COMMENT: After the deluge, what next —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain
The prophets of doom and gloom are out in full force predicting the end of Pakistan, the end of this government, the end of democracy or the end of something if not everything else
If talking heads on TV and the punditocracy in Pakistan be believed, President Zardari is solely responsible for the floods and its consequences. Two years ago the same group were equally vehement in insisting that General Musharraf was responsible for all evil that visited Pakistan and that if he left everything would be just fine. And many of them equally insisted that once the chief justice was restored, Pakistan would become a land where milk and honey would flow freely and the lion and the lamb would drink from the same water cooler.
The bearded ones and their fellow travellers are of the opinion that Allah has visited this catastrophe upon Pakistan for President Zardari’s sins. More than a decade ago when the previous serious floods hit Pakistan, this same group insisted that it was retribution for having a woman prime minister. Personally I think that we should keep Allah out of this equation.
First thing to remember is that natural disasters are ruthless in their lack of selectivity. The most recent major disaster occurred in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world and added to the immense miseries of its people. The problem with Haiti was that it did not have an adequate infrastructure to handle the massive earthquake and then it does not have the resources to fix all the damage. It has to depend on international aid to survive but the needed aid has not been forthcoming. Is Pakistan in the same boat?
Floods in Pakistan happened because of the torrential rains, but the aftermath was exaggerated due to our past mistakes, present incompetence and a total lack of preparedness. Deforestation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northern areas aggravated the flash floods, causing sudden and unexpected devastation. Shoddily built infrastructure, including many of the protective levees, gave way inundating many areas and there was indeed no adequate system of flood warning that could have saved lives.
It is pointless at this time to find people to blame for what happened in the past. Frankly, almost every government over the last many decades is about equally responsible. Military governments more so because they had a longer period of government and had absolute power that could have been used to fix many things but never was.
Over the last two years the PPP-led government at the centre and the provincial governments where it sits in coalition with other regional parties were all muddling along. After all Pakistan has enough problems during the ‘best’ of times but the floods have literally pushed the entire country to the brink. The question is, to the brink of what? The prophets of doom and gloom are out in full force predicting the end of Pakistan, the end of this government, the end of democracy or the end of something if not everything else.
Many of the ‘conspiracy theorists’ are talking about who will be running the country by the end of this year. Most of them agree that ‘nobody’ wants to step in just yet. The permanent establishment and their real masters are supposedly waiting for the flood waters to recede, things to settle down and to get an idea of the immensity of the rehabilitation and reconstruction process before taking the country over once again.
There seems to be a consensus among the ‘well-informed’ that the real powers behind Pakistan are unhappy with President Asif Ali Zardari. These powers, according to the people in the know, include Allah as represented by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the US, and probably the Bilderberg Group. Evidently, these behind-the-scene masters of Pakistan have not been able to find a good way of replacing President Zardari or an appropriate replacement for him.
The most obvious replacement for any existing civilian setup in Pakistan is always the chief of army staff (COAS), but this time around there is evidently a serious problem. In the past the COAS was always selected by the government for his seeming lack of intelligence and (often) feigned slavish subservience to his civilian masters. As such he was always amenable to manipulation. But the present COAS, sadly for the behind-the-scene rulers, is evidently a ‘bird of a different feather’ and does not seem quite as willing to do their bidding.
The other problem that our behind-the-scenes masters are faced with is that the present apex court of Pakistan is led by a man who is not quite as willing as the previous chief justices of Pakistan to get rid of the civilian democratic governments. These two facts are clearly an impediment to a major change in government in the near future. As somebody who does not know the real story, it seems to me that most conspiracy theorists are wrong and that the present political set-up will continue.
The only possibility of getting rid of the entire present set-up is in my opinion a real and spontaneous revolt of ordinary people, an unlikely possibility but not to be entirely discounted either. The problem with a spontaneous people’s revolt of course is that what comes out of it can rarely be predicted.
The fact that the present set-up will most likely continue for the foreseeable future does not however in any way give the governments at the centre and in the provinces the right to do things as they have done them in the past. Business as usual is unacceptable. If flood relief and rehabilitation of the victims is not properly managed, if law and order is not maintained and if there is even the slightest whiff of corruption at higher levels of government in this matter, things could get very ugly.
Our democratically elected leaders must lead for a change. If our leaders want ordinary people to sacrifice for the greater good, they will then have to set an example by making tangible personal sacrifices also. Only then out of this disaster might come some good.
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org