The deluge: will Pakistan submerge or survive?
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Vol 25.4 Oct-Dec 2010 | Date : 08 Dec , 2010

The Political Cost

Even as Pakistan reeled under the floods, Zardari swanned off to UK and France, ostensibly to collect funds, but actually to visit his 16th century chateau and promote the political career of his son Bilawal. The visit – or rather the return – was a disaster. The much reviled “Mr Ten Percent” – who has been changed with siphoning almost $ 300 million from the aid received for the 2005 earthquake -had his image shattered almost completely. He followed up the blunder with some horrendous puns on the 14 August Independence Day speech where he vowed not to let the rains “dampen” the enthusiasm or let the nation be “submerged” by the calamity. In his ill-timed jaunt, he may have just written his own political epitaph, and with it an epitaph for democracy in Pakistan.

Pakistans history has shown that whenever a Chief is granted an extension, there has been a coup and an imposition of martial law.

The floods have tarnished Pakistan’s politicians as nothing else – not so much for their insensitivity and lack of administration, but for their willingness to capitalize even on this national crisis. Few donations have reached government agencies. Most private donors and charitable organizations chose to deliver their collections directly to the flood-affected areas for the fear that it will be misappropriated if handed over to government agencies. With the political administration having failed completely, into the fray have stepped the army and also the very militant groups that they are combating.

The army is now seen as the only savior whose helicopters and food packets are visible signs of some kind of cohesive response. And the army is capitalizing on this to boost its own image. Aid packages are wrapped in paper with the army logo prominently emblazoned; relief trucks entering flood-affected areas carry banners saying “From Pakistan Army”, or “From Corps Commander, _ Corps”. After the beating that the image of the army had suffered under Musharraf, it is once emerging as Pakistan’s savior in its hour of need.

The editorials have begun calling for the army to step back in power and “save the nation” and the mood has swayed dramatically back from anti-government to pro-army. General Kayani’s recent three year extension as Chief has given him a renewed power and a legitimate standing to once again impose the writ of the army. Pakistan’s history has shown that whenever a Chief is granted an extension, there has been a coup and an imposition of martial law. So is Pakistan’s nascent democracy once again coming to an end and are we likely to witness another period of military rule.

The Revival of Militant Groups

Another unlikely gainer in this disaster are the militant groups – who as in the 2005 earthquake are in the forefront of relief work. Banned groups like Lashker-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Harkat-ul-Jihad Al Islam have set up offices and collection centers, first with assumed names and then under their own identities and organized relief activities— many say far more effectively than government agencies. One militant spokesman boasted “We feed 50,000 people everyday”. Like the army their presence, is visible and their impact seen as being far more tangible than the ineffective administration. Like the army, the image of militant groups has sky-rocketed.

Even in the midst of floods, bomb blasts continued unabated across Pakistan and triggered off a wave of ethnic violence in Karachi.

This causes a strange paradox. The militants were losing ground not only in the battles in Swat and Waziristan but also in the minds of the population. Ironically just a week prior to the floods the ISI had released an assessment stating “a two third likelihood of a major threat coming from militants rather than India or elsewhere” – the first time in its history that India was not viewed as the major threat. The army is now actually working together with the same militants to provide some measure of aid to the flood victims. Also, the alienation that was suffered by the militants after their atrocities in the Swat Valley and their wave of bombing attacks throughout the nation is now reducing. The Swat Valley itself, one of the militant hotspots, has been one of the most flood affected regions. Over one million people were then displaced by military actions in the region. With the man-made calamity having just subsided, this natural calamity has emerged to uproot them once again. When they and most of Pakistan’s displaced peasantry go back, there will have no homes, fields or livestock to return to. Rehabilitating their lives will take half a decade, even if the administration is effective and the aid reaches where it has to.

The social scale of the tragedy will provide a boost to the Jehadi cause. Over 20 million have been affected and the thousands of unemployed, landless peasants with literally nothing to live for will now be attracted to the Jehadi cause. Children, whose schools are washed away, will turn to the militant run Madarsas and the vitriolic brand of education they propagate. The cohesive relief campaign organized by militant groups has shown the government in poor light. Suddenly the majority of the population will tilt towards them – as they did to the Taliban in the chaos of Afghanistan in the 90s. We may then see an ideological and political rise of the Taliban in Pakistan on a far larger scale than Afghanistan and with it the very real possibility of the nation being taken over by militants.

The Strategic Impact

The floods have also affected Pakistan in the most critical phase of the war in Afghanistan. The Pak army has indefinitely postponed its operations in Waziristan and deployed its troops for flood-relief operations. Pressure on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda on both sides of the Durand Line has reduced considerably and they will now be able to consolidate and then negotiate from a position of strength when the US begins its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It will take five years for Pakistan to restore the situation provided the cumulative effects of the floods do not swamp the nation. Pakistanis response to this crisis will determine its future as a nation.

The Army operations – if they do resume – have been affected by the washing away of roads, culverts and bridges in Swat and Waziristan. In that difficult terrain, the army was dependent on infrastructure for its military actions and sustenance. With that having gone resuming operations will be even more difficult. The critical window for operations is also closing. The army has only two or three months before winter sets in and no operations would be possible thereafter. With precious time being lost in flood relief operations, it is unlikely that the army will be able to conduct operations in this season.

The disastrous floods have in no way affected the internal situation in the country. Bombs still go off with chilling regularity throughout the nation; Shia-Sunni clashes still take place with each others mosques being targeted. Karachi is still a tinder-box with waves of ethnic violence sweeping the city and everywhere else like Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore or Islamabad where the terrorists demonstrate their ability to strike at will. While the army and the administration is engaged in the floods the jihadi activities will enhance.

1 2 3
Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col Ajay Singh

Col Ajay Singh, writes extensively on contemporary warfare and geopolitics

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left