It’s Pakistan’s Independence Day, and the country is, quite literally, drowning. More than 14 million people have been affected by floods that continue to hit Pakistan since last week making this disaster bigger than the South-East Asian tsunami and the recent earthquakes in Kashmir and Haiti combined. If that wasn’t enough, Pakistanis are also being attacked from the skies. American drones killed at least 12 people in North Waziristan today. The Americans are also running flood relief efforts flying in goods. They are not done saving us yet, and they are killing us already. Killing and saving. It goes on like that. That’s the prerogative of Empire: to give life and to take it, arbitrate who lives and who dies. To define the terms of logic itself. How divine.
I cannot muster the will to anger. The politicians, the pundits, the press tell tall tales, nod heads seriously, stitch stories from scraps. They tell us this is so and that is so. They are professionals at horror stories and fairy tales. The government’s incompetence, the massacre of fellow Pakistanis by drones in the north, devastating food insecurity all neatly resolve by the end of a soundbite. Meanwhile, our present is split open and the Indus is running right through it.
It’s not too much to make this prediction: the death toll will be much higher than official sources. Who really believes official sources?
Here are however a few figures to mull over: So far, donations for flood relief amount to $6.82 per survivor. Compare that to the figure for a survivor of the tsunami in South East Asia: $669.60. Why doesn’t the international community care very much? We may have some of our pundits to thank for that. Claims that the West better save us from this flood to avoid a Taliban flood in Pakistan are flights of fancy I’m not capable of in the face of facts: Pakistan’s Army is the 6th largest with over 500,000 troops. The Taliban is only hundreds at its core. It manages bombings and spectacular events, but a wholesale take-over is unlikely. And as for the other Islamist groups, they’re too embroiled in sectarian conflicts themselves. But these narratives do serve to take away from real issues: economic, political, social–such as the rise of religious conservatism in PK (which is NOT the same thing as Taliban supporters)–and the military, that is, the vast military complex in Pakistan and its dealings with and uses of Islamist groups.
Questions. International and local donors are circumventing the inept civilian government in favor of the Army. Is the Army really equipped for such a task, or does its sheer hierarchy exude a sense of order and discipline (that it may actually lack)? What’s the alternative? What will be the consequences?
So, the aid may not flow, even if the waters continue to. But, Pakistanis are used to a self-help regime. All around me, families have been organizing their own flood relief efforts with friends and family. Individuals are hiring trucks, setting up camps, or simply just heading off to the affected areas to help out. I was in the US when Katrina happened. I can’t help but compare. Americans have faith in their government, so much so, that even as it became painfully, sorrowfully clear on television screens across America that the government would do little to help its Black citizens, I did not see Americans mobilize in the way and to the extent I see Pakistanis around me doing so now.
It’s deeply impressive, and in that, there is hope. And as a friend and I discussed the other day, it’s from the hope of multitudes–the indelible faith that things can be made different–that revolutions come. (Does anyone doubt that we need anything less?)
A friend who’s been in Sukkur for days sends an update:
So I have been in Sukkur these past 4 days with SRSO. The overall picture is pretty dismal here and as usual the government is largely missing from the picture. There are some tents (shamyana) etc. but they are not really providing any services except water once a day. SRSO is estimating 300,000+ in 2000+ villages affected but I think nobody really has a handle on how many (and that est. was 3 days ago). The actual numbers are probably much higher.
I have now heard of 3 different instances of breaches in bund walls to divert water because some minister was trying to save his crops (or even more cynically trying to drown a rival party member’s fields). The breach near Guddu barrage was deliberate though to try and save Sukkur barrage but our irrigation department really had no idea what they were doing. Entire southern part of Kashmor district was inundated and the water has now flooded through Jacobabad. We are expecting more of that flood to reach Sukkur sometime in the morning.
The number of dead in newspapers I think are gross understatements. I spent a day with WFP worker from Swat who was really pissed that the media is saying…