The skewed narrative on Pakistan flood aid: “help me or I’ll kill you”

September 10, 2010

handsOne of the arguments that comes up frequently for helping the victims of Pakistan’s floods is that otherwise Islamist militants will exploit the disaster, and the threat of terrorism to the west will rise. It’s an argument that makes me wince every time I read it. 

It implies that wanting to help people simply because they are suffering from hunger, homelessness and disease is a hopelessly outdated concept; that until these hungry, homeless and diseased people turn up at a bombing near you, then there is no reason to give them money.  (For a great take on this, do read Manan Ahmed’s “I am a bhains” at Chapati Mystery).

Perhaps I am caricaturising a bit – many well-intentioned people who have urged the international community to give more aid to Pakistan’s 20 million flood victims have tried to give their appeals added urgency by lacing them with dark warnings of what might happen if they don’t. 

But I’d like to ask readers here whether they think people are more likely to give money out of fear or out of kindness.

First some comments.

The Pakistan floods have been a slow-developing disaster, yet on a scale which defies comprehension, and as such have had relatively little television coverage, particularly in the United States. The aid given has lagged far behind money provided, for example, for the earthquake in Haiti.

You might argue, therefore, that ringing alarm bells about the threat from Islamist militants is necessary to get people to pay attention.  But does aid-giving work that way?

On the ground, you don’t see evidence of Islamist militants trying, as the cliches would have you believe, to turn flood victims into suicide bombers.

True, the UN blacklisted Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the humanitarian wing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, is out helping flood victims under their new public name, Falah-e-Insaniyat. But they don’t have the resources to be out in force - such is the scale of the devastation with so many roads cut off that only institutions like the Pakistan army and navy have the helicopters, boats and trucks needed to reach people.

Anecdotally, we went out of our way to find the Falah-e-Insaniyat in south Punjab, and between stopping to talk to other flood victims, the journey took the best part of 14 hours by road. So it was not as though they were popping up at every corner.  Where we found them, they were taking flood relief by boat to stranded Shi’ite villagers - hardly the kind of people you would expect to sign up to the Sunni Islamist cause.

That is not to say that the political situation in Pakistan is not bad. For a very gloomy assessment, do read Ahmed Rashid’s latest piece in The National Interest. For a sign of how this malaise is playing out, read this report by Mike Georgy, one of my colleagues at Reuters, about two teenage boys, both promising students, lynched by a mob over a case of mistaken identity.

But to return to the flood victims, none of that is their responsibility.

The Pakistani establishment has a tendency, according to its critics, of negotiating with a gun pointed to its own head – an argument that often works well in a nuclear-armed country threatened by al Qaeda-linked militants.

I did not see that mindset among those affected by the floods. I will donate more money to Pakistan aid appeals not because I am afraid of being bombed, but because I saw people who were anxious to get on and rebuild their lives

I will donate more money because I have a clear picture in my mind of the young girls in a relief centre who all beamed and said “thank you” in English in unison after I had done no more than sit down and talk to them for five minutes. Or of the other stranded villagers who insisted on giving me a sour glass of lassi since they could see I was too hot. And who then lined up en masse on the shore of their newly created island and waved goodbye as our boat took us back to “the mainland”.

I don’t need fear to want to help these people – though admittedly I don’t know easily what best to do. But I’d like to know what readers think. Is the narrative that we need to help the flood victims for our own safety helping or hindering compassion?

8 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

@”But I’d like to ask readers here whether they think people are more likely to give money out of fear or out of kindness.”

National govts, specifically in western countries (US, UK EU etc) are certainly motivated by fear, while giving aid to Pakistan but individuals are mostly giving on humanitarian grounds & not out of fear. If american troops were not engaged in AfPak, I seriously doubt that my govt would have provided $200 mn +, to a country, where a vast majority of the population hates us with a passion.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Skewed News, Jari Lindholm. Jari Lindholm said: The skewed narrative on Pakistan flood aid: “help me or I’ll kill you”. http://is.gd/f5qCd [...]

> ”But I’d like to ask readers here whether they think people are more likely to give money out of fear or out of kindness.”

I don’t know about that, but I would have asked the opposite question: “Are people likely to give money in spite of fear?”

I would think most people outside Pakistan have a rather unfavourable impression of the country these days, which would tend to harden their hearts, yet plenty of them are also motivated by the Bernard Shaw philosophy: “I have no enemies under eleven.” I normally wouldn’t want to contribute to a country whose controlling elite have refined a policy of diplomacy through terror, yet the idea of millions of children being exposed to needless danger of dysentery and cholera motivates me to contribute my mite.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

Myra
“But I’d like to know what readers think. Is the narrative that we need to help the flood victims for our own safety helping or hindering compassion?”

-The people in the villages are more open hearted and kind/generous. And now you have experienced that on your own while on the ground.
As far as helping the flood victims is concerned, I think the notion that help is necessary for security is certainly hindering compassion and affecting donations. Instead the slogan should have been that these people have entreprenurial skills and helping them regain their lost property would speed up the recovery, we need to do the correct thing.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Myra,

Also, the aid factor is certainly affected by the wave of anti-Islamic sentiment steadily spreading in the US & western cuntries (Germany, France, UK etc). The general reaction that I got (about giving for the flood victims)in the US, was “if they (Pakistanis) hate us so much, burn our flags & support the terrorists who to kill our troops & threaten us at home, why the hell should we help them? Let the terrorists help them”. It’s unfortunate but that’s the sentiment currently prevalent in the US.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Manan Ahmed, Azmat Khan, Azmat Khan, Skewed News, Jari Lindholm and others. Jari Lindholm said: The skewed narrative on Pakistan flood aid: “help me or I’ll kill you”. http://is.gd/f5qCd [...]

Yeah right. Pakistan government asks for help from those who dont want to give but refuses help from those who want to extend hand of friendship with open heart.

Pakistan high commisioner to India says that Pak government machinery has no channel to accept aid from Indians and route to flood victims.

So tell me all u Pakistani guys here, is your government being such pig headed about India, helping any bit to flood victims. Your government says it will not join hands with India even if that means prolonged suffering for its own people.

I guess people sitting in Pakistan parliament are far more corrupt and pig headed fools than those sitting in Indian Parliament.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Manan Ahmed, miral, Abdul Qadir Memon, Sahar Habib Ghazi, Naheed Mustafa and others. Naheed Mustafa said: "Th Pakistani establishment has a tendency, accrding to its critics, of negotiating with a gun pointed to its own head" http://bit.ly/9Gc9Uo [...]

777xxx777 said:

> Pakistan government asks for help from those who dont want to give but refuses help from those who want to extend hand of friendship with open heart.

I was also disappointed to read this: http://bit.ly/cNZ8Kb

If I was from a third country, I would ask myself why I would want to donate when the Pakistani government clearly has the luxury of selectively refusing some aid. Shame on them.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

>>Is the narrative that we need to help the flood victims for our own safety helping or hindering compassion?

It is hindering aid as nobody likes to be blackmailed. On the other hand, most of these articles with a theme of give me or else were written by Pakistanis. Pls read

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnew s/asia/pakistan/7941820/Pakistan-floods- an-emergency-for-the-West.html
or
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/com mentators/ayesha-siddiqa-my-country-need s-help-not-disapproval-2052787.html

More importantly read the comments. The following themes emerge. I will not donate becoz:
1) Pak govt is very corrupt. Money will not reach the people but line pockets of the elite.
2) we are suffering in global meltdown – no money to donate.
3) if they can afford nukes they should be able to take care of their own country. If not, their Prez can sell his castle in Normandy.
4) Wikileaks shows that Pak is betraying US and covertly supporting Taliban leading to deaths in Nato troops. Why should we help the enemy?
5)These people hate us anyways – burning flag and Cameron pictures. Why should we help them?
6) Where is China/Islamic countries?
7)I dislike all Muslims.

While it is not possible to handle or answer point 7, some clear analysis and answers to point 1-6 should help.

Posted by nvrforgetmbai | Report as abusive

“But I’d like to ask readers here whether they think people are more likely to give money out of fear or out of kindness.”

II think there is too much over complicated high falutin analysis going on over basic human responses. The question, unconsciously, does injustice to the victims. Fear has nothing to do with it as far as I am concerned.

If the response has been below expectations, I think it could be said that people have have not donated because they see no reason to help those who generally act against their interests. If the response is along expected lines, then it is because they have donated, not out of fear, but out of basic human decency and compassion.

Donating out of fear is a response to blackmail. That is surely not applicable in this context.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

[...] or the Quetta Shura, or their fertilizer factory providing the fuel for IEDs in Afghanistan. The skewed narrative on Pakistan flood aid: “help me or I’ll kill you” | Pakistan:… Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan > Irfan [...]