Security concerns onset a new politics of aid provision as Pakistan’s most recent ecological disaster sets in a scramble for legitimacy and control. Pakistan’s floods are a historical geo-political event intersecting with civil unrest, giving rise to increasingly violent outcomes. Conjectures on the Pakistan’s proximity to becoming a failed state are resounding as numerous pressures overwhelm the state’s capacity to cope.
Climate change, though not seen to singularly cause conflict, has the potential to undermine security, for in a conflict-ridden and unstable environment, ecological disasters open up a political space that threaten to destabilise weak countries. Conflict is exacerbated through additional stress on fragile states, civilian institutions and militaries. These ensure displacement and refugee migration, amongst other things such as often causing famine and disease and the creation of conditions that “foment extremists or terrorists”.
Whilst the world has gathered to support Pakistan through this crisis, the Pakistani government has been criticised for not doing enough. In this vacuum, Islamist charities and those tracing their roots to insurgents have offered aid, creating a battle for legitimacy between the state and militants. The Taliban have been engaged in humanitarian efforts and relief provision, including offers of millions of dollars to the state in exchange for not taking help from the US.
Humanitarian efforts by Islamist charities in a vacuum of government proficiency serve to garner support and to bolster ranks with new recruits for militant groups, particularly as the early epicentre of the flooding, the Swat valley, has also been at the centre of Pakistan-Taliban conflict since 2007. The flood threatens to push desperate refugees into the arms of militant groups in the northern regions of the country, where government aid is too slow or too little. This displacement of people, and stress on government resources, was predicted in earlier models of climate change induced emergencies as was seen in the cataclysm of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, which invoked greater legitimacy for militant groups.
It had been suspected that the Taliban have taken this time to regroup and will attempt to use the distraction of the Pakistani government and military to its advantage, striking while the state's resources are stretched to the limit. The attacks on Shia Muslims in Lahore and Quetta were precisely this, aimed at destabilising the country and further weaken the hold of the government.
The 2010 ecological emergency has exacerbated a battle of state control and governance between state and non-state actors in Pakistan. Militant groups are simultaneously disrupting the country by unleashing terror, and providing relief in the proverbial Robin Hood fashion. Alarmingly, ideological pinning of insurgent parties are solidified in the separation of ecological and political emergencies. The method to the madness reveals a combat for state control through not only coercive means but non-coercive means as well, to acquire legitimacy. Through humanitarian efforts and ownership of ecological disasters, both the government and the militants are vying for civilian control. It is partially in light of this understanding, that the Taliban threatened foreigners helping Pakistan respond to the floods, thereby further complicating relief efforts whilst seeking to increase dependency on Islamic charities.
Consequently, in the past week, whilst militants have threatened to attack international aid workers, Pakistan has reportedly tried to clamp down on charities tied to Islamic militants. Yet the attention required in flood relief makes it difficult for the Pakistani army to respond adequately to militant threats. The ability to recruit new insurgents by such groups appears to be linked to the response of the Pakistani state to disaster management and relief provision, in relation to that of militant-linked charities. If such charities are able to offer the support that state cannot deliver, they are likely to succeed in strengthening their ranks and gain greater legitimacy and support.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2010.
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