Floods, Govt.’s neglect & Military

Pakistan-armyBy S. M. Hali

The terrible onset of floods due to late onslaught of torrential rains wreaked havoc in Azad Jammu Kashmir, Punjab and Sindh. The catastrophe was aggravated by Indian authorities releasing huge amounts of water at very short notice but we are talking about Pakistan and its own Government’s criminal neglect. Punjab is the bread basket of Pakistan. Sans eight years of their exile, Sharifs have ruled Punjab for nearly three decades, after they were discovered by a Military Dictator General Zia ul Haq. The elder Sharif is the Prime Minister for a third term while the younger sibling is ruling Punjab, for the umpteenth time, yet they have done little to control the floods or invest in projects, for timely warning for rising water levels, adequately store water in times of rain and distribute it to alternate sources when it became surplus as well as harness the water for energy. Other past rulers too cannot be condoned for their gross neglect in resolving this crucial problem, for which there are numerous solutions but the Sharif brothers deserve special mention. They have been complaining that thirty two years of Pakistan’s sixty seven years of existence has been under military rule. True that military dictatorship is unconstitutional but the duo is itself the protégé of a military dictator; moreover the Sharifs have been toppled in the past due to their own misdoings. Even the present milieu of chaos and anarchy was ripe for a coup d’état but good sense prevailed at the General Head Quarters.

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Coming back to the recent deluge, it was so severe that in certain areas it wiped out entire rural population, destroyed crops, road and communication infrastructure, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The irony is two pronged: Firstly the boastful claims of the elder Sharif of turning Pakistan into an “Asian Tiger”; taking huge loans for the effect but investing in short term projects with high visibility like the Metro Bus/Rail projects rather than long term but more economically viable projects like building dams, reservoirs, and water distribution systems, which would resolve the acute energy shortage as well as allay the destruction from floods. Secondly, Sharifs directly or indirectly through their more vocal mouthpieces spare no chance in denigrating the Army and its leadership even insinuating that they are supporting the protesting televangelist and cricketer turned politician. In their naiveté, they ignore the fact that if the military wanted to take over, it could have done so on numerous occasions of their sixteen months of misrule. It would perhaps have temporarily been welcomed as saviours by the masses as in the past. It was only when the army refuses to go back to its barracks and extends its totalitarian rule for decades that it loses popularity. The Sharifs should thank Providence that good sense has prevailed since 2008 that the army has resolved to abide by its constitutional role only but the state of mayhem must not be extended to a level where the situation calls for dire measures.

Coming back to the recent natural calamity of the sudden floods, it is deplorable that the civilian administration displayed a total lack of capacity and will to come to the aid of the masses when they needed them the most. The Federal Government or even the Provincial Governments are not required to jump in the fray from the moment go. The Civil Administration is required to devise operational plans to meet with different contingencies. There are supposed to be organizations to execute these plans, even carry out mock rehearsals and drills to test the systems so that every citizen is not only aware of his/her civic duty but also has confidence in the system that the government will not leave it in the lurch when calamity strikes. Unfortunately, on paper such infrastructure of organizations does exist but is manned by officials, who are appointed due to political considerations or through nepotism. They draw fat salaries and enjoy tremendous perks but when faced by the media during “peace time”, they are full of hot air and reveal grandiose plans. They themselves go abroad for training, seminars, discussions and mock exercises for disaster management but unfortunately, when calamity strikes, they are the last persons to be seen or heard and their plans are castles in the air.

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In this situation, while the masses desperately cry for help and assistance from their elected representatives or the state organs assigned the task for their rescue and survival, it is only the armed forces that rush to their aid. Ironically, the same Army, that was being disparaged, a few days earlier, risks its life to aid its countrymen in their hour of need. Besides rescuing them risking their own lives, using bare hands, helicopters, boats and wherewithal they can muster, the armed forces provide life support systems from their own meager sources of tents, rations, medical aid and other bare necessities. The other group to reach out to the victims is the civilian population, the NGOs, the human rights activists and even ordinary citizens, who take it upon themselves to voluntarily provide yeoman service. The politicians and their state organs are more interested in photo-ops or publicity of their supposed “good deeds” or mock their opponents for “lack of compassion” for the victims. National catastrophes should not be made arenas of political combat. The requisite state organs, on the other hand, devote more effort on issuing belated press releases.

The nation is passing through a period of extreme trials and tribulation; even nature has thrown the gauntlet to test the mettle of Pakistanis and its leadership. It is time to rise to the occasion as a state and not a motley crowd of anarchists. Pouring scorn on the benefactors and defenders of Pakistan, the Armed Forces or mudslinging at each other is uncalled for. The civilian leadership must pull its act together, display the vision required of it, rise above petty politics and genuinely endeavour to put Pakistan on the path of development.