Relief efforts in the aftermath of the floods have triggered a race among political actors and created space for extremist groups to expand their influence
akistan has suffered a horrible spell of torrential rains and subsequently devastating floods in the midst of an epic political tussle between the government and the opposition, a crippling financial crunch, inflation, power crisis and increasing poverty. The deadly floods and their destructive impacts have triggered a new race between the government parties and the opposition to claim achievements in the rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts. It has also created a space for another flock of political and extremist groups to expand the area of their influence through relief work.
Pakistan has suffered a horrible spell of torrential rains and subsequently devastating floods in the midst of an epic political tussle between the government and the opposition, a crippling financial crunch, inflation, power crisis and increasing poverty. The deadly floods and their destructive impacts have triggered a new race between the government parties and the opposition to claim achievements in the rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts. It has also created a space for another flock of political and extremist groups to expand the area of their influence through relief work.
The federal government of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, supported by the provincial governments of Sindh and Balochistan, is trying hard to extend maximum support to the flood-hit population of Pakistan. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have managed to secure a measure of financial aid from the international community with the help of the United Nations.
The PTI chief Imran Khan too organised a fund-raising telethon and claims to have received pledges for Rs 5 billion rupees in a one-hour session. On the other hand, some PTI leaders are using the party’s strong social media wing to propagate the ‘failures of the federal, Sindh and Balochistan governments’ in providing help and relief to the victims. The fact that flood victims in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa too face similar challenges because of poor administration has not stopped them.
The government-opposition tussle, in the wake of floods and relief activities, is likely to aggravate. Actions for the relief and rehabilitation of the flood-hit population will eventually be described as parts of a campaign for the general elections expected to be held in mid-2023.
PM Sharif and FM Bhutto say that this is no time for partisan politics. Meanwhile, Maryam Nawaz Sharif is visiting flood-hit districts of the Punjab. The PPP, according to its stalwart Hassan Murtaza, is also organising relief activities not only in Sindh but also in southern Punjab and the KP.
Having held a successful telethon to raise funds for flood relief, Imran Khan intends to launch a PTI membership campaign from September 5 across Pakistan. President Arif Alvi, a symbol of the federation, also visited the KP on Wednesday, where his party, a PTI government is in charge of relief activities.
All that is visible indicates that major political parties are not just doing relief work but are also thinking beyond the flood and its impact.
The PDM components and the PTI must not ignore the fact that the catastrophe and administrative shortcomings during the relief work may give birth to new political entities that could then challenges them and the writ of the state.
Several organisations seen once as non-state extremist groups and banned several times over now have legitimacy and representation in the assemblies.
The Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, now a banned outfit, was established in the mid-1980s. It got grassroots support through relief work during the 1992 flood that hit several districts in southern and central Punjab. Jhang, the district where the group was founded was also hit by the historic flood and the SSP strengthened its roots in the district through rescue and relief work after the failure of the district administration to act timely. Today, several SSP leaders are active in politics under the banner of Rah-i-Haq Party that has representation in the Punjab Assembly.
The 2005 earthquake in Azad Kashmir gave an opportunity to the MQM to expand its flanks from urban Sindh to Azad Kashmir, where it established its office for relief work and later launched MQM’s Azad Kashmir chapter and contested the election against the PPP and the PML-N.
The same earthquake also provided space to the banned Al-Rashid Trust, Al-Rehmat Trust (banned), the charity wing of the banned Jaish-i-Muhammad, the banned Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), a charity of the banned Jamaat-ud Da’wa, as they did massive rescue and relief work in earthquake-hit areas and set up hospitals and schools for the displaced people.
The FIF continued its charity operations across Pakistan in the following years and kept influencing victims of various catastrophes. In the 2010 flood, it emerged as the strongest non-state charity. The JuD capitalised on the popularity gained on account of its welfare activities and later launched a political party, the Milli Muslim League Pakistan. It fielded over 100 candidates across Pakistan for the National Assembly. Now, the JuD, the FIF and the MMLP have been banned and their top leaders are in jails following convictions for terror financing.
This time, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is trying to expand its support base. It has started relief work in southern Punjab and Sindh. Sindh, apparently, is the focus of TLP’s relief activities. The fact that a vast population in Sindh subscribes to a sufi narrative has helped. The TLP has already established itself in central and upper Punjab. It is now trying to expand into Sindh.
To this end, TLP activists from the Punjab and Karachi are carrying out relief activities in interior Sindh. On Wednesday, the TLP invited the media to its camps, established in various areas of Lahore, including its headquarters at Multan Road.
A TLP spokesman told The News on Sunday, “We are engaged in rescue and relief work in southern Punjab and Sindh. Our supporters are donating the relief goods generously. We are distributing those amongst our flood-affected brothers.”
“The other day, a rescue and relief team helping victims in Dadu and adjacent districts of Sindh was attacked by PPP activists in Sehwan Sharif. They snatched the relief goods from them. The administration did not take any action against them.”
In days to come, several groups are likely to surface on the political and social horizon. Currently they have started participating in the relief and rehabilitation work for the flood victims.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher