Can’t we even get through a national emergency without flinging dirt on each other, staging a few “sit-ins”, bungling photo ops and blaming each other for not doing enough? It makes me nauseous sometimes to see how the most important issues tend to get buried under the silliest little squabbles that we are so good at sparking.
I’m often reminded of one of the largest suicide bombings in Pakistan, the one in Mohmand that left more than 100 people dead. Rescuers were still sifting through the rubble for signs of survivors and the final death toll had not even come in when the Punjab Assembly passed that ridiculous resolution criticising the media, sparking one of the stupidest squabbles ever to be aired in this country. One had to weave past all the headlines coming out of that idiotic little standoff to get to the real news of the day: the facts surrounding the bombing of the PA’s office in Mohmand, and an accompanying blast in a nearby market.
I’m reminded of that moment because it embodies the childish follies we relive every time an emergency sweeps through the country. Today, as floodwaters have brought such widespread loss of life and damage to infrastructure, why do so many insist on remaining transfixed on the misdoings of a few politicians? Yes it’s sad that the president has shown tremendous disregard for the country’s difficulties by not cancelling his foreign tour, but seriously folks, the main story is cataloguing the death and destruction brought on by the floods, the response of the local administration to the mammoth rescue job before it, and not whether or not a shoe found wings in Birmingham.
Simple minds will find it easy to link the shoe with the suffering of flood victims. Isn’t the shoe being hurled at the “let-them-eat-cake” attitude with which the political elites have treated the suffering of the flood victims? Perhaps, but the real inadequacies that need to be highlighted right now are in fact at the local level, the failure of the district administrations to coordinate and effectively rescue, house, feed and provide basic health facilities to the evacuees and the victims. The PM’s gaff of a photo op and stumbling responses are sad and pathetic to behold, but they cannot trump the weakness and disrepair that the irrigation system coming out of the Taunsa barrage had fallen into, causing the six separate breaches in the two canals that come out of that barrage, resulting in the flooding of surrounding areas in Kot Addu and Muzaffargarh.
Simple minds will also be easily reminded of Muntazar Zaidi, the Iraqi who made shoe throwing such a potent form of protest by hurling his own footwear at George Bush in a Baghdad press conference. Yes that act resonated around the world, the footage was carried by every television channel in the world. It’s possible every human being on the planet with access to television or the internet has seen that footage, without exaggeration. But let’s also remember that the act did nothing to change reality, it did not hasten the departure of US forces from Iraq, did not stop the sectarian cleansing of Iraqi cities, did not catalyse the formation of a coalition government following the elections. There is not, and must never be, a parallel between that act of protest against the leader of a foreign occupation force on the one hand, and a democratically elected president of a sovereign country on the other.
Lets please keep some perspective here: the big story is happening on the ground, the evacuation of Muzaffargarh, the debates in Sukkur about which ‘bund’ should be breached to selectively drain the floodwaters threatening the barrage, the imminent arrival of a second flood at Guddu barrage, with flows of almost one million cusecs, the shutting down of our oil movement following the closure of the Pak Arab Refinery Limited (Parco), the shutdowns at six power plants following the inundation of compressors at Qadirpur and so on. So lets please keep our eyes on the road ahead, our heads on our shoulders and our shoes on our feet as we work our way through this.
Published in The Express Tribune August 12th, 2010.