Halting Politics at Crisis Floodgate

Amid an ongoing political tug of war and economic crisis, Pakistan faces the aftermath of the country’s most distressing floods since its inception. With about one-third of the land submerged in flood water, taking more than 1200 lives and displacing over 33 million of the population, the dire state of affairs necessitates the political stakeholders to unite in order to weather the storm. As the affectees have their eyes on the government to warrant their safety, the political elite unfortunately seems to view the calamity also as a chance to tear down their opponents.

The ongoing political showdown has not been of much help as the political groups remained busy pulling down each other rather than consolidating efforts for the approaching monsoon. The catastrophic floods have initiated yet another competition between the ruling coalition and the opposition as they assert their accomplishments in relief and rehabilitation. The government in Islamabad, with the provincial establishments in Balochistan and Sindh, is striving to provide relief to the flood-affected citizens. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif have gathered substantial monetary aid from the world actors through the United Nations. With global assistance from various areas coming in, the local and central administrations have also augmented their efforts to facilitate flood victims across the state. However, while the ruling coalition, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), has mobilised efforts across the country to ensure swift relief operations, its political leaders have not shied away from criticising the Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) upon hispolitical overtures.

The catastrophic floods have initiated yet another competition between the ruling coalition and the opposition as they assert their accomplishments in relief and rehabilitation.

Sharing his views via Twitter, Foreign Minister Bilawal Zardari condemned Imran Khan’s decision to continue his political rallies despite the deadly floods. He stated that as 1/7th of Pakistan’s population is affected by floods, the former prime minister is engaged in carrying out “concerts” in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He pointed out that it is shameful how the respective chief ministers are facilitating these “concerts” rather than helping out the flood affectees.

On the other hand, former prime minister Imran Khan has raised a rather sizeable amount of funds which signifies his popularity and capacity to mobilise even the Pakistanis living abroad. The PTI Chairman has held three telethons till now following the floods. Khan claims to have gathered a total amount of Rs. 14B through these flood relief transmissions, collectively spanning 8.5 hours. He remarked that when people are assured that their provided assistance will be properly used, they will certainly extend monetary support. However, the former premier also accused the coalition government of attempting to obstruct the telethon led by his political party for the flood-relief fundraiser. Khan claimed that television channels were “pressured” and cable operators were “threatened” to hinder fundraising transmission. Khan maintained that due to the ruling coalition’s track record of “loot and plunder”, people no longer trust them. Therefore, the former premier believes the government, in the act of “unbelievable callousness”, has resorted to subverting his fundraiser only to vex him and his party.

As for the current regime, it has found an opportunity to restore its dwindling status among the masses. However, in doing so, the government in Islamabad appears way too focused on highlighting the damage PTI is incurring on the state’s relief work. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif stated that the current government was occupied with the rehabilitation of the flood affectees and did not have the time to facilitate the “accusations and misunderstandings” of the PTI leader. Prime Minister Sharif rubbished the former prime minister’s accusations of a media blackout of his political party and flood-relief fundraiser. Keeping up the tradition of tit-for-tat, he instead asked the former head of government to give a disclosure of the funds he had gathered during the floods of 2010.

Returning the favour, the former premier and head of PTI, Imran Khan, denounced the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister for choosing to undertake foreign visits instead of furnishing aid to the flood affectees. He questioned where a prime minister takes foreign trips when a nation is facing hardships on such a scale. Khan reiterated that Pakistan People’s Party governs the province of Sindh, which is completely under flood water. Yet, the party’s chairman has shown his disinterest by going ahead with his visit abroad.

Notwithstanding the continuing political tussle, the real price for the natural disaster is being paid by the ordinary people, rendered homeless by the catastrophe, vulnerable to disease and lack of safety as they look for assistance. Flood has led to the loss of lives and livelihood. Rescue and rehabilitation will take months, in fact, years. Still, the political elite in the country is not evading the opportunity to drag each other down. Thus, regardless of the mammoth challenge, the ruling class engages in verbal sparring and mudslinging. The nation has always worked as a united front in tackling such demanding situations in the past. It is, therefore, necessary to refer to our own example. As the voters in Pakistan and the international donors abroad closely watch the efforts undertaken by all the political stakeholders, it is imperative to separate political agendas from relief efforts.

Fareha Iqtidar Khan

Fareha Iqtidar Khan is Associate Editor at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She is also Visiting Faculty at the International Islamic University, Islamabad.

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