In the aftermath of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, U.S Chinook helicopters – dubbed “angels of mercy” by Pakistanis – lifted in millions worth of aid to help victims. Subsequently, U.S approval ratings in Pakistan shot to an all-time high. After the devastating floods last week, the U.S provided immense relief assistance again. For a relationship between the two nations to last, though, we require more. Pakistan needs continuous aid that targets our nations’ neediest.
The mighty Indus showed no mercy as it swept away entire families, livelihoods and villages within hours in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh last week. These are the deadliest floods the region has experienced since 1929, and the number of people and places affected continues to rise daily.
Pakistan’s already strained leadership is dealing with more carnage in volatile Karachi, and an ongoing extremist insurgency. It is struggling to provide adequate relief. The international community, however, has been quick to step in: Netherlands, Greece, France, and Canada -to name a few- have all given millions in aid to the much-needed humanitarian relief efforts in Pakistan. Our Muslim brothers from Saudi and the Islamic World have offered their prayers (thanks! We pray for you too.)
The United States has been incredible. In spite of widespread unpopularity in Pakistan – a meager 8% popularity according to a July 2010 PEW report – the U.S has swiftly and effectively provided 35 million dollars and supplied helicopters, medical instruments, boats, pre-fabricated steel bridges and 200,000 halal meals.
When it comes to utilizing the $7.5 billion granted to Pakistan by the Kerry-Lugar bill, where is this impeccable organization then? The U.S Senate passed the controversial bill on September 24, 2009. Keeping its end of the deal, the Pakistan army has made considerable headway in battling the extremists in Swat, Waziristan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Why, then, has the common man still not benefited from the alleged developmental-aid package?
Why not use the Kerry-Lugar funds to build a much-needed hospital in, say, the impoverished region of Muzaffargarh? Or why not invest in the severely lacking hospital-based after-care programs in the existing DHQ hospital there? Even simpler: what about generators to keep electricity running in that hospital, so that it can keep its vaccines refrigerated and reach its polio eradication goals?
What about constructing a sewerage treatment plant in Haroonabad, where the sewerage system collapsed decades ago? Watch how instances of malaria, and diarrhea – the number one killer of children in Pakistan – subside. When an individual is given the chance to reach his/her potential, only then can they positively contribute to their state. A strong Pakistan, in turn, can be an immense asset to the world.
Pakistanis – even initial advocates of the bill – are losing patience with our ally’s promise. The U.S must earn the respect of the common man and those living under and just above the poverty line – 2/3 of our population by the way, Ms. Clinton – instead of catering to Pakistan’s civil and military elite. That is how the high trust deficit that currently marks our relationship will subside. Chances are the rickshaw driver coming from Sheikhupura will most likely be uninformed about U.S botch-ups in the Philippines or Latin America, or even its inconsistent foreign policy with Pakistan, and its hand in the creation of the Taliban in the 1980s. They will, however, feel the palpable difference that sewerage lines make in their lives and in their villages.
There is a fissure, a Gulf, between what the U.S defines as poverty, and what Pakistan does. The poor in America have televisions and insurance; the poor in Pakistan walk miles for clean water and cannot afford shoes. The necessity of the continuation of democracy or the restoration of the judges is a distant reality for them, then, when they have seven hungry eyes blinking back at them everyday, and a roof that collapses when it rains.
Start with the grass roots, and deal with our immediate needs, I say. Don’t dawdle through layers of bureaucracy and working papers. Addressing Pakistan’s most pressing problems will allow America, an infamous lover of quick-fix solutions, to be received with more positivity by Pakistanis and make a realistic “difference.”
But please. Lets see that money first.
Shehrbano Taseer is a freelance journalist currently based in Washington, D.C