Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
(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
Is the flood over in Pakistan? No. Most certainly not! Notwithstanding the massive relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction operations, the devastation from the worst natural disaster in recent times continues to claim lives in scores due to the outbreak of epidemics, lack of health facilities, and shortage of food, shelter and clothing.
How horrendous life has been after the deluge is unfortunately fading away from the focus of the media as Pakistan continues to cope with a natural calamity described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as a slow tsunami, six times bigger than any other catastrophe in the last fifty years. The flood which swept through northern tip of Pakistan to Sindh affected a land mass the size of England and uprooted more than 20 million people.
Reconstruction work is on full swing – thanks to domestic and international agencies. As a resilient nation Pakistanis are doing their best to get back on their feet. No doubt there are gigantic challenges ahead but these floods have opened new opportunities to everyone whether within Pakistan or abroad.
Outside President Asif Ali Zardari’s political rally in Birmingham last weekend, I chatted to a middle-aged woman passing by about the floods in Pakistan. “I have every sympathy for Pakistan and the Pakistanis, but he is not helping them much, is he?” she said. Another woman asked me to explain why it was that the protesters were not focused on the floods but demonstrating “about all sorts”. Inside the rally, a young British Pakistani who had recently returned from a visit to his family home in Kashmir complained about negative stereotyping in the media of Pakistan that had reduced a country of some 170 million people to “a terrorist threat”.
If there is a common thread to the relatively slow western response to one of the worst catastrophes in Pakistan’s history, it is a sense of confusion, not about whether to help, but how to help. That, and the dehumanising impact of stereotypes - corrupt politicians, angry bearded protesters, suicide bombers to name but a few – that obscure the impact of the floods on the very real people – 14 million of them - affected by the disaster.
One of the more controversial arguments doing the rounds is the question of whether you can compare Pakistan’s Islamist militants to Maoist insurgents in India. Both claim to champion the cause of social justice and have been able to exploit local grievances against poor governance to win support, and both use violence against the state to try to achieve their aims.
The differences are obvious: the Islamist militants come from the religious right; the Maoists from the far-left. In Pakistan, the militants have become powerful enough to strike at the heart of the country’s major cities. In India, the Maoists remain largely confined to the country’s interiors, although their influence is spreading through large parts of its rural hinterland.