutual discord. In the wake of the May 28 terror attack in Lahore, there were many who insisted that despite their religious differences, Ahmadis were citizens of Pakistan and had the right to be recognised. Now more than ever these sentiments need to be put into realised and the country needs to unite in order to overcome this terrible tragedy.
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.
The colossal humanitarian tragedy and the imminent economic meltdown, will now shape a new Pakistan or rather, exacerbate its predicament in the months and years to come. Pakistan’s chronic political instability, structural economic constraints and a warped national security policy are all going to be affected by the unfolding drama of the national disaster, perhaps the severest, in the country’s history. Whilst the challenges have snowballed within a short duration of ten days, the response of the Pakistani state and society underline extremely dangerous trends and make us wonder about future of the country, as we have known it for the last 63 years.
Pakistan had reverted to quasi-democratic rule after a decade of dictatorship in March 2008. Since the resumption of the electoral process in February 2008, the traditionally powerful unelected institutions, had acquired both legitimacy and unprecedented powers. The power troika of the 1990s had transformed into a quartet comprising the army, judiciary, the media and the civilian government which was represented by a ‘discredited’ president who has been a constant punching bag for the unelected institutions of the state.
Thousands are dead and injured and millions are displaced due to the floods. The national reaction to this calamitous situation has been that the president should have cancelled his visit to the UK. The president too has not been sagacious. But the debate is frivolous and sidetracks the real issue: our sheer lack of preparedness for natural disasters and emergency management.
Five years ago, a massive-earthquake rocked Pakistan. Later, several institutions such as the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) were set up to deal with natural calamities. While it would be unfair to critique the good work done by the NDMA, it is clear that centralised authorities and relief machinery are of little use in a populous, diverse country like Pakistan.
In the last five years, as the recent floods indicate, the state has done little to galvanise and decentralise disaster preparedness and management. Between 2005 and 2010, the magnitude of natural disasters was not large enough to expose the inherent weaknesses of the emergency infrastructure. As before, Pakistanis have come forward and an unprecedented civic activism and volunteerism can be seen in reaching out to victims of the floods across the country. Continue reading