Pakistani media and country’s right-wing is ripe with stories about poor aid response and poor donor response. It is about time things be put in perspective. For nothing has the potential of hurting rehabilitation more than this smear campaign.
First, as I have dealt with it earlier, the issue of poor response. The disaster is way bigger than the earthquake of 2005 or any other disaster known in human history. A lot of areas needing rescue and relief are still flooded and are hard to access. The disaster is spread across 1/5th of the country or an area of appox. 160,000 sq. km. No state would be equipped to deal with any disaster of such magnitude. Our state, with its limited resources, is trying her best to do what it could. We must thank our Western allies and particularly United States for their help and any help in this regard should be welcome (including Indian). The floods are not over and there still are many important installations and populated cities/towns that need to be protected/rescued before the waters enter Arabian Sea. The governments (federal and provincial) are not equipped to deal with such magnitude of relief and rehabilitation. Even if they had the money and the resources, their ability to disburse the relief goods to the affected areas will be limited because of operational limitations. Even the private sector organizations find it difficult to jump in because of issues like lack of access and lack of fund raising (because of economy as well as the fact that most of the country is under water). This is a reality that we face and we must deal with it head on with hope and with courage rather than crying despair from safe houses and News Vans.
Second is the issue of donor fatigue. To me, the first and foremost reason of donor fatigue is global economic crisis. All governments in the world, specially the rich ones, are undergoing a belt-tightening phase and persuading them to donate will be harder than usual. Secondly, the reports of use of 2005 aid on military infrastructure and stories of corruption by civil bureaucracy during 2005 earthquake rehabilitation have made governments around the world reluctant to donate. But what is making the situation worse is the noise of our own trumpets and their friends abroad. They took a line from day one that no one could be ready to trust this government because it is corrupt. It is a win-win argument. If the aid does not come, government fails and they will hail it as a victory and if aid flows in they will jump on to claim that it was our cry that ensured transparency. This is the same mantra that we heard before Friends of Pakistan pledges (and pledges came and are materializing except anything significant being pledged by Saudis who are missing here too), we heard this when Kerry Luger was under process (we were told that the issue is that no one trusts this govt – what we found out was that this govt was the only entity Americans were willing to trust while raising doubts on both military and civilian bureaucracy), and despite this same mantra flew the aid for IDPs (of course all from our friends in West). Our bureaucracy is a corrupt bureaucracy and this is not a new phenomenon. We have to deal with this phenomenon and we have hope that despite this the aid will flow from our friends abroad. Of course, we need to make sure that the aid received is spent on the people affected by floods, the best it could. But anything that comes will be better than no aid for flood victims. It disturbs me that our leading media houses and our key political figures are overtly and covertly trying to raise this issue of corruption, just when the priority should have been to let as much money flow in as was possible. It is meanly vested on their part. Even the educated Pakistanis, for their hate of one man (who by the way still heads the most popular political party in the country) raise this corruption issue without realizing what the priority should be now. If you have doubt about credibility of the government, do not donate, but please just do not make hue and cry about it, for it will create doubts in the minds of even those who were willing to commit. Hate for one man could blind people to this extent is just beyond me. More so, this cynicism of well-to-do educated Pakistanis is not limited to government alone, even private aid agencies are finding it hard to raise funds for flood victims even in cities like Lahore and Karachi. The crisis is here and we have this government, this state machinery and these private sector organizations. This is the hand we are dealt with. We either give it our best shot or lose.
Another factor that is worth keeping in mind is that usually the business houses remain at the fore of any donation activity for such calamities. Because of poor global economy, and the suffering the local economy has due to terrorism and recent floods, the businesses are unable to contribute to their fullest. Our best hope is international aid and I am optimistic that the world will not leave us alone in this crisis of need. Jemima Goldsmiths and Over-Bennett Jones will try distracting the world at the behest of their friends in Pakistan but I have faith in human spirit worldwide and I am sure the aid will flow in, from sources internal and external.
By the way, a word of caution for any political party or elements within the establishment. If someone is calculating that this crisis could be their chance to disrupt the system, go through your game-board one more time, for the chaos that would ensue as a result will give none nothing. The results of any such playing with the fire will lead to secessionist tendencies, weakening of the state, and a political conflict that would make the still fragile state and federation of ours crumble. More so, the threat that we face from Islamic extremism, makes any such chaos and crumbling of state highly dangerous for our social fabric and social code, the consequence will be devastating and neither elements within the establishment nor PML-N will eventually gain anything from it. Even a “revolutionary” Islamist takeover will be short-lived and will suck us all into an internal and global conflict where West might or might not bleed but this society and these Islamists surely will be destroyed fully.
We as a nation have seen crises and we have survived them. Together we will come out of this too. We will rebuild our farms, our power plants, our roads, our bridges. We will move on. But we will never forget those who were grinding their own axes through actions aimed at discouraging help from the world and from within. We will remember that we were being stabbed by those whom we held in high esteem as Prime Ministers, as Super Stars, as Visionaries. This too will pass – but the wound of betrayal will remain.