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Pakistan’s Flood Disaster And ‘War On Terror’

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

22 August, 2010

In a paradoxical move while reportedly denying permission to the use of US-controlled Shahbaz air force base in southern Sindh province for flood relief operation, the Department of State has established the Pakistan Relief Fund. The establishment of the fund was announced on August 19, in a video statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This Fund is in addition to $150 million help announced earlier.

The floods have affected 20 million people and about one-fifth of Pakistan’s territory. The flood disaster has apparently hit more Pakistanis than the toll of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Haiti earthquake combined.

Shahbaz airbase

In a stunning statement before the Standing Committee on Health of the Senate,

Health Secretary Khushnood Lashari said, on August 18, that the relief operations in flood-hit areas of Jacobabad could not be conducted from the Shahbaz airbase because it is controlled by the US.

"Health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is with the United States," he said answering a question from a member of the committee.

Dr Jahanzeb Aurakzai, coordinator of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Centre, said: “Foreign health teams could not start relief operations in remote areas because there are no airstrips close to several areas, including Jacobabad.”

The town has been evacuated and 500,000 to 700,000 people have been affected. People displaced from Jacobabad, Thul, Kandhkot, Kashmore, Ghouspur and Karumpur are camping in Dera Allahyar.

“It is very unfortunate that Americans can launch a drone attack from Shahbaz airbase but the government is helpless even in using the country’s base for relief operations,” Senator Semeen to Dawn.

Telling, on August 16, while the focus of the Pakistani nation was on the sufferings of the flood victims, US launched two separate drone strikes in one day in North and South Waziristan killing 18 people. At least six people were killed in US drone attack in North Waziristan on Saturday (August 21).

Interestingly, US drones have now launched more than 100 deadly strikes in Pakistan since President Barack Obama came to power. In other words, US drone attacks in Pakistan have more than tripled under Obama claiming lives of more than 700 people compared to 200 under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The US embassy has denied that Shahbaz airbase (from where drone attacks are reportedly being launched) was controlled by American authorities. "These allegations are completely false. Shahbaz airbase in Jacobabad is a Pakistan Air Force base, commanded and operated by PAF forces," the embassy's spokesman said in a statement.

However, the ground realities belie this denial.

According to the Nation, a leading Pakistani newspaper, the Pakistan Air Force was denying all manner of access to the airbase because of the presence of US personnel who had come along with the Block 52 F-16s, which were delivered at this base and had US conditionalities including the presence of US personnel to “keep an eye” on how the planes were used by the PAF.

While the PAF was responsible for the security of the base, it was the pressure from the US on security grounds, that was preventing access to the base-even of Pakistanis who had been involved in carrying out building work at Shahbaz, the paper added.

Organizers of national and international NGOs told The Nation that they could not reach Jacobabad to provide food and drinking water to as many as 500,000 to 700,000 flood victims due to strict security conditions adopted for Shahbaz Air Base.

Reluctant response from the donors

Only a small fraction of the six million Pakistanis desperate for food and clean water have received any help as the United Nations. With hundreds of villages marooned and highways and bridges cut in half by swollen rivers, food rations and access to clean water have only been provided to around 500,000 million flood survivors, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Daniel Toole told a news conference in Islamabad on August 17.

The United Nations has warned that up to 3.5 million children could be in danger of contracting deadly diseases carried through contaminated water and insects in a crisis that has disrupted the lives of at least a tenth of Pakistan's 170 million people.

The UN launched a 460-million-dollar appeal for donations on August 11. However, the UN has complained that foreign donors have not been quick or generous enough given the scale of the disaster. After a two-day session of the UN General Assembly ended Friday, the amount of international aid pledged for Pakistani flood victims still fell well short of the $US460 million in emergency aid that the UN has appealed for. Despite the increased amounts of aid pledged over the past two days, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes told Associated Press that the UN’s appeal was not fully funded. “At the moment, we’re about 70 percent funded, about $350 million,” he said. Perhaps the reluctance may be due to earlier reports that during General Musharraf’s regime about $ 500.00 million disappeared from the aid provided to the earth quake victims in 2005.

This mistrust is also seen inside Pakistan where people are reluctant to channel their donations through government agencies. Very little money was sent to Prime Minister’s Flood Relief Fund while various political parties and charity organizations are providing the relief supplies direct to the victims. Even Pakistanis living abroad, such as in the Arabian Gulf region, Europe and America, are not sending funds through government channels.

Tellingly, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani has rejected a proposal by Nawaz Sharif, chief of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, - the second largest political party of Pakistan - for setting up an independent commission to oversee the utilization of flood aid. Surely, this will further erode trust in the government of Pakistan People’s Party led by President Asif Ali Zardari who was pelted with shoes in UK earlier this month to protest his private visit while Pakistan was suffering from devastating floods.

Interestingly, during an interview with Dawn newspaper on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, defended Washington’s corrupt-client government of President Zardari by describing corruption as a diversionary side issue. When her attention was drawn to the accusations that corruption is seen as a major reason for the world’s reluctance to help Pakistan, She said: “Corruption, unfortunately, has been with us, is with us and always be with us. It must be attacked and it must be rooted out but I don’t think it does a service to the people who are suffering to have some diversionary side conversation about corruption.”

Flood relief and “war on terror”

Public anger is growing over insufficient relief that highlights potential political troubles for an unpopular government. People are protesting against the government for not providing them shelter, food and medical aid. In many of such protests, last week, angry flood survivors in Sindh province blocked a highway to protest slow delivery of aid.

Pakistan’s civilian government has supplied comparatively little aid, relying instead on the military’s rescue operations. Private charities, including religious organizations, have moved swiftly to fill the vacuum left by a government. These charities have played a major role in helping the millions of flood victims which is making those victims resentful against the government.

With fueling anger among the flood victims the unpopular government has announced to crack down on the charities with alleged links to banned militant groups, insisting that they must not be allowed to distribute aid to flood victims.

At the same time, President Asif Ali Zardari warned that militants were trying to exploit the floods to promote their agendas. “Like they would take the babies who have been made orphans and take them to their camps and train them as the terrorists of tomorrow,” he told a joint press conference with the visiting US Senator, John Kerry.

President Zardari was echoing the US stance as Senator Kerry made clear that the objective of the US aid is humanitarian but “obviously there is a national security interest. We do not want additional jihadis, extremists, coming out of a crisis.”

What this means? The US aid effort is not motivated by concern for the estimated 20 million Pakistanis impacted by the floods but is driven by the need to prop up the client government of President Asif Ali Zardari, on which the US relies to wage a proxy war on militants in Pakistan’s northern areas bordering Afghanistan.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective: www.perspective.com Email: asghazali786@gamil.com