Guest contribution-Pakistan’s response to the floods

August 19, 2010

chopper floods(The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK)

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The international media has been asking why there has been a lukewarm response to the massive floods in Pakistan. Various explanations have been offered ranging from a ‘trust deficit’ to a ‘negative perception’ about Pakistan. Such commentaries are not only alarmist but portray Pakistan in bad light.

There is a need to put the record straight that there is no lukewarm response to appeals made domestically or internationally. It is natural that in a calamity of monumental proportions damage assessment takes some time before a comprehensive response is made. The Government of Pakistan has taken measures in accordance with the challenges posed by the floods. Simultaneously, the international response has been quick and robust and it is gathering pace. The panic button on a slow response pushed by some international NGOs was understandable as they must have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the crisis.

Let us look at how the flood situation unfolded in Pakistan. The massive rains which inundated Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province had such a ferocious intensity that it took a while for the government and NGOs to realise how big was the challenge. Subsequently, the remaining parts of the country received abnormal rains which swelled the rivers to dangerous levels. The images on TV screens have not only been scary but have shaken everyone to gear up for action.

Naturally, the immediate concern was to save lives. This was effectively done by the government which is why the casualty rate has been minimal (approximately 1,600) if compared to the Asian Tsunami of 2004 when 230,000 people died while in the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar 146,000 people lost their lives. UN officials have admitted that the floods in Pakistan have been worse than the Asian Tsunami. Having learnt lessons in the 2005 earthquake, the armed forces and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) immediately moved to save lives for which the government should be given credit.

The international media is rightly pointing out that the magnitude of Pakistan’s current tragedy is almost more than the mind can take in. As for the damages, a fifth of the country (135000 Sq km) is flooded by torrential monsoon rains; 20 million people have been driven from their homes or otherwise affected; six million children need emergency assistance, such as food and clean water; millions of acres of the country’s best cropland are underwater; thousands of livestock have drowned; medical clinics have been destroyed while cholera and other water-borne diseases are threatening the survivors. These are the immediate challenges which the government has to grapple with. The United Nations has launched an appeal for $460 million for immediate relief.

Looming ahead is the enormous challenge of rebuilding the country’s shattered bridges, roads, structures and agricultural and economic base. The government is determined to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure through its own resources as well as international assistance. Already efforts are afoot to negotiate international assistance through friendly countries and international financial institutions.

As a government we are determined to rebuild the shattered lives of our people come what may. The propaganda against the government regarding a lack of transparency or trust deficit is an attempt to defame democracy and the country’s politicians. Such propaganda is not only misleading but dangerous for the country. Despite being overwhelmed due to the enormity of the situation, the civil and military institutions of the country are busy in providing succour to the affected people.

It is possible that some people may have been deprived of timely assistance, but such deficiencies can always be made up with improved performance. However, given the magnitude of the crisis, the government should be given credit for rising to the challenge. And surely the plight of the people would be addressed once waters recede and a real damage assessment is made. But those elements trying to cast doubts about the efficient use of assistance would be doing a great disservice to a noble cause, especially when foolproof mechanisms are in place for the distribution of aid to the needy. One such example is the Benazir Bhutto Support Programme which reaches out to 3 million poorest of the poor.

Amazingly, doubts about the credibility of the government are cast by those elements in the country that do not represent the people. And internationally, by those who do not want a stable and democratic Pakistan in the region. But this is not the first time we would be grappling with such a crisis as a nation. However, one thing is certain that we will prove the doomsayers wrong and defeat the forces of obscurantism with determination.

Comments

My son is a chess fanatic. I know the basic rules but can’t play a game to save my life, so he finds himself patiently explaining principles and strategies to a bored parent.

One of the principles he tells me is if a player wants to make two moves A and B, but is unable to do them in the order AB, they should try the order BA instead. The same result may be achieved.

I think the Indians and Pakistanis on this blog are not playing a game of chess *against* each other. They’re both on the same side of the board, playing to achieve a certain outcome (peace and prosperity for both countries and the South Asian region), but the big argument is over whether to do AB or BA.

The Pakistanis say Kashmir should be resolved first before relations between India and Pakistan are normalised and the covert war ends. Call this AB.

The Indians say there must first be a peace agreement and the covert war (i.e., terrorism) must end, then the Kashmir issue can be sorted out. Call this BA.

I know I’m probably biased here, but my argument is that we have been stuck on the AB approach for six decades and have made no progress. Shouldn’t we give BA a chance now?

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

> I believe Umair has made some very reasonable comments and Indians should engage constructively on these points.

I didn’t mean to imply that Indians were not already doing so. I think the comments by Mortal, G-W and Seth have been quite positive too. Let’s keep up the dialogue as we seem to be reaching consensus on some core ideas. At least the arguments aren’t around destruction anymore!

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

How can the High Comm of Pakistan compare tsunami with the present flood in Pakistan? Until 2006, there was no record of tsunami (official) in India. So when it struck Indian ocean, within an hour, the coastal towns of the regions were completely destroyed. The speed at which the waves struck coastal lines, the people didn’t get much time to respond. And countries around epicenter didn’t get much time to inform the people too.

Physicists say the energy of tsunami wave was so powerful that, even if we have enough precaution, we cannot stop the destruction. Whereas, flood through rain can be monitored, measured and could have informed the people to move to safer place. Probably that could be the reason why the death toll was much less compared to the destruction of home and agricultural land.

What we see in Pakistan is the utter failure of the government and, even, the military of Pakistan to protect people of Pakistan from these flood waters.

WHen tsunami struck Indian Ocean in 2006, India was one of the victims. Even then, it extended great support to Sri Lanka and Indonasia within hours, before the aid from developed countries arrived. I was amazed the speed at which the helps reached other affected place.

Coming back to the flood in Pakistan and aid to Pakistan, I was appalled to see the response from Pakistan’s best friend China. So far, China offered 1.5 million dollars! Considering the fact that China as the richest nation, the amount of aid is even less than what I provide to any homeless person.

What did China do when the flood struck Pakistan? It immediately brought the Chinese workers from Pakistan to China. There is no hue or cry from the people of Pakistan nor from the govt of Pakistan for any help by China. Compare this situation with that in 2006 tsunami? Who helped Sri Lanka and Indonasia? Another victim India. I am still looking for an answer to this big puzzle, why China is YET to offer substantial amount of aid to its friend Pakistan, when Pakistan is desperately looking for all sort of aid.

Umairpk wrote:
Much of eastern Europe owes its freedom to Pakistan and Afghanistan defeating the Soviets. Fact is Pakistan has faced sanctions, isolation, and gained nothing from such an alliance. Do not brag about those few gracious nations, we are certainly grateful for every dollar donated by Anglosphere. We are a proud nation, ours is a strategically important muslim nation, a nuclear power, 180 million strong, well trained armed forces, looking to live with dignity, part of the Muslim world.

Ohh Really? So what do you imply? Do you want these Eastern European nations to be subservient of Pakistan or donate to Pakistan for helping to destroy Soviet Union? Whose theory is that, Mr Umairpk? This is what you were taught by your military educators? USSR destroyed just because it thought that it was a great country and wanted to match up with its arch enemy USA. Russia was and is a great country. But communists in USSR wanted to prove that USSR is better in the world so that, it can solve all the problems of the poor world. Communists thought that communism is the only solution to the world.

What the leaders of former USSR thought about USSR is similar to the thoughts of people and military of Pakistan. They are thinking that one day they will be superior to India. You can only hurt India to some extent, thanks to their political leaders. If India had had very strategic forwarding looking leaders, India would have reached to the position what China is now. So I do not think Pakistan can win over India, and whether it has left any proud.

Posted by JackDen | Report as abusive
 

I have to give it to you Umair. I have been following your exchanges with the people on here. You have been consistent and have stuck to your guns for a long time (to all commentators from across the border, this is a figurative reference only please). You are one sensible and brave Pakistani.

As for our eastern neighbors, I would like to be the first to acknowledge that the humanitarian aid you have given us is very much appreciated. No matter what the intent or the behind the scene activities that brought it about, I am not really concerned at the moment. Pakistan in this hour of need will and should accept any/all the help it can get, even with some reasonable conditions.

However, it is not very gracious nor reasonable to give charity and then expect an immediate response from Pakistan in the form of a resolution on all disputed business between the two countries. Let Pakistan stand firmly back on its feet and I am sure one not too distant a day Pakistan will also reply in kind.

There will be a time when you can go back to slinging mud at Pakistan again, however right now my people need all the support they can get. If you can find it in your heart to look at them not as Pakistanis but as human beings -most of whom don’t even know nor care about the Pakistan-India politics- then please give generously. If not, that is okay with us too. Just don’t lecture us on the sanctity of Indian lives and yet look at the drowning men, women and children as if they deserved to drown, just because they are not humans but Pakistanis.

I would also take this opportunity to thank Ganesh Maharaj for his gracious contribution and promise of continued support. I have always admired your level headed responses here. I don’t always agree with you, but I understand and respect what you are saying.

-JC

Posted by JumperCable | Report as abusive
 

Umair has made some very constructive and realistic points. It is a pleasure to see such comments from a Pakistani. And I have not an iota of doubt about entrepreneurial skills of people in Pakistan specially in sindh, a group of people known worldwide for their business skills, guess thats why Karachi is financial hub in Pakistan. That is why i firmly believe in free trade between india and pakistan. Let their be competition of quality of human life where everyone is a winner.
In one of my comments on other blogs i said that best for kashmir in india is to have a scotland-britain like arrangement where kashmir has full autonomy on land laws and commerce while the currency, defence and external affairs are same as india..same goes for kashmir on pakistan side and then LOC is interpreted as “Lifeline Of Commerce”. I believe this trouble is not only for kashmir but many other states in india where people have a feeling of being oppressed by central system. This was a blunder in my opinion of part of chacha Nehru who wanted a highly centralised system for the union. In US, UK they have a highly federal system where states get to decide on their own laws and commerce policies while central government only takes care of currency, defence and external affairs.
This centralised system in india has created more problems than solutions for us. And to change it is a herculean task in itself as it will require structural change to constitution of india. And even more difficult because of the greed of the people sitting in parliament of india. But for last decade or so the parliament has slowly got the message that people now want peace and not war, people want progress, prosperity, health and wealth in india. And i believe that parliament people in pakistan are equally corrupt and greedy, if not more, as those in india. But like india people of pakistan will eventually push their leaders to move towards peace and not war. And it is the educated and learned class of people like Umair who will lead the revolution called Pakistan.
Let we all win…

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive
 

One way to break out of deadlock is to start on a new front. Simply keep aside all the issues that cause the deadlock and start developing new fronts between the two countries. These new fronts should be based on co-operation rather than competition. The latter simply enhances hostility due to the volatile nature of the relationships built. There should be a new front opened on business infrastructure development between the two countries. India can offer tax breaks to Pakistani products. Pakistan can allow Indian business houses to visit, survey and set up manufacturing and other infrastructure building business. Farmers in Indian Punjab should be able to lease lands in Pakistan and produce fruits and vegetables for import to India. Pakistan trucks can deliver them. Both countries can withdraw their troops from their current positions at the same time in an open manner. Sports and arts interactions can be intensified. I’d love to see Wasim Akram as a bowling coach for a state cricket team in India. Both countries should engage each other’s security systems for helping in disaster relief and maintaining key installations. Town hall meetings need to be set up everywhere where prominent people from both countries talk to the locals with a clear mission of dispelling all myth and paranoia created. Both countries should plan on a step by step confidence building measures over a certain period of time. Reconciliation is the only way out. Confrontation has shown clearly that it does not work. Indian election commission can help its Pakistani counterpart in setting up electronic voting technology. Both RAW and the ISI can work jointly on chasing drug trafficking, mafia, flesh trade etc. Both countries should work hard on setting up mutual dependence. This will thwart any inclination towards confrontation. All this will pave way for a EU like set up in the future. We all have to do something so that our future generations can live in a better atmosphere.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

I have to give it to you Umair. I have been following your exchanges with the people on here. You have been consistent and have stuck to your guns for a long time (to all commentators from across the border, this is a figurative reference only please). You are one sensible and brave Pakistani.

As for our eastern neighbors, I would like to be the first to acknowledge that the humanitarian aid you have given us is very much appreciated. No matter what the intent or the behind the scene activities that brought it about, I am not really concerned at the moment. Pakistan in this hour of need will and should accept any/all the help it can get, even with some reasonable conditions.

However, it is not very gracious nor reasonable to give charity and then expect an immediate response from Pakistan in the form of a resolution on all disputed business between the two countries. Let Pakistan stand firmly back on its feet and I am sure one not too distant a day Pakistan will also reply in kind.

There will be a time when you can go back to slinging mud at Pakistan again, however right now my people need all the support they can get. If you can find it in your heart to look at them not as Pakistanis but as human beings -most of whom don’t even know nor care about the Pakistan-India politics- then please give generously. If not, that is okay with us too. Just don’t lecture us on the sanctity of Indian lives and yet look at the drowning men, women and children as if they deserved to drown, just because they are not humans but Pakistanis.

I would also take this opportunity to thank Ganesh Maharaj for his gracious contribution and promise of continued support. I have always admired your level headed responses here. I don’t always agree with you, but I understand and respect what you are saying.

-JC

Posted by JumperCable | Report as abusive
 

KPSingh01,

You have certainly listed good ideas for normalisation of relations. However, what you outlined is only possible when there is a formal peace agreement (of the kind Musharraf was about to sign) where both countries are satisfied with the terms. Right now, if elements on the Pakistani side believe that their grievances (e.g., Kashmir) have not been properly redressed, then they will only try and sabotage these peace-making efforts.

And as we have seen from the Col Purohit episode, India is not lacking in such elements either. It reminds me of the Star Trek movie “The Undiscovered Country”, where both humans and Klingons conspire together to prevent peace between their civilisations, so great is their emotional dependence on a state of war.

There has to be “agreement” first. It’s OK even if both sides agree to discuss Kashmir later. But they must both agree. Without agreement, the rest will not happen.

The key to this is Gen Kayani. Only the military can carry the rest of the country along, because the civilian politicians have little credibility over there. If he is courageous, we can hope to see a breakthrough agreement. If he remains trapped in traditional PakMil thinking, we will remain mired in one of the most pointless antagonistic relations the world has known.

Paradoxically, even though I don’t wish any ill to Pakistan, it may be a good thing for Pakistan to face a severe economic crunch that forces them to abandon their quest for military vengeance. To be fair, maybe it’s a good thing for India to feel the pressure of Kashmir and the Maoist insurgency. It’s only when governments are under pressure that they will be desperate enough to seek a breakthrough and willing to make concessions. Otherwise life will go on as before and the common people will miss out on the tremendous opportunities that come from peace.

My dream situation is of a recent graduate from Pakistan asking his parents for advice. He has got two job offers, one in Lahore and one in Bangalore, and is undecided. His parents without batting an eye advise him to take up the Bangalore offer as it pays more or offers better prospects and promise to visit him every six months because it’s not that far. Another situation is a retired couple from India deciding to settle in Islamabad because it’s more affordable than New Delhi. That’s the extent to which relations should be normal.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

I was in college in 1979 when the Chinese attacked Vietnam, the USSR sent some supplies to Vietnam but did not get actively involved. There was a comment from the Chinese side that after that, Vietnamese support for the USSR would reduce from 100% to perhaps 80%.

Jackden said:

> What did China do when the flood struck Pakistan? It immediately brought the Chinese workers from Pakistan to China. [...] I am still looking for an answer to this big puzzle, why China is YET to offer substantial amount of aid to its friend Pakistan, when Pakistan is desperately looking for all sort of aid.

That’s one of the reasons why I believe India should have been quicker off the mark and offered more to assist in the Pakistan floods. Pakistanis should be able to see that at a time of trouble, they can only expect their own ‘biradari’ (however estranged) to help, and not some stranger. [Is the word 'biradari' related to 'brother', I wonder.]

It may not be a bad thing if Pakistanis’ support for China dropped from 100% to perhaps 80% after seeing the way China has responded to their crisis :-). I believe China is cynically propping up Pakistan against India because it’s a strategic nightmare for Beijing if South Asia ever comes together in peace and becomes a larger rival. Ditto the US until now. Now the US wants India-Pakistan peace to counterbalance China. Perhaps when India and Pakistan see how other world powers fear their coming together, they will realise they’ve been had.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for your kind words, JumperCable.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

“Paradoxically, even though I don’t wish any ill to Pakistan, it may be a good thing for Pakistan to face a severe economic crunch that forces them to abandon their quest for military vengeance. To be fair, maybe it’s a good thing for India to feel the pressure of Kashmir and the Maoist insurgency.”

Well said Ganesh! Governments of both countries have kind of fooled its people using hostility as a shield and have got away with broken system and structure. Unless under pressure, this “chalta hai” (anything goes) attitude has caused so much opportunity loss for the people. Having said that, Pakistani establishment would do a great job of showing sincerity by putting Mumbai handlers behind bars. India, on the other hand, should definitely reciprocate by resuming the composite peace process immediately.

But we all know that these things are easier said than done unless people who are in charge are under REAL pressure. If it takes massive floods for ISI to utter that India is not Pakistan’s biggest threat, I see it as Godsend for the long run. We still need to establish the Indian equivalent but unfortunately, prosperity hides the vices. More of Slumdog Millionaire Mr. Danny Boyle?

PS: Congratulations to regulars now that this blog looks like a decent read.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive
 

@”My dream situation is of a recent graduate from Pakistan asking his parents for advice. He has got two job offers, one in Lahore and one in Bangalore…..”
Posted by prasadgc

I hope this dream can be realized in our lifetime. Unfortunately, a humbling reality points us towards an India, where extremist nut-jobs like the Thakreys (in Maharashtra) aren’t even willing to accomodate non-maharshtrian Indians, let alone Pakistanis and a Pakistan, where the Muhajirs are still searching for a Pakistani identity, more than 60 years after leaving India for Pakistan. But nevertheless, let’s keep the faith!

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Pakistanis better get used to seeking aid from wherever it comes.

This is just one flood in one monsoon season. The damage done by the floods to the existing flood controls is certainly not going to be repaired by the next monsoon. And weakened flood controls mean Pakistan is going to be even more prone to flooding in the years to come.

All, as various geopolitical issues around Pakistan are starting to come to ahead and donor fatigue with respect to Pakistan is setting in.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive
 

The greatest contribution India could make towards Pakistan is to make life easier for the muslims of India. They could support UNO efforts if they so choose.
Incidently I saw a live program on TV from Germany to help Pakistani flood victims and witnessed the collection of many millions from the private contributors. The aid was to be given to NGOs and not the Zardari gillani Govt. of Pakistan.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

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