Wednesday July 24, 2024

Politicizing a disaster

By Malik Muhammad Ashraf
September 14, 2022

The floods caused by climate change-induced rains in the country have submerged nearly one-third of Pakistan, affected the lives of more than 33 million people, led to at least 1,300 deaths, damaged crops, destroyed 1.5 million homes and killed 727,000 cattle. The devastation wrought by these floods is decidedly far bigger than the 2010 floods and has indicated a trend for the increased impact of climate change in the years to come.

The unfolding tragedy has invoked a tremendous response from the international community and friendly countries which continue to send relief goods and financial assistance to help Pakistan cope with the situation. The UN secretary general, after having seen the scale of destruction first hand, made an appeal to the world community to assist Pakistan in this hour of adversity. After the conclusion of his two-day visit, he said: “We see here in Pakistan, nature is striking back with devastating consequences. I have seen many disasters in the world but I have never seen climate carnage on this scale.”

He also warned the international community that all countries would suffer damages beyond their capacity to adapt if the world failed to respond to the challenge of climate change. Keeping in view the gravity of the situation and the resources involved to overcome the impact of the floods, he said that he would strongly advocate for ‘debt swaps’ with the IMF and the World Bank through which developing countries, including Pakistan – instead of paying back loans to foreign creditors – would be able to use that money to invest in climate resilience, investments in sustainable infrastructure, and green transition of their economies.

USAID Chief Samantha Power, who recently announced an additional $20 million in aid, bringing the total US assistance to $50 million, also echoed similar sentiments and told the media that she had not seen this scale of flooding and devastation in her 30-year experience. She felt that massive resources required for rebuilding would be hard to mobilize, but the international community was eager to contribute as much as it could, knowing what a difficult blowback this was going to be for the people of Pakistan.

It is estimated that Pakistan’s economy, which is already under great stress, will have to bear an additional burden of $20 billion for rehabilitation and rebuilding, and it might take years to complete the process. However, it is encouraging to note that the government and all state institutions including the armed forces are at the forefront to mitigate the suffering of the flood-affected population. The Pakistan Army seems to have taken the lead in this regard. Like Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the COAS is also visiting flood-affected areas.

The army has established 117 relief camps and 25 field medical camps where more than 25,000 people have been treated so far. It has distributed close to 5,500 ration packs and provided 1,200 tents to the affectees. According to the ISPR, 7,522 army troops have been deployed along with 50 boats for rescue and relief work. The army is also using helicopters to rescue people and distribute ration among people stranded in the affected areas.

The Army Flood Relief Coordination Centre has been established under the Army Air Defence Command with a mandate to coordinate rescue and relief efforts in cooperation with stakeholders at the army level. Country-wide collection points have been established to synergize the efforts with respect to the collection and distribution of relief items.

It is indeed a national crisis of unprecedented magnitude which required impregnable solidarity among all institutions and political forces in addition to the help coming from the international community. In this regard the insensitivity and indifference shown to the plight and suffering of the people by Imran Khan, a claimant of building a Madina-like state, is inexcusable. Even at this time, his only priority seems to be regaining political power.

At a time when national unity should be his top priority, he is making strenuous efforts to divide the nation and denigrate state institutions, with a clear cut purpose of fomenting chaos and crisis which the country cannot afford at the moment. His controversial statements regarding important institutions are condemnable.

Imran Khan is a leader in his own right, but he has to pursue his political agenda within the ambit of the law and constitution. This means that he should show respect for state institutions and realize that it is not the time to run around and aggravate the ongoing political crisis, which can do irreparable damage to the national polity and add to the suffering of the people.

Politics can surely wait for better times. His demand for immediate elections is unreasonable. His contention that immediate elections are the only way to winch the country of the quagmire it is stuck in sounds bizarre given the fact that it was his government that brought the country to this chaotic state. His government enjoyed the dubious distinction of taking unprecedented loans and then sinking the economy at the fag end of the rule by wriggling out of the commitment with the IMF by taking populist decisions. The current economic crisis is a sequel to his legacies. Therefore, he is trying to misinform the people when he holds the current government responsible for the ongoing economic crisis and giving them false hopes.

The undeniable reality is that the country is in big trouble and urgently needs political stability to rectify its economic woes and deal with the consequences of the floods. Imran can play a positive role by allowing the government to complete its tenure and orchestrate stability even if he does not want to cooperate with it on other issues.

My assessment of the situation is that his wish and push for immediate elections by putting pressure on the government is not going to bear fruit. The best course for him would be to go back to the assemblies. Any course contrary to this proposition can prove disastrous for his chances of relevance to the future political arrangement.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at: