Was Khawaja Asif Right About IKF?

Imran KhanEarlier this year, Khawaja Asif called for a forensic audit of funds collected under Imran Khan Foundation (IKF) suggesting that the money raised for floods relief may have been misused. At the time the statement was mostly seen as an attempt to distract attention from ‘Panama Papers‘ scandal that was making headlines. Not much has been reported about this since the last two months.

Now, however, a new report has appeared that suggests the Defence Minister may have been onto something. Researchers at ‘Alternative Perspectives’ think tank have published some US government documents that show millions of dollars from IKF being transferred to an undisclosed account. According to the report IKF officials refused to give any comment when they were asked where the missing millions were sent.

Where did the millions that were donated to IKF for flood relief end up being sent? Will a forensic audit be done, or will IKF officials finally give some clarification of how the people’s donations were actually used? For some reason I don’t expect any answers…..

Is Jamaat-ud-Dawa Army’s Disaster Relief Wing?

Earlier this year, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar warned that “no Non-Government Organisation (NGO) working against the country’s national interest will be allowed to continue its work in Pakistan”. According to the Minister, “government cannot compromise on national interest”. This sounds very good, but it is interesting to note certain NGOs that have been allowed to continue working and ask what does this mean about how we define “national interest”. This is of particular interest when we observe how Jamaat-ud-Dawa is not only allowed to operate, but works hand in hand with Army.

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Fashion for Flood Relief

Fashion for Flood ReliefFashion is not something that just exists for runways or glossy magazines only. It can be dismissed as creative opulence when it really ought to be embraced as a nation’s art. Fashion represents ideas, intellect, and the soul of a people. Pakistan is a country full of talent, and that talent determinedly shines through in the face of all we struggle with. One of our best designers today is in the inimitable Deepak Perwani, an inspired genius. What makes him a national treasure is his loyalty and love for Pakistan, and the world witnessed it earlier this week.

On the very important day of Eid-ul-Adha, Deepak Perwani teamed up with Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani to hold a fashion show at the Ambassador’s Residence. Proceeds from the show going to the flood relief efforts. In this way, fashion was married to a humanitarian cause – helping the 20 million people affected by the worst natural disaster in our country’s history. It was worth a trip from New York to DC to witness this wonderful event.

Deepak PerwaniFashion is about ideas. Showing the work of Deepak Perwani, a Hindu designer, encourages the idea of pluralism in our society, where people of all and any faiths may contribute in their own way. It shows how we live, what we accept and what the future can hold. We all hope for a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan, and with strong, civic-minded citizens, we can absolutely get there.

It was a night of hope.

Guests came to the ticketed event curious and intrigued, and they were not disappointed. Deepak’s designs were simultaneously glamorous and elegant, and the noble cause they were to support had everyone aglow.  The diversity of the guests and the fact that so many people were from Capitol Hill made us Pakistanis feel a sense of strong friendship and support from Washington, DC and the United States.

Pakistan’s vibrant culture is unapologetically dynamic in the face of extremism. Our people are equally resilient and united against the militants, who only seek to ban the designs in favor of cloaks of misery. In the long run, they will lose, and they will do so because there are talents like the Ambassador, Deepak Perwani saab, and the millions of Pakistanis who work towards a peaceful, tolerant, and of course, colorful Pakistan.

Sidra is a Pakistani-American currently studying in New York City. She has a love for fashion and film as her hobbies.

Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC Raises Money, Awareness For Flood Victims

Ambassador Husain Haqqani

WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (APP): Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States has called for greater American public support for his country’s flood victims as he sought to raise awareness about human sufferings the worst natural disaster inflicted on around 20 million Pakistanis.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani faulted coverage of the tragedy in the American media, a factor which partly contributed to a tepid initial response to the catastrophe. He pointed out that the media stories ignored the plight of flood victims and instead focused unduly on political and security implications of the floods that triggered an epic humanitarian crisis.

Haqqani was making an impassioned appeal to back recovery efforts for flood victims to a gathering of American citizens, Congressional staffers and Pakistani-Americans at an event the ambassador and his wife, MNA Farahnaz Ispahani, hosted at their residence.

“One fifth of Pakistan, an area of the size of Italy, an area of the size of the entire east coast of the United States all the way from Maine to Florida, was inundated…two large rivers basically merged into each other…ten years of rainfall occured in a space of seven days in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa province.

“When 20 million people are in trouble the first priority is savasing lives, making sure that there are no waterborne diseases (breakout), no epidemics and making sure that immunization of children remains on track and pregrant and lactating mothers in relief camps get the support they need and the people are enabled to return to their farms and homes,” he stated as a slideshow of images illustrated the extent of human suffering and infrastructure losses.

The international effort, where the United States has been clearly in the lead in providing relief assistance, has fallen short partly becasue governments alone cannot help assist the victims of such major tragedies.

The ambassador appreciated the fact that the U.S. government has allocated $ 493 million towards flood relief recovery and is in the process of directing $ 500 million from Kerry-Lugar funds, approved by Congress last year. But, he underlined, Pakistani flood victims would still need a lot of support from individual donors and private charitable giving in the United States.

“More than the dollar cheque that you may write for the effort, what is more important is to contribute to increasing the awareness of this tragedy, taking the focus away from the political debates to humanitarian dimension of the tragedy.”

Jonnah Blank, chief policy advisor for South Asia to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reaffirmed the influential panel’s support for flood victims.

Speaking on behalf of Senator John Kerry, he commended the Pakistani envoy’s efforts to improve relationship between the two countries.

“Ambassador Haqqani has been a lynchpin in the US-Pakistan relationship. I don’t think that is any exaggeration. Anyone who looks at the US-Pakistan relations will come to the same conclusion.”

Blank said the Senate panel is trying to re-direct as much money as possible from long-term funding to immediate needs in the flood-affected areas.

“Pakistan of July (this year) is not the Pakistan of August (after flooding). Everything has changed and our plans for development have to change with that.”

The gathering evinced a keen interest in a display of Pakistani dresses designed by leading fashion exponent Deepak Parwani, whom the ambassador hailed as a designer of immense talent, “reminding every one, Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis of the pluralism of Pakistan. He symbolizes a new Pakistan that we are trying to build.” The proceeds from the sale of dresses will support flood victims.

The monsoon floods buffeting Pakistani lands this summer have been termed as the largest natural d1isaster in the world since the inception of the United Nations, more than 60 years ago. But statistics in terms of world response to recent disasters reveal that in comparison with the Far Eastern Tsunami, the Pakistani and Haitian earthquakes, the flooding disaster has so far received much less financial and in kind backing.

Pakistan’s Tea Party

Syed Yahya HussainyAs much as we are different, in many ways Pakistanis and Americans are actually quite similar. Events this past week have revealed some of these similarities as officials in both countries unveiled new tax proposals.

In the US, the chairmen of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released their preliminary recommendations for addressing the American budget crisis. The package of spending cuts and tax increases represented a shared sacrifice to get the nation’s books back in order. It was met with shared howls of horror. I suppose one should be impressed with any legislation that unites the AFL-CIO and Americans for Tax Reform. But these groups agreed not only in their opposition, but their alternative solution as well — let someone else pay for it!

In addition to the debt commission’s package of reforms, the debate about whether to extend the tax cuts passed by President George W. Bush continues. Democrats insist that they should be extended only for “the middle class”, who they define as earning under $250,000 — a generous definition of middle class for a nation with a median income of $50,000, one would think. But the Republicans insist that it is most important to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa said on Good Morning America last week that,”Tax certainty is important and it’s important for the investing class probably more than anybody else.” Tea Party hero Rand Paul explained further: “We all either work for rich people or we sell stuff to rich people.” I chuckled when I heard these quotes. In Pakistan we often talk about how we are still suffering under the yoke of feudal lords. Perhaps there is more similarity between our two nations than we think.

In Pakistan, as you well know, we recently suffered devastating floods of historic proportions. A fifth of our country was submerged and millions of people were displaced. The damages have been estimated at $9.7 billion. While the America was at the front of relief efforts, supplying vital economic, rescue and relief assistance, the fact of the matter is that the global response has been nowhere near what will be needed to rebuild after such massive destruction. That our national resources are largely occupied fighting a jihadi menace that carries out regular and deadly attacks against our schools, mosques, and government means that we do not have the luxury of extra resources with which to adequately address the needs of those affected by the floods.

In order to address this need, President Zardari and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) asked the wealthiest citizens to pitch in to shore up the nation’s bottom line. Government officials introduced a proposal for a Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST). The proposal includes a 1 percent tax increase on non-essential luxury items, and a temporary 10 percent surcharge on income over Rs.300,000. To protect the poor, items such as wheat flour, vegetables, fruits, meat, mutton, poultry, health services, institutions providing educational services as charity and non-profit organisations are all exempt from the tax.

Nevermind that the median income in Pakistan is around Rs.80,000 or that, with a 14 percent unemployment rate and a 25 percent of the population living below the poverty threshold, even Rs.80,000 is likely an inflated middle income — the government’s tax proposal was met with similar outcry to protect “the middle class.”

Pakistan’s wealthy conservatives, much like their counterparts in the US, claimed that any tax on the wealthy would simply be passed down to the poor in the form of price increases, despite the exemption of essential items. Some conservatives have warned that the price of sugar could skyrocket under this new tax plan. I suppose they would know, as their families own some of the nation’s largest sugar mills.

So perhaps there is another similarity between America and Pakistan. While our infrastructure crumbles, our economies decline, and our people are left without jobs and homes, at least we will both continue to have our tea parties.

Published by Huffington Post on 15 November 2010.