Friday 20 August 2010

With courage, Pak people face Nature (PO)

M D Nalapat

Unlike the catastrophe in Haiti, which was extensively covered in international media, there has been much less coverage of the recent floods in Pakistan, caused by unprecedented rains. In Peshawar, on a single day (July 28) nearly 318 millimetres of rain fell, while the previous record was 217 millimetres - in an entire month. Stretching over 1500 miles and affecting nearly 25 million people, comparisons have been made between this flood and Cyclone Bhola in 1970, which hit then East Pakistan. However, while Bhola led to an estimated 300,000 deaths, the loss from the present disaster has thus far been contained at less than 2000 directly dead, although illnesses and accidents can push this figure higher during the coming weeks. Thus far less than $500 million have been pledged by foreign countries for flood relief, although close friends of Pakistan such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia can be expected to match the US contribution, thus far the biggest. Both governments need to launch an immediate appeal within their citizens to donate money for the floods, funds that should flow through agencies that have a good track record of effectiveness in their operations.

Where in 1970 it was East Pakistan that was hit, this time around the primary damage has been done in the Baloch and Pashtun territories of Pakistan. Major infrastructure has been destroyed, and livelihoods lost. The international community will need to locate $ 5 billion of civilian assistance each year for three years, if Pakistan is to regain the assets lost in a few deadly weeks last month. Although Pakistan’s main ally, the US, has given large amounts of assistance since the 1950s, the overwhelming bulk of this has gone to the military, a situation that is expected to continue under the Pakistan-friendly trinity of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and CIA chief Leon Panetta, two of whom are loyalists of Bill Clinton, while the Defense Secretary is a George W Bush pick. Although Candidate Obama sought to distance himself from the Washington DC Beltway, once elected President, he ensured that his administration is 70% Clinton, 20% Bush and 10% Obama in its composition, one reason why the gloss seems to have disappeared from Barack Obama, who promised change but has thus far delivered a warmed-over version of the past two decades.

Will the $15 billion that Pakistan needs actually get delivered? The odds are that less than 10% of this amount will finally become available, thereby leaving Pakistan to pick up the broken pieces of livelihoods and neighbourhoods. This would be the moment of truth for Pakistan, the truth being that a country of 200 million people that has nuclear devices in its possession needs to ensure that it relies on itself for its future progress. Because of changes in geopolitical currents, the climate for international assistance has changed considerably. Although absolute figures are still high, the fact is that much of the so-called “assistance” that is given gets spent on personnel from the very countries giving the help. In Afghanistan, for instance, more than 67% of the “grants” given to that country by NATO powers gets utilised in staff of those very countries and their protection and perquisites, including fancy vehicles, air-conditioned dwellings and multiple household and other local staff serving personal and other needs. Very little of the euros and dollars reaches the poor in Afghanistan, one reason why (in the words of so many commentators),the people of that war-wracked country do not seem to be “grateful” for the “enormous financial sacrifices” being made by the NATO powers in Afghanistan. In Pakistan’s case as well, the (very inadequate) number of dollars and euros that it finally gets may - as in the case of its northern neighbour - get spent on the salaries, travel and other local expenses of the “generous donors”. Here, a comparison with India may be instructive.

Decades ago, authorities in India decided to avoid so-called “international assistance”, even refusing help for natural disasters. Once India escaped from its “Dependent in Outside Aid” mindset, and accepted that a big country needs to be self0-reliant in its core operations, local institutions began to get created. Of course, using India as an excuse, the well-staffed and luxuriously-salaried “international aid” industry continues to collect money from citizens in the developed world. Some years ago, when the tsunami hit, several international NGOs sent teams to India. This columnist saw for himself the “charitable activities” of a few of them in Tamil Nadu, the state where he himself participated in relief operations, arranging for funerals and distributing grain. Many of the volunteers who arrived lost little time in striking up romances with others who too had ostensibly come for joining in relief operations, and spent much of the money collected in their travels, with a little going to a few lucky people (limited operations well-covered by their media and in their own reports).There may have been a few sincere international volunteers, who were there other than for Disaster Tourism, but this columnist did not come across them in the two weeks that he himself was in the field. Several state authorities were finally forced to ban international volunteers from several locations, because of the absence of tangible help that came from them, busy as they were in emailing back home about how they were “saving the lives of hundreds of the wretched”, presumably by throwing evening parties and indulging in motorcycle pairings.

Naturally, international media reports spoke - inaccurately - about how the handful of international volunteers who broke through the cordon during the tsunami were the “saviours of the victims”, and ignored the role of local volunteers and agencies such as the Indian army and air force. In Pakistan as well, the military has been the most potent force providing relief to the people. Working long hours and stretching logistics capabilities, the Pakistan army and air force have done immense service to the people of Pakistan. Hopefully, the experience will ensure that the military leadership in Pakistan appreciates the need to move Pakistan away from the “dependent on outside help” model to the self-reliant mode that Pakistan’s size and geopolitical weight mandates. The experience of the USSR has shown that no military can prevail unless the overall economy is healthy. Only a strong economy can ensure the funds needed to create a powerful defensive weapon, and not a policy of turning to outside powers for financial and other assistance. During the 1990s,India began the economic reforms that -although incomplete - have given it the financial muscle needed for massive upgrades of equipment. Sadly, because of government policy, the Indian private sector is largely barred from the field of Defense Production, thereby giving foreign companies the cream. The dearth-grip of corrupt politicians and officials on the machinery of procurement has ensured that huge funds flow to foreign suppliers. France, for example, has earned more than $20 billion from India in recent contracts for submarines and aircraft, whereas local shipbuilding yards are neglected and the quality of aircraft production is a joke, mainly because of a government monopoly.

Pakistan needs to grow economically, and in that process, it needs to ensure that regional opportunities for development get tapped. Success will not come from far away, but from nearby. Hopefully, in the decades ahead, South Asian economic cooperation will become an engine of growth in a region where a young population is demanding modern education ands jobs. Failure to give them either would result in a boost for extremism and terrorism. The Pakistan army has shown its mettle. In the years ahead, it needs to rely not on faraway lands but on the resources of its own vibrant people for its growth and success.

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