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Eyewitness Pakistan floods

In the name of humanity

Bob Wylie Reporter

Underlying distrust is hampering a much- needed aid effort

Te floods in Pakistan have provoked a

huge humanitarian and economic crisis. Te statistics tell the story but probably don’t convey the absolute scale of the calamity. Across the country, 20 million people were affected by the floods, 1.2 million made homeless and 3 million acres of standing crops – almost a quarter of the harvest – were ruined by the floodwater. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, says the situation is unprecedented. Unfortunately the response from the world’s

governments hasn’t been unprecedented. In total, to date, some $800m has been pledged but of that, only $500m has been redeemed. In terms of donations made per head of population of the donor country, Norway is leading the way, with $3 per head. Britain’s generosity measures just over $1, but there’s a roll call of shame to follow; Germany has made donations equivalent to 22 cents per head, Spain 15 cents, Italy 7 cents and France 3 cents. Tis reflects what the media in Pakistan call

the trust deficit. In plain speaking, this means that there’s an undeclared conception that the government of Pakistan won’t deliver. Worse – that government officials and provincial potentates will trouser the aid money long before it reaches the needy. Enter the president of Pakistan Asif Zardari – husband of the late President Benazir Bhutto. Mr Zardari became known as Mr Ten Per

Cent in Pakistan for his alleged penchant for skimming ten per cent from government contracts when his wife was in power. Being on tour in the UK and then holidaying in a French chateau in July, when his country was inundated didn’t enhance his worldwide standing. Rumours also abound that whilst millions were losing their homes in Pakistan, Mr Zardari paid £140m for a Hyde Park apartment during his London visit. Te News – a respected newspaper in Pakistan – broke the story. To date it seems Mr Zardari hasn’t sued.

If proof positive were needed to support

the conception that this is a country where everyone in power is on the take, the no ball cricketers came to the crease right on time. So Pakistan has a hat-trick of a humanitarian, an economic, and a political crisis all running simultaneously. Ten there’s the Taliban – among others, funded by the CIA to the tune of $5bn in the 1980s when the agency bankrolled the Mujaheddin war against the Soviet Union. In the first two weeks of September the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for four major suicide bombings, taking 150 lives. Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and Kohat were all on the roll call. Te Taliban leaders give quotes to the

media, blithely explaining that they intend to take advantage of the army and police being stretched beyond breaking point to bomb their foes to oblivion. Te enemy included six school children in Kohat in the first week of September. But beyond sending willing martyrs to the

killing fields, the Pakistan Taliban is on the march again in other more insidious ways. In the Peshawar region, where Pakistan borders Afghanistan, for months now, medieval militants have been kidnapping barbers for cutting beards; they’ve also been blowing up girls’ schools to stop them getting an education. Of course, the conclusions being drawn in some quarters to all of this is: the flood crisis

is unmanageable, the state can’t or won’t curb the fundamentalists, and the government is led by spivs and racketeers so maybe we should leave Pakistan to the Pakistanis for a while and wait to see what happens. Tis is a mistake. Common humanity dictates that a way needs to be found to help the dispossessed and desperate flood victims. It is the rural poor who have suffered most – the dirt poor who have lost everything, if that isn’t a contradiction. Te world cannot look the other way confronted by the magnitude of this suffering. But beyond that, there’s a much more significant fact to be acknowledged. Pakistan is more important to the West’s long-term political interests than Afghanistan. Surely it’s time now to be honest about that. Tose who say we should be in Afghanistan

“for the long haul” need to face the facts on the ground. Te war is lost. In 2006, Britain sent its troops to Helmand. As the Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins put it recently: “Tis was supposed to be our Malaya. It has turned out to be our Cyprus”. Sending in American forces to Helmand, in their thousands, is all that has delayed total nemesis for the British at the hands of the insurgents, to give but one example. Part of the Obama strategy in Afghanistan

now involves a strategic retreat towards the cities in preparation for departure much later. It isn’t difficult to predict that Kabul, in due course, might become a new Saigon. Te Canadians and the Dutch have recognised that the game’s a bogey and are leaving next year. Te UK Government should take heed and let go of America’s coat-tails. Te UK Government announced recently

that between April 2001 and March 2010 the war in Afghanistan cost £11bn. Te real figure is probably double that since, for some reason, these figures don’t include the salaries of soldiers and staff. What if a fraction of that total was spent on flood relief and an independent school building programme for Pakistan? What would that do to create a bulwark against the fanatical mullahs and Islamic fundamentalists waiting in the wings? Make no mistake, in the current chaos, the

spectre of a theocratic revolution is haunting Islamabad. Après Pakistan,the deluge, so to speak.

Bob Wylie covered the recent visit of the ex- Labour MP Mohammad Sarwar to Pakistan to look at flood relief projects.

20 September 2010 Holyrood 15

© Oxfam International

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