Pakistan's worst-ever floods may drown President Asif Ali Zardari himself. He is increasingly being seen as the modern time's Nero. He chose to be abroad when floods deluged large parts of his country, displacing over 20 million people, much more than the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti quake all put together. The Zardari government's inefficient handling of the floods is reminiscent of the General Yahya Khan government's thoroughly inept rescue and relief operations in the wake of the devastating Bhola cyclone in East Pakistan on November 12, 1970 that sowed the seeds of Pakistan's dismemberment.
Pakistani villagers stand on the remains of a bridge washed away by heavy flooding in Bannu in Northwest Pakistan
However, more than the political implications of Pakistan's floods, it is the strategic angle that needs to be watched keenly in the near future. The floods are fraught with serious strategic problems for Pakistan, its immediate neighbourhood and the international community, apart from the economic and humanitarian problems they already have caused to this volatile Islamic nation. The biggest threat the floods pose is to Pakistan's integrity. Consider the following comment from a Pakistani website called" pakistaniat"(http://pakistaniat.com/2010/08/16/remembering-bhola-the-cyclone-that-broke-pakistans-back/) excerpted below:
"It wiped out villages. Destroyed crops. Over 3.6 million people were directly affected. Nearly 85% of the area was destroyed. Three months after the catastrophe some 75% of the population was receiving food from relief workers…
"It happened in (East) Pakistan. Yet few Pakistanis even know of it by name. Fewer still remember that it eventually contributed to Pakistan's break-up… Historians tend to agree that although there were many other forces at work, the devastation caused by the cyclone and the widespread view that the government had mismanaged the relief efforts and West Pakistan had generally shown an attitude of neglect, contributed to high levels of anti-West Pakistan feeling, a sweeping victory for the Awami League, and eventually the breakup of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. "Such, then, are the forces of nature. And such are the forces of history."
The 1970 Bhola cyclone ravaged East Pakistan and left in its wake enormous number of casualties -- anywhere between 300,000 to one million dead and 3.5 million people displaced. The Bengalis were shocked and thoroughly disenchanted with President Yahya Khan's government and from there on started looking at West Pakistan as the occupier and East Pakistan as the occupied territory. The 2010 floods may end up reaping the same bitter harvest of regional tensions for President Zardari.
The floods have posed yet another serious problem for Pakistan. The affected regions of Khyber-Paktunkwa (formerly NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as well as the rural areas of Punjab are the main recruiting grounds for Pakistan Army. The already overstretched Pakistan Army will find quite a task on its hands in helping civic authorities with relief operations and at the same time keeping its recruitment process unhindered.
The Bhola cyclone of November 11,
While the government machinery moved sluggishly in providing succor to the affected people and mounting relief and rescue operations, it were the jihadist outfits that rushed to the people's aid. Reports in the Pakistani media categorically stated that the government machinery was nowhere to be seen as the floods ravaged more and more territories. Pakistan government has hardly learnt its lessons as similar situation prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the October 2005 Kashmir earthquake and terrorist outfits had done most of relief and rescue operations when every passing hour mattered.
This is not a happy situation for the international community as the stock of the jihadists has once again gone up in the eyes of the local people. This will certainly cause near-term setback to the war against terror as Pakistani troops will not have any worthwhile 'humint' (human intelligence).
To cap it all is the economic crisis the floods are bound to trigger off. Pakistan's growth rate, which was 4.1 per cent last year, is projected to be between zero to two per cent in the 2010-11 fiscal year. Inflation too is likely to Pakistan's vibrant textile industry, which has been contributing handsomely to the nation's economy, is going to be worst hit because the cotton crop has been severely damaged, perhaps to the extent of 25 per cent or even more. Therefore, Pakistan has a complex web of problems to grapple in the coming months and years - economic, law and order, social, strategic and military - not to speak of the humanitarian disaster that has to deal with. The floods would also inevitably trigger off a food crisis as the granaries of the nation - Punjab and Sind - have been affected very badly.
The enormity of the floods disaster is truly great. Zardari went on record saying that it could take three or more years for Pakistan to recover from the floods. United Nations Secretary General Ban ki Moon described it as "a global disaster" and "a slow motion tsunami". He appealed to the international community for a swift $ 460 million aid and said: "Pakistan is facing a slow-motion tsunami. Its destructive powers will accumulate and grow with time." But such is the "image deficit" being faced by Pakistan that weeks after the natural disaster only half that amount has been garnered. If there is anything that hasn't come flooding to Pakistan, it is international aid at this time of crisis.
Children on the island of Bhola wade
through floodwater after a tropical
cyclone and tidal wave hit the area on
Nov. 13, 1970. The storm killed as many
as 500,000 people and contributed to
the secession of Bangladesh from
Pakistan in 1971.
The aid funds generated so far are paltry considering that Pakistan is going to need anywhere between $ 10 to 15 billion to restore normalcy. This figure was given by Pakistan's High Commissioner to Britain Wajid Shamsul Hasan who said his nation would require a Marshall Plan. The US has expectedly latched on to the opportunity and emerged as the single largest aid donor. Washington has already given $ 90 million to Pakistan and has pledged further aid material of $ 60 million, bringing its share of aid material to an impressive $ 150 million. In contrast, China, the "all-weather friend" of Pakistan, has pledged just $ 7.2 million. The UK has pledged 60 million pounds, while Russia's aid effort remained limited to just a couple of plane loads of tents.
In this context, the Indian aid material offer of $ 5 million (with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's stated intent to do even more) has come as a diplomatic bolt from the blue for Pakistan. Left to itself, Islamabad would have rejected the Indian aid offer outright. But then things are not that simple. Pakistan had to convey its acceptance after a week's dithering. Needless to say, Pakistan would be waiting for the first available opportunity to get even with India and come up with a counter aid offer as and when the next natural disaster hits India. Returning the favour for the Leh cloudburst victims would have been foolishly crude for Pakistan.