Pakistan: flood politics at its worst

Flood relief is being used by some as an opportunity to orchestrate political upheaval. Sections of the media are drumming up the partisan politics of a dangerous kind by involving the thorny issue of civil-military relations and the trite-but- failed recipe that the country should revert to authoritarianism whenever a crisis erupts.

Some TV anchors have been overtly suggesting that the military is saving the country at this juncture when the ‘venal politicians are staging VVIP visits and not giving any relief. In one TV show, an estranged senator of the ruling party called for martial law. There is now a clear effort to create a duality – that of the military versus the civilian government.

Another charge against the federal government is that of Pakistan’s credibility deficit. The prime cause for this, according to the TV sages, is the president’s tainted persona. The irresponsible statements of the United Nations in terms of Pakistan’s ‘image’ have not helped either. One wonders, in fact, just what evidence the UN has in its possession to reach such a conclusion. Are dozens of developing countries not in the same league? Are corruption and systemic leakages strictly ‘Pakistani’ problems? The UN may investigate this issue and take corrective steps lest it be seen as supporting the forces pitted against democracy in Pakistan.

If anything, the operations of several international donors should be called into question. From the excessive profiteering by international consulting firms to inefficient aid bureaucracies (the UN included), Pakistanis are well aware of how the development game works. And so it was about time that those lecturing us in this time of grave crisis took stock of their own performance.

Coming back to the shenanigans of sections of the local media, there appears to be a deliberate construction of a dangerous discourse and a sham argument for the ascendancy of the armed forces. The military is part of the state and legally an agency working in support of the government. The civilian administration is struggling to keep up with the scale of the calamity.

This brings us to an important question, is the weakening of the state merely a doing of those in civvies? If anything, the army must share the blame for the failure of the civilian state since it (the army) has ruled the country longer than anyone else has. But that is not what we need to debate now. We have to provide relief through the existing state in a transparent manner. The international community should know this simple fact: if the Pakistani state will not deliver, no one can.

And a message to those in the media who pretend to be wise putting forth such discourse: booting out a civilian government will serve no purpose. The challenge is gargantuan and no entity can do it alone. By prodding an overstretched army, these voices are doing a huge disservice to our real national institution.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2010.

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