Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Real Hall of Shame

Like most Pakistanis I have been taken aback by the scale of destruction caused by the floods back home. According to the United Nations this is a worse calamity than the Pacific Tsunami (2004), the Kashmir earthquake (2005) and the Haiti earthquake (2010) combined. From Khyber to Karachi, every part of the country is already or under the threat of inundation.

No government, and certainly not the weak impostor we have in Islamabad, can fully manage such a disaster. That, however, should not make those in charge immune from criticism. Pertinently, this criticism needs to be well-directed, lest it may be lost in a futile cause, as explained by Cafe Pyala. Asif Zardari's shenanigans in Europe have been well documented, but he's one person, and a person with little constitutional authority. What about those with the capacity and responsibility to atleast provide a semblance of a rescue effort? Why have they not been villifed by the Zardari-obsessed media and public?

Well it's about time some recognition (and preferably bricks) be heaped on these characters for the role they have played in the last week or so. Here are three of them:

1. Yousuf Raza Gilani: I'm tired of his 'powerless Prime Minister in the face of a powerful President' act. His post-flood response has been so inept, and his comments so bizarre, that I'm almost glad he does not call the shots in Islamabad.

Consider this: The two critical agencies that manage and fund the federal government's rescue effort, the National Disaster Management Authority and the Prime Minister's Relief Fund, have been monumental failures. The aid distribution process is in shambles and the domestic and foreign funding has been poor. With the President having absolved himself of any responsibility, what stopped Gilani from coordinating these agencies, which lie directly under his control, properly? I am sure the response would have still been inadequate, but atleast like after the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, the effort might have been more organized, where people knew who to donate to and who was in charge, rather than the current scenario where half of the potential donors don't even know who to trust their money with.

On top of this ineptness, Gilani decided to inform us, from his pulpit in Multan no less, that if the Kalabagh Dam would have been built the floods wouldn't have happened. I don't debate the merit of the Dam, but did the statement really have to come on the day when thousands in Sindh, the Dam's main opposition, were fighting for their lives? There is a time and place for such remarks and this certainly wasn't the right one.

2. MQM and ANP: If in this crisis the PPP has come across as inept, the PMLN opportunistic, Karachi's political parties, namely the MQM and ANP appear downright despicable. As the country begged for a unified approach to the calamity, the two parties went ahead with their mindless feud, killing more than a 100 people in less than a week. As a result, instead of engaging in relief efforts, Karachiites found themselves locked at home for 3 days, caught between a juvenile battle for an extra inch of the city's land. Moreover, the ANP's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial president had to fly all the way to Karachi to sign the peace accord, shameful considering the severity of his province's problem. As it is, no channel in the country had the guts to tell the two parties, especially the MQM, of how immature they were, lest their own offices get ransacked.

3. The International Community, especially China: The UN thinks Pakistan needs billions in aid to rebuild. On current evidence, we would be hard-pressed to even get a fraction of that. The Guardian has a fascinating graphic (shown below) that breaks down the international community's donations. Aside from the general lukewarm response, a conspicuous absence is that of China, the one state expected to lead the international effort, considering its friendship and proximity to Pakistan. Yet, like the rest it sits on the sidelines, averse to the human tragedy unfolding. Now I agree that the world has serious trust issues with the present government, but what is preventing them from contributing to the multilateral effort headed by the UN? If anything the world should learn from Greece. Yes, Greece! A country that nearly went bankrupt this year, pitched in with a $130,000, which using per-head population breakdown was a more generous effort than China!

Finally, a very honorable mention in this Hall of Shame to the great Imran Khan who promised to hold a 'strong protest' if President Zardari commenced on his trip to Europe. Perhaps realizing that no one in Pakistan actually takes him seriously, he decided to go on his own little trip and was last seen raising funds (and blaming everyone and the Sun) for his party in Dallas, Texas.


  1. You have failed to name one very important member of the this hall of shame. The People myself included
    During the earthquake, a lot of people rushed upnorth to take part in relief efforts. It seems this time people are not very interested in doing something like that. Donations have been nonexistent from the people of pakistan themselves, who should be looked upon first before the international community. Donation camps have closed down in Islamabad, because only Cds and a few thousand rupees had been given as donations so far.
    I think before we blame the politicians and the media and the army and the international community, we should take a look in the mirror.

  2. To Burhan's point I agree with him to certain extend but I still think people can only do soo much..it has to be the government and the army that need to handle these issues its all good to contribute and go help there ...but in terms of the impact i dont know how much it effects in case of such a big disaster...

    But I agree with his blame on the people..and I think the blame needs to be for not asking the right questions from the government. All I heard is pretty much from the facebook articles and news feeds I get and all I could see of that was how people were angry that Zardari was not in Pakistan.... instead of nothing was done by the government and Army towards the floods and rescue missions.I actually get really pissed if a minister visits a disaster area as it stops the rescue mission and security has to be provided and people are busy helping him than the needy...but that's just me I think they are useless

  3. I don't quite agree with the 'people are not enthusiastic enough' line. The problem is that the scale of these floods is very different from the earthquake in Kashmir, or Haiti. Then, only a part of the country was affected, which allowed government, aid agencies and people from other parts to rush and help. This time around every province, pretty much every other district has been affected. Villages as far apart as in Gilgit, South Punjab and Sindh are inundated. It is impossible in this case for people to 'rush to a particular area' simply because there is not 'one particular affected area' and because the tragedy is still unfolding and shows no sign of stopping.

    I don't really know about people not being generous enough with donations, but I do feel that is more down to the lack of information on where their funds will go to, rather than them being stingy. As I said in the post the proper forum for collections should have been the PM's Relief Fund, because people would have the requisitite information and confidence about the fate of their donations, especially because many would prefer donating large amounts this time considering the scale of the crisis. As it is small donation points, while being helpful, don't exactly fulfill the gargauantan and specialized nature of this relief effort.