Looking beyond the calamity – by Imtiaz Alam

Indeed the natural and no less man-made calamity of the floods is still continuing across Pakistan. The scale of devastation is so horrendously huge and still so incalculable that no government or agency of any capacity could cope with what the UN Secretary General has described as a “continuing tsunami”. Cursing a most vilified government or a too dependent fragile state for its failures while inflicting the unkindest cut of all against over 20 million flood victims by pre-empting any humanitarian assistance through a motivated campaign of distrust by a section of the media in the worthiness of the five governments caused greater damage than the slackness of an executive with very limited capacity. What could the US do when hurricane Katrina struck? The real test will come when the continuing rains and floods recede and the real tragedy and enormity of destruction stare at us all.

You can choose to bring down the state and society. The jihadis eagerly await and some media houses are engineering for their petty ratings and gains or selfish enmity by spreading gloom and doom. Or you can put every person, talent, resource and institution both nationally and internationally to the service of the most deserving to change the tragedy into an opportunity. Those who are provoking the plebeians or the aggrieved to take a Jacobean or riotous course are playing with fire that will burn them and everybody else. Playing ethnic or tribal cards will be no less disastrous than the floods. Nor would playing a partisan or expedient politics on the death and destruction of the millions provide any relief to the miseries of the affected. Most dangerous is the tokenism of the so-called welfare outfits attached to jihadi organisations who are trying to fish in the troubled waters for funds and recruitments. Those who are craving for a regime change are only trying to superimpose a political crisis on the worst ever natural disaster at the worst time that this nation is passing through after 1969-71.

When mullahs accuse the flood victims of having invited the wrath of the Almighty due to their sins, they themselves commit a sin by adding insult to the injuries of the displaced. The mullahs and their cohorts self-conveniently forget that the most sinful are safe as ever and still prospering on the plight of the deprived. No doubt nature and its selection is sometimes quite cruel, but this cannot be attributed to God. It is also in a big way a self-inflicted injury by and on humans. Global warming, a badly damaged ecosystem and melting of the Himalayan glaciers, besides deforestation, conversion of wetlands to farms, habitation of the natural flood plains, destruction of natural infrastructure, clogging up of natural drainage systems, are some of the causes behind the heavy rains and unprecedented floods and destruction. While there is a great dearth of relief, goods, food, water, medicines, shelter, and service providers on the spot, a greedy race is going on to raise funds even by those who neither pay their due taxes nor have ever accounted for their previous humanitarian services.

Substituting a transparent, incorruptible and efficient mechanism with the option of “pious men”, supposedly always found in Karachi and Punjab, is an absurd replica of ‘Vilayat-e Faqih’ (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists), which serves neither the purpose of good and efficient governance nor a democratic federation. The real issue is to set right and put into higher gear the existing machinery, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the provincial and district administrations, with powerful, professional and competent overseeing with regularity by federal and provincial bodies. Our statesman-like opposition leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif, was right in his bipartisan approach when he proposed a credible regulatory authority to which the prime minister had immediately agreed.

However, this could not be a substitute to already existing structures/institutions/administrations. Such a regulatory body should have an effective supervisory role with genuine representation from all the stakeholders from the federation and all the federating units. The prime minister must take Mian Nawaz Sharif into confidence and consult all the parties represented in parliament and the four federating units to make this council credible and representative, which he should have announced along with the PML-N, ANP, MQM, JUI-F chiefs and Baloch parties. Still he must take into confidence the leaders of all major parties while nominating the representatives from the federating units. This will put to rest all those who are bent upon demonising all the politicians and derailing the democratic system on one pretext or the other, and shamefully so by fanning anarchy and spreading despondency on the havoc created by the unprecedented floods.

The destruction caused by these floods is much greater in scale than the natural disasters of the tsunami, Haiti and Kashmir earthquakes. Unlike swift and finite damage caused by the earthquakes, the current catastrophe is ongoing for weeks and is still continuing in an area bigger than England. According to the UN’s and NDMA’s preliminary estimates, 20 million people are affected, 4.6 million rendered shelterless, 980,484 houses damaged, economic destruction of an estimated $ 43 billion. The whole infrastructure has been wiped out, besides the massive destruction of the cotton, rice, sugarcane and vegetables crops in vast areas. All economic indicators for the next three years are going to nosedive, resulting in greater fiscal and current account deficits.

In the short term, according to some estimates, over $ 2 billion will be required for immediate relief and rehabilitation. An activated UN has asked for $ 460 million, which is way short of what is required. The reconstruction costs will go beyond the current estimates of $ 10-15 billion. And the reconstruction should take place within the frame of planned villages, small and medium sized towns with all civic facilities and services in an environment-friendly environment. The relief and reconstruction financial support to the affected must be routed to them directly through pre-paid cards, as happened so transparently and honestly in the case of the IDPs in Swat, on the basis of accurate damage assessment with the help of satellites. Both mid-term and long-term strategies should be evolved to prepare for future floods. Reviving the Kalabagh Dam controversy at this critical hour is not only misplaced as 100 Kalabagh dams could not store the water that is still flowing into the Arabian Sea, but is also disruptive of a fragile federation.

The budget and priorities will have to be drastically revised to pre-empt not just the derailment and break-up of the democratic federation, as happened after the worst cyclone in the then East Pakistan in 1970 that led to the break-up of the country, but also to turn around the current adversity into a greater opportunity to rebuild the country and strengthen the faith of our illustrious people in their country’s destiny. A failure in this gigantic task can only benefit the terrorists and our enemies, who will also hurt the whole world. A moratorium on debt repayment for seven years, if not write off of $ 53 billion on the basis of “state of necessity” or “right to life and basic necessities”, must be sought from the debtors to save $ 3 billion annually, beside renegotiating the ongoing arrangements with the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other donor agencies.

Access to US and European markets for our textiles, implementation of the construction of opportunity zones promised by the US, cutting down ministries and non-development expenditure, implementation of VAT, imposition of a flood relief tax on the rich and yet keeping on the path of reforms in the economic, administrative and governance spheres are the things to be done. Besides mobilising all our national resources and uniting all our energies, as Mr Sharif has rightly suggested, we must attract the international community, including the US, EU, ASEAN, SAARC and OIC, to do whatever is possible to help provide immediate relief and rebuild Pakistan through a sort of Marshall Plan that Pakistan needs so urgently. To win the war against terrorism, the international community can’t win without this country. This is the time to act and not disrupt.

Source: Dailytimes



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