Pakistan's politics play on as flood waters rise

It is ridiculous to suggest the sluggish response from the donor-world to Pakistan's utter devastation is not related to that country's terrorism troubles, but does it have a president who can stop hard-line Islamists from winning the hearts and minds?

Well knock me over with a feather…Islamist groups are trying to win the hearts and minds of utterly distraught Pakistanis, 20 million or so who have so far been cut adrift literally by yet another natural disaster, and figuratively (well on second thought literally also) by yet another seemingly corrupt and uncaring government.

President Asif Ali Zardari has of course now deigned to return to his flooded nation following an extraordinarily good sojourn swanning around France and Britain and meeting with his new BFF David Cameron, but that in itself raised even more questions.

Surely after Britain’s PM, still then shy of his first 100 days, took a whack at Zardari dispensing stern advice about quitting the export of terrorism, Zardari had every reason in the world to cancel his tour, giving at least the appearance of concern about his drowning masses as his excuse. But no. More important to plant on British soil a sapling in memory of his murdered wife and do an about face on how close Pakistan and Britain now are. Oh these ‘special relationships’ can come on ever so quickly these days.

One minute a baby-faced Tory leader with five seconds experience is lecturing a volatile nation at the crossroads of the world’s key current problems and triggering an outcry of racism and preference for India over Pakistan. The next minute – after a nice first class flight and 5-star hotels and general pomp and circumstance - the riff is settled and the necking has begun.

But that is mere piffle in the face of what is actually going on in Pakistan.

It is no surprise that charity and terrorism do not mix – well not in the so-called Western donating world, as the relatively miserable trickle of funds so far pledged or actually given would indicate.

To suggest that this is anything but a reaction to Pakistan’s now well established position as host/facilitator of terrorism, corruption and general double-dealing would be ridiculous.

“Psst…got a few extra mill to chuck off into the great unknown of Taliban and terrorism?”

Not likely…unfortunately for those who are bereft of a present and a future.

Who is going to give money, in serious enough wads, to a country where no-one even seems to be able to fully account for the billions the Americans have poured in over the years, ostensibly tagged to fight terrorism and corruption, but suspected of just as likely funding terrorism and corruption.

Where will aid dollars go? Into whose pocket? Which tribal group will be favoured over another?

Is this all a bunch of convenient excuses to refrain from opening our wallets? That may be a little harsh, but there will be an element of truth in it.

Consider Pakistan’s neighbour.  Sure Pakistan and India are not great buddies. Well they are enemies really. India has in the last day or so finally sent more than its initial letter of condolence, but not much more. Actually in the first few days of the floods India was calling on the Pakistani army to help it try and find some soldiers who were washed away in flooding in the disputed Kashmir region. Pakistan was understandably too busy that day. 

Some within the Pakistan administration have blamed Cameron’s terrorism tirade for the lack of world-wide response to the humanitarian disaster. There must be truth in that, but it goes much deeper because Cameron did not ‘out’ Pakistan for playing nice to the ‘West’ for dosh, and nice to the Taliban just in case it actually comes out on top of this current war which blurs the lines between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Cameron was just responding to WikiLeaks whose dossiers are all pretty much agreed provided little more than what was generally known.

And as per usual it is the masses who suffer from the ineptitude of inept governments. The vast majority of Pakistanis are trying to get on with their lives, avoid extremism, make a living and ensure there’s a future for their children.  Oh how the gods have conspired.

The humanitarian disaster was not helped by the fact that it took days for the Pakistani administration to realise – or perhaps acknowledge- the magnitude of what had hit its charges … now about one quarter of the country is under water and cholera has been confirmed.

It has been the perfect storm for hard-line Islamist intervention to fill a glaring void. Public anger with government can be intensified when the job of medicating and feeding starving and thirsty infants and elderly is done by militant organizations. When the flood waters reside, as they will, it will be those who have gone out of their way to restore some sort of dignity to those who have had all their meagre possessions washed away who will be remembered.

That is Zardari’s issue now.  While he was in Europehis administration was fighting provincial schisms and succumbing to splits in fiefdoms due to political allegiances and patronage. Islamic charities such as the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba put their indisputable grass roots knowledge of terrain and supply lines into action which is relief for those in need, but a concern in the greater scheme of things in this region.

NATO can go into places announcing its intention to win hearts and minds, but they have no mortgage on this as a strategy.

The obvious worries strobe for all to see -a deeply unpopular administration; a restless army; a vigilant and wily extremist reality determined to make sure this crisis does not go to waste. Oh and don’t forget the nuclear capacity.

If President Zardari does not recognize the need for him to show leadership he may well find he soon has little to lead. His country has been devastated and the world has not exactly shrugged its shoulders, but done not much more in terms of aid that usually flows in to natural disasters.

This is Zardari’s chance to show he can get it together…not swan off on another European tour. The ‘rich’ world needs a confidence trigger so the aid that is needed now and well into the future will eventuate and prove to Pakistanis they don’t have to back various strains of extremism and the Taliban in general to be delivered from this unholy disaster.