If there was ever a time to rally for Pakistan, it is now. The headlines of the past several months narrate one of the worst periods in Pakistan’s short history. Pakistan’s emerging democracy faces calamity after calamity. Poverty, education reforms, infrastructure development, and health initiatives are all equally important concerns that require immediate attention. As the Pakistani government focused on providing real solutions, the country was hit with one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. The truth of the matter is this: Pakistan is fighting one thousand wars within its borders.
Years of living under brutal dictators did not stop Pakistan’s push for democracy. As a democratically-elected government gingerly gained its footing, there was real hope that it would be first administration to finish its term. Pakistan was, and is, very close to setting this all-important precedent. But the floods have created what President Zardari calls the “ideal hope of the radical,” that the disaster has discredited the civilian government and paved the way for potential chaos.
It should be noted that though terrorists across the Islamic world differ in strategy, their common denominator remains their ability to exploit political disunity to their advantage. The President defended the country’s response to the floods, arguing his government is rising to its duty and doing the absolute most it can in the face of such devastation. This begs the question, is any government ever prepared to see one-fifth of its country underwater or incur damages reaching $43 billion? The destruction of the floods is almost beyond comprehension. Funds specifically allocated to a myriad of projects — building schools, health clinics, paving roads, assisting the poor – have been redirected to relief for flood victims, slowing the efforts to focus on those crucial problems. Pakistan requires years of continued development and assistance to recover from what the UN Secretary General describes a “slow-moving tsunami.” The UN described the floods as a test of “global solidarity.”
For Pakistan, then, this is a test of national solidarity. The floods are yet another national crisis the country must meet head-on. The crippling generational-poverty keeps education and opportunity from the masses. Families are forced to send their children to work, depriving them of a change of improving their quality of life. In a country where labor-laws are either non-existent or not enforced, this is a tragedy the country suffers every single day.
The social attitudes are another aspect that keeps Pakistanis from progressing. The nonchalant acceptance of discrimination of minorities is an ugly truth in today’s Pakistan. The internal cancer of extremism has been alleviated in the northern areas – thanks to the sharp leadership of Gen. Kayani – but it is by no means abated and has spread to Pakistan’s cities.
This is a time for national solidarity and unity. Our leaders must have a cogent plan going forward, with no gaps extremists might slink through. Already there are reports of extremists providing aid and recruiting the flood victims to their agenda. We have a wonderful example set by the PPP and PML-N. At a press conference last week, Prime Minister Gilani and Nawaz Sharif announced their plan to work together towards the full and complete rehabilitation of the 20 million affected by the floods. That is a shining example of leaders coming together to generate ideas on how to better lead the people.
Pakistan’s leaders are all united in agreement against the gruesome lynching of two brothers in Sialkot. The grainy video footage captured by an eye-witness has horrified the nation. The public’s reaction is clear: surely we must hold on to our humanity in the midst of difficult times, surely we are not bereft of humanity. Leaders across the political stage, from Governor Salmaan Taseer to CM Shahbaz Sharif, have declared the perpetrators will be brought to justice and that such acts must never be allowed to happen again.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have people who haven’t learned a thing from history. Leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Altaf Hussain called for “patriotic generals” to impose martial law upon the country. This, he declared, would be the best way to help the country out of this disaster. Mr. Hussain fails to realize that the harsh periods of martial law in Pakistani history are seen as the worst for development and education. To debate the merits of democracy versus martial law is to waste the country’s time. We cannot fill the airwaves with a smokescreen issue that so cruelly takes away from many other pressing matters.
Pakistanis must reject the cacophony of the ignorant, continue to fortify democratic institutions and most of all, tackle the crises with true patriotic zeal. Political point-scoring and delusions of martial law’s grandeur must have no place in our narrative. Whenever any Pakistani feels angry, he must only stop and think of the consequences. Anger is what feeds the extremists, who have no respect for innocent lives, and even in the face of natural disaster choose to unleash violence upon a suffering people. Anger is what divides our leaders and fails our people. These are the millions of people who are desperate for help. We must rise to do our duties by them, and rise together, as one nation.
Kindness has never weakened a nation and true patriotism has never hurt it. Only by banding together can Pakistanis effectively overcome the severe crises it currently faces.