Floods in Pakistan Carry the Seeds of Upheaval
Floods in Pakistan Carry the Seeds of Upheaval
By CARLOTTA GALL
Published: September 5, 2010
Pakistan — When the governor of Punjab Province arrived recently in this small town with truckloads of relief goods for flood victims, his visit was as much a political mission as a humanitarian one. His message to the hundred or so displaced people gathered under an awning was that the government was there for them.
Long after floodwaters subside, Pakistanis will face a lack of housing, food shortages and price spikes, among other hardships.
“The people say this was an act of God,” the governor, Salman Taseer, said in an interview after reassuring the crowd. “But what comes now, they say, is the act of man. If we don’t deliver, they will not forgive us.”
After scathing criticism that they were unprepared for the disaster and inept in their initial response, government officials, ministers and even President Asif Ali Zardari are crisscrossing flood-affected areas of the country in a frantic effort to ease public anger and despair.
Pakistani officials, diplomats and aid workers warn that while civil unrest has so far been averted, the aftermath of the worst-ever flooding in Pakistan could destabilize the country in the months to come and aggravate the already deep regional, sectarian and class fissures.
Management of the disaster has added to the distrust that many Pakistanis already feel for their civilian political leaders, while the armed forces have burnished their image performing rescue and relief missions along the length of the flooded areas.
There have been angry accusations from politicians and flood victims that officials have guided relief to their own party supporters, and serious allegations that powerful landlords and politicians diverted surging floodwaters to protect their own lands at the expense of others.
Most political commentators say the president and his government are safe for the time being, if only because no one wants to take on the immense responsibilities of the crisis. And the main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, does not appear ready to test his party in national elections.
The coalition government, headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party, has been in power only two years. After nine years of military rule before that, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, seems to have little appetite to take on direct management of the country while he can enhance the military’s image away from the political limelight.
The real dangers for the government may lurk once the first phase of the emergency passes. Many flood victims will accept immediate hardship, but will be less able to withstand prolonged hunger and homelessness, Pakistani officials and aid workers say.
Demonstrations by flood victims have so far been only sporadic and mostly peaceful. In one typical episode on Tuesday, village women sat blocking traffic for 20 minutes across a main highway in southern Sindh Province, until the police promised to make sure they received some aid.
But the government, already saddled with severe economic and security problems, may not survive the large-scale social upheaval and long-term hardship from the floods — including a lack of housing, food shortages and price spikes — officials, diplomats and aid workers warned.
The floods have affected an estimated 20 million people, an eighth of the population. Millions of dollars’ worth of crops and livestock have been lost. No region has escaped the destruction.
The floods are still devouring villages and farmland in the southern province of Sindh, and about 800,000 people remain stranded and without food, Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program of the United Nations, said in an interview during a visit to Pakistan last week. Nearly 10 million people are considered short of food and their situation will remain precarious for six months to a year, she said.
Ms. Sheeran, too, warned of more dangerous long-term effects. People face a triple threat, she said: loss of crops, loss of seed for the next planting season and loss of a daily income.
Amid the emergency, politicians seem to have become absorbed in scoring points and squabbling, which has added to the disillusionment many Pakistanis already feel for their leaders, many of whom are rich landowners.
Much of the media and the main opposition leader, Mr. Sharif, castigated President Zardari for going ahead with a visit to France and Britain when the floods first occurred, and expressed doubts that the government would manage the inflow of assistance honestly. Mr. Sharif suggested an independent commission to oversee the relief effort, an idea President Zardari swiftly rejected.
Mr. Taseer, who like the president is a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party, took a swipe at Mr. Sharif in his speech here to flood victims.
“Nawaz Sharif is in Murree right now, but I am not criticizing him,” he told them, referring to the resort in the Himalayan foothills where the Pakistani elite spend hot summer months. “We have political differences but this is the time to put them aside.”
That has not been the case. The leader of one of the government’s coalition partners, Altaf Hussain, who runs the Muttahida Qaumi Movement from London, suggested that “patriotic generals” should step in to lead the country in such a crisis, a reminder that he could cause the government to collapse if he chose to pull out of the coalition.
One of the most angry accusations has come from Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, a former prime minister whose constituency in the province of Baluchistan has been almost totally inundated.
In spite of its source and deficiencies here and there, a thought-provoking article all in all.
magar itnay baray aur khoof naak sailaab se bhi hum ne koi sabaq nahi seekha .afsos.
kiya hum itnay bigarr chukay hain kay humain hilany kay liye iss se bhi kisi bari museebat ki zarorat hogi .
Allah rahim karay .
Allah rahim karay zaroor. Aur kare ga bhi. I believe we will come out of this intact and transformed. And upheaval there will be as well.
inshallah ... aap kay moun mein Ghee Shakar (iftar kay baad)
Thanks, choosy, thanks.