Pakistan’s watery woes

Pakistan’s watery woes

Pakistan is in the grip of a devastating deluge. By some estimates, 20 million people have been affected in floods that have destroyed critical infrastructure: Roads, bridges, electricity and communication networks have vanished in many parts. All this makes delivering aid to the flood victims a difficult task.

There are two other features that have aggravated the situation: the first a practical problem and the second, a psychological result of the first. Pakistan today is a state that is marked by the extreme incapacity of its government to handle basic tasks. In February, the International Crisis Group, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, issued a report Reforming Pakistan’s Civil Service. That report detailed how successive governments virtually derailed and destroyed the civil service. The latest blow was delivered by the then president Pervez Musharraf, who vested revenue and law and order powers in the hands of elected mayors (nazims) instead of trained administrators. This virtually broke the back of the services delivery system at the district level.

Today if aid cannot reach the flood victims, it is because there is little or no coordination at the district level. So even if vast amounts of aid are poured in, the last-mile connectivity in the aid disbursement chain—from the federal government to the provincial administration to the district level—is broken. There is no escape from this administrative black hole in Pakistan.

The country’s elite, however, refuses to understand these realities. Instead, it makes outlandish claims on the international community that are often couched in threatening terms and pins the blame on imaginary enemies. Two examples are pertinent. On Tuesday, Pakistan’s high commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, demanded a “Marshall Plan" (a US effort to rebuild a war-ravaged Europe after 1945) for his country and said the reconstruction could cost anywhere from $10 billion to $15 billion. His rationale for the demand: not helping his country could fuel extremism and terrorism. Another example of such delusional arguments is that of journalist Ahmed Rashid. Rashid in a New York Review of Books blog post also made the feed-us-or-you-will-get-terrorists argument. He blamed India for not responding in time with help. It’s another matter that Islamabad refuses to take Indian aid and refuses to take a decision one way or the other.

Pakistan’s problems are, clearly, complex. They will not be solved in a day. And pointing the gun of terrorism at the international community only exacerbates its problems of credibility. There are better ways to solicit aid and get it.

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