COMMENT: Tomorrow is another day —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain
Both Pakistanis as well as the world will be watching how appropriately the government and its functionaries use donations and aid. And the ordinary people of Pakistan will surely remember how the political leadership performs come election time
Many in the western media as well as among Pakistani ‘progressives are most distressed at the fact that religious organisations are filling in for an incompetent civil administration to help the flood victims in Pakistan. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with that. Frankly speaking, in a calamity like this, does it matter who is helping the victims and whatever their motives might be?
Quite a few things have become obvious as a consequence of the disaster as it unfolds. First and foremost is that those responsible for running this country are totally incapable of handling something of this magnitude. Here I think it is important to iterate that the country is run by our permanent bureaucracy. The politicians at best determine the policy and decide about the allocation of funds for different departments.
The Pakistan Army has come out a winner for two reasons. First of course being that over the last couple of years it has concentrated on its core function to protect the country and its citizens from physical threat and now from the consequences of a natural disaster. The second thing being that the army stayed away from direct involvement in politics and refused to take the country over when our talking heads and armchair politicians insisted that it should.
I am sure that the army high command is probably breathing a collective sigh of relief. If the army had indeed stepped in to take over the government at any time in the recent past, this entire state of affairs would have been its responsibility and even if the army was in charge, it could only have done things marginally better. After all, it would also have had to work through the very same bureaucratic set up that is responsible for running things right now.
Obviously I have no desire to absolve the political leadership of their role in the cumulative disaster. The central government clearly had no clue. The provincial governments did step in and tried to do what they could but they were also hampered by the fact that there were no reliable people on the ground who could tell them what exactly was going on or advise them about what needed to be done. But then it is the political leadership that chooses and appoints the people who head our bureaucratic administration.
This disaster involved all the provinces of the country and therefore it was the federal government that should have led and coordinated the relief efforts from the very beginning. More importantly, all international help is going to be channelled through the federal government and therefore it was its responsibility to determine what needed to be done and exactly what sort of help was needed from abroad.
An unfortunate problem concerning donations is that neither the people of Pakistan nor our foreign donors trust the government or its functionaries to do the right thing. Corruption at all levels of the civilian set up is so rampant and so well known that much aid that could be forthcoming is being held back until the donors decide whom to work through. This leaves only two indigenous groups on the ground that are trusted by most people, the army and the religious organisations.
Up to now, the most generous foreign donor is the US. Fortunately for the US, it has a major presence right next door and therefore it is able to divert manpower and other facilities to help the flood victims directly. More importantly, for the US this is a chance not only to help but also refurbish its image among the people of Pakistan. Even if the US is doing what it is for political gain and not out of the goodness of its heart, so what? All help is welcome.
As far as the involvement of religious organisations in relief efforts is concerned, I now strongly believe that this involvement is not only a good thing for those suffering from the effects of the floods but as a matter of fact this involvement should be encouraged. It is an established fact that our religious organisations have considerable support among ordinary people, especially among the young.
Historically these organisations have been mostly indoctrinating the young about the need for violence directed against the real and perceived enemies of Islam and Pakistan. But now by putting these young people to work in the flood ravaged areas, these organisations might actually be replacing the violent aspect of indoctrination with a positive message. What could be a better message for our young people than that serving suffering humanity is indeed the most important religious obligation imposed upon us by our faith?
Perhaps if these young people stay involved in the rehabilitation efforts, we might see a long-term change in their orientation about the essential qualities of being a good Muslim. Not violent jihad but rather service and devotion to the unfortunate and the disadvantaged among their extended families, neighbours, co-religionists and eventually all the people of this country.
Just a week ago things looked dismal and hopeless. But now it seems that perhaps things might just get better. Our politicians have finally figured out that they must do what is expected of them or else they will feel the wrath of the people. Besides relief and rehabilitation, the political government must concentrate on law and order and enforce some semblance of honesty at all levels of the relief and rehabilitation process. In this they will perforce have to lead by example.
Both Pakistanis as well as the world will be watching how appropriately the government and its functionaries use donations and aid. And the ordinary people of Pakistan will surely remember how the political leadership performs come election time.
Finally, if tomorrow cannot be better on this birthday for Pakistan then one thing becomes clear. There might not be too many tomorrows left in Pakistan’s future, at least not for the Pakistan we know today.
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org