It is time to speak the truth.


VIEW: Accepting foreign help —Ishtiaq Ahmed

In an editorial dated August 15, 2010, a leading Urdu daily warned Pakistan not to accept India’s offer of $ 5 million for the flood victims. According to it, India released excess water into the Sutlej and Beas rivers that caused the floods

In an interview given to Lyse Doucet of the BBC and shown on August 16, 2010, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi pleaded passionately for help from the international community for the unprecedented monsoon floods that are wreaking havoc in Pakistan. He made a strong political point as well: if international support is not forthcoming, the Islamist organisations would draw full capital out of it, hence callously making use of the misery of the people to further their jihadist agenda.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who visited Pakistan also made a very animated appeal for international solidarity and help. In the question and answer session, he tried very hard to dispel any doubts about the international donors, saying that the current $ 460 million needed will soon be raised and more as the relief work gets underway. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke with great feeling and compassion as she addressed the UN General Assembly, urging the world to come to the rescue of Pakistan. Richard Holbrooke deployed his persuasive skills to plead for greater help to Pakistan. US military personnel are now assisting Pakistan in delivering aid and other help to the people in distress.

Yet, the western media has been reporting that there is scepticism at both the level of states and among the general public about how to help Pakistan. The notoriety that Pakistani governments have gained over the years for corruption is proverbial — irrespective of whether elected governments were in power or the military. A friend of mine who moderates a discussion group on the internet reported that even the Pakistani diaspora is confused how to help. Nobody trusts the Pakistani power elite.

The distrust is not only about the money of taxpayers in the west ending up in some illicit accounts in Switzerland, France and so on, but also it ending up with the Taliban or forces sympathetic to them. A great deal has been recently written and said by western analysts and governments about Pakistan playing a double game with regard to the ‘war on terror’. Our most cogent argument against such propaganda is the fact that our military has been fighting the Taliban, inflicted defeat on them in many theatres and in return suffered thousands of casualties. All this is true but the fact remains that the Pakistani power elite and establishment enjoy an unenviable reputation for double talk.

Nevertheless, two influential voices have been raised from within Pakistan against taking foreign help. One is the all-too-familiar Taliban-al Qaeda duo, which has asserted that accepting foreign aid would provide the west with an opportunity to spread its influence in Pakistan and subvert Islam and the existence of Pakistan. Therefore, if the Pakistan government were to agree not to take such help it would provide $ 20 million to help the flood victims. The UN and other international agencies as well as the Pakistan government are claiming that some 20 million Pakistanis have been badly hit by the floods, standing crops have been destroyed, homes have been swept away, some eight million at least are in need of clean drinking water and thousands of people are ill because of waterborne diseases. How such gigantic difficulties could be surmounted with $ 20 million from the Taliban is totally confounding. On the other hand, it confirms that the Taliban have at their disposal such sums of money and the question is: how come? No wonder Shah Mehmood Qureshi rejected the Taliban demand outright.

Two, in an editorial dated August 15, 2010, a leading Urdu daily warned Pakistan not to accept India’s offer of $ 5 million for the flood victims. It set forth an even more bizarre and alarming conspiracy theory. According to it, India released excess water into the Sutlej and Beas rivers that caused the floods. Further, it reminded the government that since India was occupying Kashmir, help from it would weaken the Kashmir cause. The editorial suggested building of high dams and liberating Kashmir from the Indian occupation as the proper response to the Indian offer of help. Obviously, the editor had no clue about what high dams can and cannot do in such a situation. Also, while the whole of Pakistan lies prostrate to the ravages of nature, to call upon the same people to start a jihad in Kashmir is too callous an advice to deserve comment.

If it were true that the floods in Pakistan had been caused by India releasing excess water into the Sutlej and Beas, I see no reason why the Pakistani government would not have drawn the attention of the UN and other observers to such brazen disregard of all norms and values of civilised conduct by India.

On the other hand, Sindhi nationalists have welcomed the announcement made by Indian peace activists to send a team of 400 doctors and paramedical staff to work in the flood-hit districts of the province. The offer to send the medical team was made by a delegation of Indian peace activists, including Mazher Hussain of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), an Indian Hyderabad-based network of over 800 organisations. I am sure Indians from East Punjab would be very willing to help if the Pakistan government were to let them. After several days of hesitation, we have finally agreed to accept help from India as well. This can prove to be a major breakthrough in the relationship between these estranged neighbours. Not accepting Indian help would have meant the appeasement of India-haters. Historically the experience is that appeasing reactionaries never works; on the contrary they are only emboldened to make more irrational demands.

One can actually turn the argument round and assert that confrontation with India is not in the interests of the people of Pakistan. I remember, in December 2004 Imran Khan said on television that a cancer drug imported from the west cost Rs 161 per tablet. The same, if imported from India, would cost Rs 52. The same is true of other day-to-day items needed by the people. In an assessment, the ISI stated that homegrown terrorists have overtaken the Indian Army as the greatest threat to national security. Also, I am absolutely convinced that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute is not changing borders but making them meaningless. It is time to speak the truth.

The writer is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at billumian@gmail.com

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