Winning Hearts and Minds of Pakistani Nation
Devastated by unrelenting floods, six million people in Pakistan are now in desperate need of humanitarian assistance purely to survive.
Ousted from their homes by the worst flooding in 80 years, most of them are short of basic food items, necessary medicines and protective shelter from persistent monsoon rain. In terms of human and financial losses, according to latest reports, around 1,600 people have died, and around 14 million others have been affected, directly or indirectly.
In the most severely hit areas villages and crops have been totally wiped out, and roads and railway links washed away, leaving no communication between different parts of Pakistan. This flooding, in simple terms, has set Pakistan's economy and lifestyle back many decades.
The colossal scale of the disaster has eclipsed the agony of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In the case of the Indian Ocean tsunami, about five million people were affected; the 2005 earthquake demolished 280,000 homes; and the earthquake in Haiti affected three million people.
Classed as possibly the worst catastrophe in current times, this disaster will require billions of dollars to restore livelihoods and rebuild infrastructure. Clearly this feat falls outside the capability of Pakistan's government, yet flood victims desperately need help.
The impact of this flooding is not limited to those directly hit by its angry waters. With roads and crops wiped out, and fertile farmland still under water, food supplies to unaffected parts of Pakistan are dwindling. Consequently, food prices in these areas are soaring, making life extremely difficult.
The long-term impact of this flooding is difficult to measure at the moment. There are widespread fears of disease spreading, due to an acute shortage of medicines and medical treatment; also, the scale of aid so far has not been up to the scale and urgency of the devastation. If necessary steps are not taken today, and disease spreads, it will be more difficult to save human lives tomorrow.
During this calamitous time the political leadership of Pakistan demonstrated irresponsible behaviour. While floods were devastating his country, the President of Pakistan was on a lengthy tour of France and the United Kingdom, leaving the remaining government machinery busily defending and justifying their leader's decision not to return.
Opposition parties, on the other hand, busily scored points, and this scenario gave extremist organizations the golden opportunity to step in and win the hearts and minds of the people.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) urged the government of Pakistan to reject aid from the United States. It also offered relief work in flood-hit areas, providing the government ensured that their members would not be arrested during these operations. L-e-T, another extremist organization, considered responsible for the Mumbai
attack, is also working in affected areas, under a different name. The government is finding itself in no position to stop such organizations performing humanitarian and relief activities, unless it is capable itself of managing the huge relief operation required.
Resentful of Pakistan's ineffectual and neglectful government, victims of the flooding are being cared for by Islamic hard-liners, in many areas, specially the worst hit Khyber Pakhtunkhawa.
In just two districts of the north-western part of the country they have been providing more than 25,000 hot meals every day. More than four thousand volunteers are busy in Nowshera alone, a district of Khyber-Pukhtunkhawa, helping people to rebuild flattened houses and restore their lives.
In Charsada, another city in the Khyber-Pukhtunkhawa province, the Haqqani Madrasa, whose alumni includes Jalaludin Haqqani (who runs a militant network to fight allied forces in Afghanistan), has converted its building into a shelter for 2,500 flood victims, serving hot meals, and arranging medical care.
The government of Pakistan has provided shelter to tens of thousands of people inside public schools, but their living conditions are appalling.
Although saved from the flooding, these people are now hungry, without medication, and living in insanitary conditions. With insufficient resources and manpower the government's aid efforts largely depend on international aid groups and foreign governments.
The slow process of aid delivery has provided the opportunity for non-state actors, especially those Islamic charities who have extremist tendencies, to butt in and offer their services to people sorely in need of help.
As flooding has devastated villages, roads, farmlands, bridges and railway tracks alike, victims urgently require support, and the authorities need to direct their resources towards re-developing the infrastructure, but the cash-strapped government of Pakistan, which constantly demonstrates its lack of political will and commitment, is clearly not in any position to take up this challenge.
Therefore, it is time for the international community to step in, leaving no space for militants to win the hearts and minds of people in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province. Western government may opt to support people through their aid agencies working in the region, as opposed to supplying the Pakistani government with aid money.
It is a time, specially for the West, to develop grass roots liaison and to prove to the people of Pakistan that they are friends, not foes. This is something which even an effective army operation cannot undertake! flood aid www.pakpositive.com