Flood politics at its worst

Published: August 20, 2010
The writer is a consulting editor at The Friday Times

The writer is a consulting editor at The Friday Times

Flood relief is being used by some as an opportunity to orchestrate political upheaval. Sections of the media are drumming up the partisan politics of a dangerous kind by involving the thorny issue of civil-military relations and the trite-but- failed recipe that the country should revert to authoritarianism whenever a crisis erupts.

Some TV anchors have been overtly suggesting that the military is saving the country at this juncture when the “venal” politicians are staging VVIP visits and not giving any relief. In one TV show, an estranged senator of the ruling party called for martial law. There is now a clear effort to create a duality — that of the military versus the civilian government.

Another charge against the federal government is that of Pakistan’s credibility deficit. The prime cause for this, according to the TV sages, is the president’s tainted persona. The irresponsible statements of the United Nations in terms of Pakistan’s ‘image’ have not helped either. One wonders, in fact, just what evidence the UN has in its possession to reach such a conclusion. Are dozens of developing countries not in the same league? Are corruption and systemic leakages strictly ‘Pakistani’ problems? The UN may investigate this issue and take corrective steps lest it be seen as supporting the forces pitted against democracy in Pakistan.

If anything, the operations of several international donors should be called into question. From the excessive profiteering by international consulting firms to inefficient aid bureaucracies (the UN included), Pakistanis are well aware of how the development game works. And so it was about time that those lecturing us in this time of grave crisis took stock of their own performance.

Coming back to the shenanigans of sections of the local media, there appears to be a deliberate construction of a dangerous discourse and a sham argument for the ascendancy of the armed forces. The military is part of the state and legally an agency working in support of the government. The civilian administration is struggling to keep up with the scale of the calamity.

This brings us to an important question, is the weakening of the state merely a doing of those in civvies? If anything, the army must share the blame for the failure of the civilian state since it (the army) has ruled the country longer than anyone else has. But that is not what we need to debate now. We have to provide relief through the existing state in a transparent manner. The international community should know this simple fact: if the Pakistani state will not deliver, no one can.

And a message to those in the media who pretend to be wise putting forth such discourse: booting out a civilian government will serve no purpose. The challenge is gargantuan and no entity can do it alone. By prodding an overstretched army, these voices are doing a huge disservice to our real national institution.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Aug 20, 2010 - 1:46AM

    I totally agree with you Mr. Raza. In fact these people are expert in “Riding Two Horses At A Time”. One can easily pin point them from all Pillars Of The State including Non State Actors. Seasoned Frogs.Recommend

  • Aug 20, 2010 - 4:18AM

    The mantra seems to go something like, “the army has come to the nations rescue”, It sounds as if they are doing the nation a favour, as if they had any other choice of choosing not to do anything. At the end of the day they are doing their job, and a good one at that given restrictions on resources.

    If our political masters are ineffectual, we are effectively arguing that they are impotent, and the military is doing all that it can, how would the imposition of martial law change ground realities, and that too in the short and most crucial immediate terms?

    The more prudent question is to ask what motives such speakers have, do they gain something? And why if they are so knowledgeable, are they not out in the affected areas offering their insight?

    Given the scale of the disaster, what should be asked is not what has been achieved, but what can be achieved. People are playing politics with the lives of flood victims, lets just hope that their distasteful opportunism is not swept under the rug in a few weeks time.Recommend

  • Yusaf Khan
    Aug 20, 2010 - 5:35AM

    Well Rumi sahab the sad truth is that, rightly or wrongly, Pakisan does have considerable image deficit. You just have to read the comments section of any western newspaper’s internet edition. Similarly, Zardari’s past doesn’t fill an aid donor with that much confidence.Recommend

  • Aug 20, 2010 - 9:05AM

    Excellent formulation, Raza. It is really sad to see a consistent and systematic debasement of discourse our media when it is trying to blame civilian governments for all the bottlenecks while at least one only ‘rescues’. This is high politics. There are a number of good things which have been undertaken by the civil governments despite all odds. Even a very weak democratic arrangement under Zia could electrify more villages than the whole of direct rule of the Army. But due to highly political and unequal method of accountability, politicians/civilians are branded as ever-corrupt. Recommend

  • yousaf
    Aug 20, 2010 - 9:20AM

    “the president’s tainted persona” this is which makes every individual and country on this planet think whether to donate. Recommend

  • Hamza Baloch
    Aug 20, 2010 - 9:38AM

    Dear, this is the time for the civilian govt to prove its credibility.
    Its difficult even for vicilians govt spokesmen to defend fake campus,fake hospitals and fake statements, how the media will defend them. Even after 5 days, govt unable to make a council for ransparency in distribution of aid to flood victims.

    Anyhow after reading you article head,i thought its about Pervaiz ilahi.Recommend

  • Aug 20, 2010 - 10:30AM

    The misled and less read journalists need to read some facts. The 1978 Flood Response Plan defined a role for the army which it being the most organized organization in Pakistan it fulfills. Please read my post here for information & background. http://mehernewspappar.blogspot.com/2010/08/pakistans-floods-2010-historical.htmlRecommend

  • Shahryar Ahmed
    Aug 20, 2010 - 10:56AM

    Dear Mr. Raza,

    I have been advocating the negative role of a section of the Pakistani Media, especially Jang group in recent past against governments (both musharaf’s & pp’s).

    I want to see how they fare against the Sharif’s govt. if it comes to power & only then the people will find out the true picture of this media group’s, the sharif’s & judiciaries unholy nexus.

    But this is an undeniable fact that aid inflow has been slow because of our Presidents colorful past and eventful present as well. I cannot blame anyone except us, because we choose these people as our representatives (the same people that are affected by the floods) coerced by a section of the Pakistani media against the previous golden era of 2000 – 2007.

    These people (majority of these politicians & mainstream leaders) think that it is their God given right to make money whenever the come to power & believe you me, this statement is coming right out from the horse’s mouth (part of ruling party).

    So, I think until & unless media doesn’t portrays the true picture (facts) & we the people to choose wisely our representatives, we will suffer greatly. Recommend

  • Ammar
    Aug 20, 2010 - 11:41AM

    We have an institution which has the history of hegemony. When this argument is put, your media and pseudo-intellectuals say, “Talk about the person and not the institution”. But the very argument fails when it comes to parliament or judiciary. It’s a country in which ordinary people are called Bloody Civilians. A country in which guardians humiliate the people, they swear to protect. People! Who pay taxes to let teir guardians sweep the majority of available scarce resources. I think your media want to assert that the guardians, running a huge business empire, have every right to rob, rule, and humiliate Bloody Civilians and run the state business as well. The problem is that we have a fake intelligentsia, corrupt politicians, corrupt (to the core) bureaucracy, and monotonous and stereotype media. That is the reason why army rules in our country. It’s a dangerous road we are heading.Recommend

  • Aug 20, 2010 - 12:14PM

    Many thanks for the excellent comments. Our crisis is so huge that we cannot afford to be waste time on meaningless debates. We have to get on with the relief work and the international community should work with what is available on ground and not propose new aid structures and give moral high judgments. Recommend

  • KH
    Aug 20, 2010 - 1:46PM

    Even during a major national emergency, PPP ideologues can only think of playing politics. Please Raza, spare us the hyperbole, no amount of Jiye Bhutto narabazi will make the flood waters go away. Please compare the initial response of this govt to the floods with Musharraf’s response during the earthquake. Why don’t you write a column about that Chateau in Northern France one of these days? I’d love to see how you spin that! Have you read your hero Zardari’s response to all the criticism he faced about his foreign tour while his country drowned? It was published in the Wall Street Journal. And you know what? Access to the article was allowed only to WSJ subscribers. Why on earth did he choose that forum to defend himself? And did you read the defense? Write about that next time, if you really have the courage of your convictions.Recommend

  • Aug 20, 2010 - 2:18PM

    Dear KH: you are only proving my point – politics is making us lose our focus on the 20 million plus flood-affectees who have lost their livelihoods and face a grave public health threat.

    At this stage we need a consensus between all players to work towards relief and reconstruction. Political instability will accelerate the economic meltdown that has started and lead us to the brink of another disaster.


    Mr Zardari has been elected and should be thrown out of the office in a democratic and constitutional manner. If the provinces have lost confidence in him, someone should table an impeachment motion. However, the kind of thundering sermon that you just delivered is neither here not there.

    Having said that, I respect your right to disagree!Recommend

  • Aug 20, 2010 - 6:07PM

    Basically the problem with our assessment is the very oversimplification of the whole issue.Those who thought the credibility deficit is due to the President’s personality, they forget the very long history of our country regarding such calamities…
    Her we have a selective amnesia,Why people simply overlook the report regarding Earthquake donations, why they have erased the “Qarz Utaro Mulk Sanwaro” from their memories, Where the billion dollars issued in Mush era for being part of a coalition against terrorism.
    When it comes to the might Army, the image dented by the once media “blue eyed boy” turned the villain Musharraf is painted and nourished by another COAS in just three years. What an Irony???Recommend

  • Aug 20, 2010 - 6:15PM

    On our credibility deficit, the words of Raza Habib Raja are very relevant in his post “How Mistrust of the Government is Hurting Pakistani People and Why Should We Trust”, published on Pakteahouse ezine.
    “Internationally Pakistan’s reputation has really been hit hard due to news of double gaming with respect to Islamic militants. Moreover during the recent years virtually every terrorist act or plan was traced to Pakistan. Although the culprits were non state actors, but the bias has already been developed that Pakistani State is supporting at least some groups of the militants or is simply ignoring them by not taking “strict’ action. The credibility is so badly damaged that despite the fact that Pakistan has lost much more than others due to terrorism and has paid a severe price in terms of stability and loss of lives, the world always see it as a double player. The Taliban sympathetic image has gravely dampened the humanitarian sympathy towards Pakistani people. And on top of it the timing could not have worse as the floods came immediately after the revelation of the controversial Wiki leak files.”
    But very objectively he asserts further,
    What I really find amazing is that assuming even if all the allegations are true, why the ordinary 20 million flood ravaged poor Pakistanis, should suffer. The committed or perceived to be committed sins of the State should not in principle stop humanitarian aid from positively affecting literally millions of devastated people whose entire destinies have changed due to events of past few days. After all even, assuming that the State is guilty, the actions of poor average Pakistani have not in any way contributed to its actions. Let’s not forget that State in Pakistan is not reflective of people’s aspirations in the first place.Recommend

  • Aug 20, 2010 - 6:19PM

    More from the same author,
    “Pakistan does not feature very high in several critical rankings and indexes pertaining to corruption and transparency. For example it fares very poorly in Corruption Perception Index (139th in increasing order out of 180 ranked) and Failed State index (10th in decreasing order out 177 ranked). These rankings coupled with stories about mismanagement of the aid in 2005 disaster have badly eroded the trust of the Government in the international donors eyes and as a consequence people once again are suffering. There is a substantial level of skepticism in the major international institutional donors regarding the eventual usage of the funds.”
    I request all the concerned people to please react very sensibly, as every negativity from us will reciprocate in one way or the other and in current situation we cant face the consequences.Recommend

  • Anwar A Durrani
    Aug 20, 2010 - 10:09PM

    As they say, Zardari is favourite punching bag of our media persons, self style analysts, retired Generals who themselves have their hands colored in the blood of others for their falacies and the people who extract their share of wisdom from the Tv screens…Recommend

  • Ali Abbas
    Aug 21, 2010 - 2:45AM

    @KH, your screed serves absolutely no purpose and does nothing to help the victims of this flood. Regarding Zardari’s WSJ article, a simple google search would have showed you that it has already been reproduced on the blogsphere and can be accessed at several sites including http://criticalppp.com/archives/21141.
    The selective lynching of one individual at the cost of ignoring our existential problems; religious extremism that continue to foster violent militants, injustice to the needs of the smaller provinces and a system where other forces like the judiciary, bureaucracy and media are also held accountable!Recommend

  • Aug 21, 2010 - 8:04AM

    Bravo, Mr. Raza! For once, I didn’t have to read the true opinion in between the lines (I mean the fourth paragraph… it should be the preface of a book!).

    Even though I know the article does not sum up everything (well, it’s not a book), but I really appreciate it as an argument in the right direction. People should know that international donors and the army are not the inevitable choices to rely on in cases of national disasters, and that it is possible to develop much better, local alternatives. But I wonder what would you say about domestic bureaucracy as the executive branch of the government (or shall I say, the state).

    (Aside: it’s hard to be theoretical about an on-going natural disaster in one’s own country, but I hope the readers will understand how much pain has to be swallowed to realize that… life goes on).Recommend

  • M. Ahmed
    Aug 21, 2010 - 2:15PM

    Recent floods threw open an opportunity for the image-deficit Pakistan Army and as soldiers they pounced on it. The way MQM rushed to Azad Kashmir after 2005 earthquake.

    Many people are still unfed and without shelter. The TV footages are proof of this.

    Suddenly, the most popular channel has started to sing the khaki praise of whatever they have done while their reporters bring heart wrenching stories on the screen. What an anamoly !Recommend

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