Pages: 1 2
The toll from Pakistan’s worst flooding in more than a century continues to rise as the record Monsoon rainfall refuses to let up and spare the nation more agony. It is believed the death toll has passed 2,000, although no official count has been forthcoming from the government.
Beyond the loss of life are the extraordinarily grim statistics of tragedy; 20 million Pakistanis affected from the Swat Valley in the north to Sindh in the south. The number of homeless, destitute people with no food, no shelter, no medicine, and little hope has reached at least 4 million. The area affected is 62,000 square miles — about 1/5 of the country. In the Punjab alone, more than 8 million have been forced to flee, returning to homes either destroyed or made uninhabitable in many cases. It is believed by the UN that nearly 12 million Pakistanis are in desperate need of aid.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has called the catastrophe a “slow motion tsunami.” Indeed, if one were to look at the number of people affected by this disaster, it would surpass the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
With nearly $800 million from the international community either pledged to assist the Pakistani government or in the aid pipleline, most observers believe that figure isn’t nearly enough and that more is desperately needed. In addition to the more than $100 million in aid pledged or already given by the United States, the US military has stepped forward in its usual competent fashion and, using assets already on the ground in Afghanistan as well as the vast logistical capabilities here at home, a round the clock effort is being made to save lives and bring desperately needed food and medicine into the worst hit areas.
There is some hope in the State Department that this very visible, massive effort on the part of the military will go some ways toward mitigating the hostility of the Pakistani people felt against America. This is not likely. Pakistan, if you can believe the polls, is the second most anti-American country in the world, trailing only Turkey for that dubious distinction. This is a nation where conspiracy theories about America abound and where fundamentalist Imams keep up a steady drumbeat of hate spewed against the U.S.
Unfortunately, the anger Pakistanis usually have no trouble directing against America has undergone a metamorphosis and is now aimed directly at the heart of Pakistan’s political stability; the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.
The first fortnight of the unfolding calamity saw a Pakistani government frozen by incompetence, lack of leadership, and bureaucratic inertia. In the first 10 days of the disaster, the government managed to deliver 10,000 food packs that fed 80,000 people out of the more than 2 million who were already destitute.
Zardari only stoked the rage Pakistanis were feeling against the government when he left the country at the beginning of August — just when the floods had gone from bad, to worse, to catastrophic — to pay a visit to David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy. A trip to Great Britain and France might ordinarily give a boost to the flagging popularity of a Pakistani president, but in this case, it had the opposite effect. Zardari arrived at Heathrow dressed in casual clothing, looking for all the world like a bored tourist. And then between conferences with officials, he helicoptered off to spend a little time at his fabulous chateau in Normandy owned by him and his late wife Benazir Bhutto.
It’s no secret that both the late Mrs. Bhutto and Zardari were spectacularly corrupt politicians. Mrs. Bhutto was sacked in a military coup by General Musharraf largely because of corruption while Zardari — known in Pakistan as “Mr. Ten Percent” — who has already served 8 years in jail on corruption charges, is still under a cloud even as president.
What all this added up to was a monumental political miscalculation on the part of Zardari that if it doesn’t directly threaten the stability of the government (most observers dismiss the idea of a military coup) it nevertheless opens the door to massively increased influence by two other concerned parties in Pakistani politics; the military, and the fundamentalist Islamist parties.
The only entity that stepped forward immediately to help in search and rescue of the millions stranded was the military, and they are being rewarded by enjoying a huge increase in popularity and prestige. Images on Pakistani television showed dozens of rescues by military helicopters of desperate citizens threatened by the floods.
Pages: 1 2