Trying to reduce us to nothingness

By Dr. Shireen M Mazari
The present rulers have certainly tried to reduce Pakistan to a joke in the eyes of the world. Here we are confronting one of the largest natural disasters of the world, as even the UN has conceded, and our President has been busy frolicking in Europe with his team of loyalists who are giving out lies, half-truths and propaganda – in fact anything to conceal the truth. Take for instance, the claim that the President’s trip to the UK was an official trip. After being asked through an email from a Pakistani journalist, whether this was the case, the British Foreign Office spokesperson, Natasha Khan, responded (August 6th) with this one-liner: “President Zardari is not on an official state visit.”

President Zardari himself claimed that he was in the UK to develop trade links with the international community but ended up having only one official meeting – and that to with PM Cameron, not any trade delegation. As for the Marshall Plan he claims he got the UK to agree to, only he seems to be aware of it as there has been nothing coming out from the British government and apparently all that has happened is that we once again pleaded with the Brits to take up the case of access for Pakistani exports to the EU markets with Brussels.

Meanwhile, costs aside – and those too are substantial given the nightly rate at the London five star hotel the President and his entourage stayed at, plus the costs of the chartered flight to Birmingham, plus the costs of the dozen or so luxury limos that were hired and thousands of pounds paid for the hiring of the International Convention Centre in Birmingham and so on – it is what was said and left unsaid that was truly damaging for Pakistan. The first issue is of course the most critical – the unsubstantiated accusations uttered by UK Prime Minister Cameron in India against Pakistan, and his refusal to retract or even modify them. One had expected that at the very least President Zardari would take this issue up since he not only refused to cancel his trip, but also refused to cancel his meeting with Cameron. Unfortunately, in his meeting with Cameron, no protest was registered. To make matters worse, President Zardari actually seemed to be in agreement with Cameron’s remarks because in an interview given later to The Telegraph (August 7th), he made a reference to rogue spies when talking of the ISI whom he said were a thing of the past. So effectively he was echoing what Cameron had said, but to show how he was making the difference he added that he had full control over the intelligence agencies and only now “everybody is completely accountable!” So if the Pakistan nation or any state institution was expecting a strong defence against the Cameron remarks they were not going to get it from the Presidency! In fact, President Zardari did not even take up the issue of the Pakistani students who were arrested on alleged terrorist charges and then found not to be guilty but were still deported – thereby having their future all but destroyed. Yet, we heard nothing on this count either from President Zardari. If he saw the ISI guilty as charged by Cameron, surely he could have pleaded the cause of these innocent Pakistani youth at least?

It is no wonder, then, that the British political elite can ride roughshod over Pakistan and the British media can go to town ridiculing and lampooning the Pakistani head of state. Even someone who is considered a friend of Pakistan like Baroness Wasti made a strange defence of Prime Minister Cameron’s remarks in an article by declaring that friendship “is meaningless unless you can be honest with each other!” That is true but does honesty demand that you publicly level unsubstantiated allegations against your friend in the territory of the foe of that friend? Where was the mutual respect Wasti talked about in Cameron’s remarks and subsequent reiteration of that position? However, given President Zardari’s absurd remarks about the UK-Pakistan historical relationship – and one only has to go throw the history of Partition to realise this – obviously even Baroness Wasti feels she can pull a fast one on Pakistan while defending her Party leader and Prime Minister!

President Zardari’s tragedy is that no one is Pakistan, save his own loyal band, was in a mood to take the cudgels up in his defence or at least against the manner in which he was treated in the UK. After all, he defied his suffering nation to go on this jaunt at a time when he should have been offering succour and support to his flood-ravaged people. It is our tragedy that our leaders are in no mood to defend Pakistan, its people or its institutions against the negative agendas of external foes posing as friends. In fact, since successive governments have allowed the US to kill our people while violating our sovereignty at will, one can conclude that neither the previous uniformed dispensation nor the present civilian democratic dispensation is prepared to take up the cudgels for the Pakistani nation against the US and the agenda of the Indo-US nexus. As for the UK, it never befriended Pakistan, especially on the issue of Kashmir and if our leaders are not well-versed in our history, they need to get rid of this critical deficit. That is the only way they will finally realise who has truly been Pakistan’s friend in our times of need.

While the President has been enjoying Europe, the floods have revealed the sheer incompetence of our bureaucracy and the total lack of disaster management infrastructure. Despite ERRA and then NDMA and the earlier spending on the NLC — it is time the Planning Commission investigated the NLC since it came into being under its purview – we have progressed not an iota in terms of coping with natural disasters, or manmade ones either. While one concedes that these floods are unprecedented, yet every year the monsoons bring floods and every year there is a disaster with no SOPs that immediately become operationalised. Only on paper we have grand schemes one after another but they remain confined to dusty files at best. Pakistan’s bureaucracy is truly a white elephant that continues to undermine the welfare of the people rather than furthering it. Not that the political rulers are faring much better. Where there is disaffection with the workings of local officials, for instance in Punjab, they are simply being removed or transferred. But the problem is that for any new person to come into an outlying area in the midst of a disaster is to make the situation much worse since he is not acquainted at all with the lay of the land so to speak. Yet, this is what has happened in many parts of southern Punjab which has further aggravated the flood disaster. Despite all the photo ops of the CM and PM touring disaster areas – either by boat or helicopter – once they are gone so is any presence of the civil administration. When all is said and done it is the military that is showing a continuous presence, especially in difficult-to-access areas or areas that are off the national radar screen.

At this time, substantive external humanitarian aid would have been welcome but most external donors, especially the rich developed states are showing no signs of giving any cash to the government because of a trust deficit. It is truly shameful that even in these times of humanitarian crisis of a scale larger than the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2004 Tsunami put together, foreign donors including our so-called allies are not prepared to trust our leaders to pass on the money they would get to those in need. As a nation we should hang our heads in shame for having leaders who inspire no monetary trust or credibility, even when their people have been hit by catastrophic floods. Truly our rulers are seeking to reduce us to nothingness. Mercifully, this nation is far greater and more resilient than all its detractors.

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