Will slow response to Pakistan flood threaten democracy?
The absence of politicians from the scene of the Pakistan flood -- the country's worst in 80 years -- is raising concerns about the future of democracy in Pakistan.
At the town’s main shelter, housed in the Muzzafargarh Welfare School in southern Punjab, women driven from their homes by the Pakistan flood line up for medicine for their children and plead for food. While doctors dispense treatment, a steady stream of clients is generated by poor sanitation in the latrines at the camp. Flies and mosquitoes buzz around the toilet and kitchen areas as men, women, and children share living space on the floors.Skip to next paragraph
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“Our requests for cleaning up the latrines and the floors are going ignored,” complains shopkeeper Mazhar Ahmad.
Anger is spreading throughout this flooded region at the local politicians who have been missing from a scene in which Pakistan's Red Crescent, Red Cross branches and even the US Marines have been providing aid. The feeling of abandonment by local politicians is common among Pakistan's poorest, and raises questions about future support democracy in Pakistan. Militant groups who have challenged central government authority have been quick to jump in with promises of aid.
In a sign of the mounting anger Hina Rabbani Khar, a parliamentarian and junior minister from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, was pelted with stones by protesters on Aug. 8 after arriving at her constituency in Punjab one week after the flooding had begun.
Too little, too late?
On Thursday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who has been harshly criticized for not canceling a trip to France and Britain during the flooding, made his first visit to the flood affected areas. The president visited his home province of Sindh and was shown on state television patting the head of an elderly woman before inspecting a flood barrier.
"The president has always been concerned with the welfare of Pakistan's people, notwithstanding the venomous propaganda of his opponents. He has been involved in directing and coordinating resource mobilization for flood relief internationally. His visit to flood affected areas should effectively shut up those who would rather play politics than focus on helping those uprooted by raging waters," wrote the president's spokesperson Farahnaz Ispanahi in an e-mail to the Monitor.
The perception war
But stepping in to fill a perceived void have been groups such as the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, allegedly a front organization for banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is believed to have been behind the Mumbai attacks in 2008, as well as the Al Khidmet foundation, the charitable wing of Pakistan’s hardline Jamaat-e-Islami.
At a medical camp on Muzaffargarh’s main road, Ghulam Mustafa, chief of the Falah-e-Insaniat medical team, sits with several helpers and dispenses drugs. In between prescribing diarrhea medication to a small infant who has been brought along by his mother, Dr. Mustafa explains: “Only we and the Jamaat-e-Islami have camps in the villages and far flung areas. It is our Islamic duty” to help, he said. In a text message to the Monitor, the Al Khidmet foundation makes similar boasts about its efforts in Layyah, Sindh. “In one area we have 10 boats busy rescuing those affected. Here there are no Army or civilian government representatives.”