In the aftermath of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, US Chinook helicopters — dubbed “angels of mercy” by many Pakistanis — lifted in millions of dollars worth of aid to help victims. Subsequently, US approval ratings in Pakistan shot to an all-time high. After the devastating floods last week, America provided relief assistance again. For a relationship between the two nations to last, though, we require more. Pakistan needs continuous aid that targets its neediest. The mighty Indus showed no mercy as it swept away families, livelihoods and villages within hours in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh last week.
Pakistan’s already strained leadership is dealing with more carnage in the volatile Karachi, and an ongoing extremist insurgency. It is struggling to provide adequate relief. The international community, however, has been quick to step in. Netherlands, Greece, France and Canada — to name a few — have all given millions in aid to the much-needed humanitarian relief efforts in Pakistan. In spite of widespread unpopularity in Pakistan — a meagre eight per cent popularity according to a July 2010 Pew Research Centre report — the US has swiftly and effectively provided 35 million dollars and supplied helicopters, medical instruments, boats, pre-fabricated steel bridges and 200,000 ready-to-eat halal meals.
As for the $7.5 billion granted to Pakistan by the Kerry-Lugar bill, why not use some of those funds to rehabilitate the hundreds of thousands displaced from Muzaffargarh? Why not build a hospital in that district or invest in existing hospitals to improve the quality of the healthcare provided by the local district headquarters hospital. Even simpler, what about generators to keep electricity running in that hospital, so that it can keep its vaccines refrigerated and reach its polio eradication goals?
What about constructing a sewerage treatment plant in Haroonabad, where the sewerage system collapsed decades ago? Watch how instances of malaria and diarrhoea — the number one killer of children in Pakistan — subside. When an individual is given the chance to reach his/her potential, only then can they positively contribute to their state. A strong Pakistan, in turn, can be an immense asset to the world.
Pakistanis — even initial advocates of the Kerry-Lugar bill — are losing patience with our ally’s promise. The US must earn the respect of the common man and those living under and just above the poverty line — which is around two-thirds of our population. That is how the high trust deficit that currently marks our relationship will subside. Chances are the rickshaw driver coming from Sheikhupura will most likely be uninformed about US botch-ups in the Philippines or Latin America, or even its inconsistent foreign policy with Pakistan, and its hand in the creation of the Taliban in the 1980s. They will, however, feel the palpable difference that sewerage lines make in their lives and in their villages.
There is a fissure, a gulf, between what the US defines as poverty, and what Pakistan does. The poor in America have televisions and insurance, the poor in Pakistan walk miles for clean water and cannot afford shoes. The necessity of the continuation of democracy or the restoration of the judges is a distant reality for them, then, when they have seven hungry eyes blinking back at them every day, and a roof that collapses when it rains.
I say, start with the grassroots, and deal with our immediate needs. Don’t dawdle through layers of bureaucracy and working papers. Addressing our most pressing problems will allow America to be received with more positivity by Pakistanis and make a realistic “difference”.
But please. Let’s see that money first.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2010.