More than one-fifth of Pakistan has been hit by devastating floods. Human misery far out-weighs what the country suffered following partition in 1947. The death count of 1,700 as of now will go up through disease and deprivation. Pakistan, says, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, is facing a slow-motion tsunami. Its destructive powers will accumulate and grow with time.
It is now almost a month since Pakistan has been facing strategic challenges of gigantic proportions: 8 lakh isolated people, mostly in the higher regions in the north, are reachable only by air. Relief workers can't reach the spot since there are not enough helicopters and the 18 deployed by the US fall far short of the requirement.
Hunger and deprivation are bound to destroy many. The Indus fury has brought devastating destruction and only extraordinary efforts by the international community will help mitigate it. Lakhs of hectares of standing crops have been ruined, triggering a severe food shortage that in turn, is bound to drive food prices up in the not too distant future. This can be a backbreaking experience for any country at the best of times.
In such a situation isn't time India went beyond the $5 million aid and gave every help possible to extricate the neighbouring country from certain destruction?
Worse, the 20 million plus displaced people include thousands of medical workers. The destruction of roads, bridges, schools and hospitals is widespread. The situation is further complicated by day as high tides in the Arabian Sea have slowed the drainage of the surging waters fed by hammering monsoon rains.
Those visiting the affected areas say they haven't seen such human dislocation in Pakistan since 1947. There are already allegations of ineffective relief efforts and utilization of funds pouring into the country from all over the world. The UN target of $460 million relief aid is definitely a drop in the ocean. Rehabilitation of the misplaced millions alone would cost over a billion dollars.
The need of the hour is to face the challenge and do everything to ensure that the miserable millions are helped back to the safety of their homes and livelihoods. Can Pakistan, that has always had a poor record of crisis management, pull off this seemingly impossible task?
How the country goes about using the aid that is pouring in from various countries and agencies and whether it will be used for the betterment of the people, is something we will have to wait to see. What is certain is that it is not going to be easy.
Another problem is the opening of relief centres by extremist organizations. Fortunately, the administration has stepped in and asked some of the suspect NGOs operating in the troubled areas to shut shop.
The ISI too seems to have come to the realization that the Frankensteins it created in the shape of Islamist militancy are ultimately bound to turn on its creator. That is perhaps why its latest study has admitted that these militants had become a greater threat to the country than India.
In such a situation India has an opportunity to prove its good intentions by helping Pakistan reach out to the flood-hit in many ways. Apart from providing relief we should be thinking of making manpower available to rebuild habitations. We can provide unarmed jawans to rebuild washed off roads, rails and bridges and generally to help as a disciplined force, if necessary, even under the command of Pakistani army officers.
Indian aid would make all the difference to the suffering millions since we can reach the spot fast and provide food and medical assistance to the people.
Yes, Indian is not amused by the Pakistani refusal to accept a loan of helicopters, even when they had no other way to overcome the problems.
Can't we handle this obstinate Pakistani self-rejection by routing the assistance through the Americans? India can provide men and materials to the UN or the US, which in turn can make appropriate use of it. We have thousands of trained engineers and doctors in the three wings of defense forces. Let us make a gesture by releasing such experts to the UN, so that they can ensure that water-borne disease are nipped in the bud and remote area accessibility is made a faster reality.
Though the two countries are unwilling to fully trust each other we can be confident that a back-to-the-wall Pakistan will not mount an attack across the border. So it should not cause any alarm even to pull back some forces from the border so as to encourage Pakistan to utilise their own men for relief efforts.
We have to convince ourselves that such gestures are meant to help millions of our neighbours in distress, not necessarily the military or civil authorities there. Who knows, such a gesture might even give a beneficent twist sub-continental politics.
Abridged from the writer's column 'Idle Talk' in Current magazine, Aug 30-Sept 5, 2010, published just before India increased her aid offer to Pakistan by USD 20 million.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
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Page 67 of 175
The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw