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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where are our priorities?

Yasmeen Ali     

As I write this article, floods rage across Pakistan, destroying everything in it’s wake, life, property, crops. The earthquake’s that have hit Pakistan in 2005 and 2008 were regarded as the worst tragedy for the nation. However, official reports state, so far, over twelve hundred million are rendered homeless. At least 1.4 million acres of agricultural land was destroyed in Punjab alone, where people rely heavily on agriculture for their food supply. People are grappling with skyrocketing fruit and vegetable prices amid shortages. The rising prices threaten to amplify misery in a country where many residents were already struggling with poverty and food insecurity before the worst flooding in Pakistan's history .
We see a complete system breakdown, the continuing downpour of rain, making relief operations more and more difficult.
At least 570,000 hectares of crops were destroyed in the central province of Punjab, the breadbasket for the rest of Pakistan, according to the United Nations. Many more crops were devastated in the northwest, where destruction from the floods has been harsh and many residents were still trying to recover from intense battles between the Taliban and the army last year. A famine to follow, is on the cards.
Two things have emerged in this scenario. First, there is a growing realization in the common man, that he must rely on his own efforts to recover from this situation nature has placed him in. More and more, we see students, private organizations and voluntary associations collecting food, goods for those sitting helpless without a roof on their heads, without a wall behind their backs, without clothes and without milk for babies who die by hundreds. Those millions who look to us, the more fortunate to help them, in their misery. Even after the flood recedes and eventually, after all the loss of life and property, they go back, what exactly do they go back to? A house that once was and stands no more? Furniture and goods swept away by angry waters? Crops destroyed and land rendered useless for immediate cropping? And where do they raise the money to restart their lives all over again? Where are the civic amenities that one needs to live? Roads? Electricity? Clean drinking water?
Two,in this huge human tragedy, we see the President visiting UK in all pomp and show. How will the suffering populace and the educated populace react to this? Is it adequate for the PPP to state that in a parliamentary form of government, the presence of the Prime Minister may be deemed adequate? Though technically this may be correct, however, the President is also Head of PPP. Thereby was it not his duty to stand by his nation and his party in these trying times? There is something known as a MORAL DUTY.
Having said that, what hurt me as a Pakistani was the show of anger in an un seeming manner in UK where a case of throwing a shoe at the President was reported by a Pakistani.
Irrespective of our anger, rightful though that anger may be, was this the way to react? We must not compare the throwing of shoe by an Iraqi at Bush. Let us not forget America had invaded Iraq and both examples thereby are not, comparable. How did we project ourselves by expressing our anger in this manner? Not a very pretty, picture we cut, I am sorry to say. Two wrongs do not make one right. Here, I would like to mention, the over hundred mails I have received regarding this incident. Most educated people, were remorseful at this incident.
Yet instead of being focused at the he tragedy we face, at being focused on providing relief operations at a brisk pace, we see political parties polishing their shop by accusations and counter accusations. Television is awash with this bit,to gossip.
Mr President, you have announced a relief of two and a half million pounds . Let us see a transparent disbursement and utilization of these monies to the areas needed.
Where are our priorities as a nation? Let us rise together to work towards rebuilding Pakistan. Let us not fight and bicker and exploit a situation. I urge you. BE a Pakistani. Now!


  1. i think everyone in the foreign nations is hesitant to give us any aid, because of the present government's reputation.

    people think it was unwise and uncalled for to throw the shoe at pakistani president. was it?? this same president is solely responsible for the incapable people in the form of advisers around him.

    these incapable advisors in turn appointed God knows how many incapable and corrupt people in the system. i have seen a list of such people in PAKISTAN STEEL today.

    its just one example.

    anyways, what's happened has happened.

    transparency internationals reports about the corruption rise in the government, is hurting us now.

    i say, the man whose government is responsible for this less and less aid, (the rumored billion pound man), bring one fourth of his cash to pakistan as aid to HIS OWN PEOPLE.

    he won't die if he does this.

    his children won't die of hunger if he does this.

    his grandchildren in the future wont die because of this act.

  2. after he does this, maybe some others take the hint, and start bringing in cash too. the sharifs among them.

    all their political lives, they have taken from the people. it is high time now that they return some of it.

    their gesture may signal the foreign aid that has turned its back towards us.

  3. I share 2 mails received:
    1-Mr Shahid Iqbal: A A

    Yasmeen Ali,

    Thank you ,


    Khuda karay zoray qalam awor zyada,

    May Zaradri read your article with his own eyes, without the help of any white advisor, his shadow home minister &other colourful mafia.


    2-Aamir Zahid: I think that if your premise is wrong then by definition the conclusion will be wrong. Mr Zardari is a corrupt man who does not care for not sure why you are getting worked up about someone throwing a shoe at him ?

    You say it is not the same as the Bush are right but Zardari is responsible for allowing foreign troops , blackwater etc in the country and pocketing millions of USD in exchange.....

    Anyhow I am glad you enjoyed his trip in Europe where he was checking on his various real estate holdings and also meeting his buddy Sarkozy regarding the payments for submarines etc

    kind regards,


  4. YAA The two mails posted by you above made me smile. Both read the mails from two different & opposing angles & totally missed that what you were stating is a balance & correction on BOTH ends.
    Congradulations on a very well written and balanced write up. Written like a nationalist!

  5. Excellent article Yasmeen. Well balanced & impartial. True to your pen.

  6. From my Belgian Friend Gerda Casier:Dedicated to the Flooding in Pakistan:

    Cradled in waiting

    raindrop ready to decide

    earth nervously thrilled


    monsoon jumping down

    just craving some company

    for its lonely tears.


    people scattered, soil

    gargling, just no love affair

    water, earth and air.

    (Haiku Gerda, hm hm).


  7. I think foreign aid should come to Pakistan asap. Frankly, I don't understand it, for usually, when a disaster strikes like this, we get a short ad (on tv), with an account number of e.g. the Red Cross, Medicins sans Frontières or other similar organizations. Lots of people will then try and donate something, esp. since this system permits us to tax deduct part of our donation. I know, selfish, but it works! Probably, the loss of life is not deemed 'high' enough, for I don't think people over here are too concerned about the government's reputation.
    As to the shoe throwing? Hard to define my point of view here, as a 'westerner' for I cannot really grasp the true meaning of the gesture.

  8. And thanks for posting my little poem Yasmeen.
    Wish I could do more.

  9. Mail received from Mr Faisal:
    doomsday scenarios;please get out of the hyperbole.floods have been happening in the land since time is a washout of a million acres of farm production(doubt it)out of 55 million acres of production.Blessing for the future;in all this land you will be able to sow wheat with a rejuvenated soil and u hardly require any irrigation;look forward instead of looking to the past with the beggars bowl in mind.the farming community are a stoic ,upright ,honest,productive people and have to face the vagaries of nature on a daily basis.they produce their own livelihoods and have to make do with their situations which exist on the ground.and they do it with simple pride.they have to provide for themselves on a daily basis and make arrangements likewise.
    A mindset which requires external blood to survive and prosper, cannot understand the workings of a self reliant people.i wish the polluters of our environment would keep out of our way!

  10. Floods at home and shoe throwing incident are two different events happening in two different parts of the world but they are linked together because of person of Mr Asif Ali Zardari. Is it not ironic that Pakistan as a country is always maligned because of individual act of someone who is either from this part of the world, had some link or visited Pakistan? whereas, if same act is done (like random firing in a school or shopping center) is attributed to the individual and his identity and nationality are not disclosed to media.
    Floods have played havoc, people have lost faith in government as pointed out by the writer... and so is their anguish against the ruling class and Sardar Shamim's action was one of the reflection as he found the President of Pakistan and Chairman of ruling party in London and I am sure he will face many more if he ever dare to visit KP or southern Punjab.

  11. I share a mail by Munir Varraich:

    Pakistani people have the capacity to change this tragedy into an opportunity. They have always done so.

    This diluge has given the people an opportunity to take stock of themselves, that they are much more tougher than what they thought, both physically and mentally; a clearer picture of their elected government and the positive side of the government functionaries and citizenry.

    It has also given a message to the effected people that the time has come when the rubbish in the system must be washed away.

  12. just read in a paper that putin i think taking part as co-pilot of a chopper in subsiding the fire that has gripped russia.

    and now imagine where are OUR political leaders, ministers, members, senators.

    only read about shahbaz sharif being active like crazy. no signs of any other to be doing anything except calling names to opponents or sitting at home or visiting the family estates abroad.

    the pm either visits in just a chopper without landing, shake of a hand from afar. or watches from the ground where his clothes won't get affected.

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  14. Very straightforward and matter-of-fact article.
    Two things that we have seen at the height of this tragedy, are very strange and sorrowful. One, as you rightly said, political parties as usual, polishing their own shop and scoring points against each other instead of concentrating on the relief effort. And two, our biggest TV channel, Geo and their newspaper Daily Jang, utilizing 80-90 percent of their news time and space covering the shoe incident (because it satisfies their ego to insult Zardari) and the closure of their channel by some cable operators.


  15. Thank you Haidre Sahib. I am glad you have clearly grasped the point I was trying to make.

  16. Excellent article YAA.
    The floods, which started on Wednesday, have left 1.5 million people without clean drinking water, sparking an outbreak of water-spread diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea. Rescue teams have so far rescued 28,000 people, and the UN, China and the US have all pledged millions to help relieve and rebuild the affected areas.
    All this money promised from outside countries will honestly not help if it is given to the authorities without supervision or monitoring terms. In any case, even if stuff does get done it will be cosmetic. Yes, it will help the local people, but not the underlying problem.
    There is another problem affecting the region and specially these areas, which complicates things further. The local people and politicians specially the ruling party in the province fiercely oppose the construction of a dam that the central government has been trying to get built. That dam known on papers as Kalabagh dam would actually prevent the kind of floods we're seeing now, and create both local jobs and plenty of energy and water for agricultural usage throughout the year. But for the time being, due to politics and regional issue the dam is on papers and its construction is not possible. The dam is going to be built near Mianwali in Punjab province which is also heavily affected by recent floods."
    As for the politicians, have we heard ONE contributing?

  17. I share a few links of the floods:
    1-Flood in Peshawar , Budni Nala, 28-29 Jul 2010-Imran Ahmad Sajid
    3-Dangerous flood in peshawar
    One does not hear of any PAKISTANI POLITICIANS personally contributing anything for their countrymen.
    President Asif Ali Zardari Thursday tried to fend off an outcry over his response to Pakistan's catastrophic floods by visiting a hard-hit area for the first time and handing out relief.
    What KIND of a President do you guys have????

  18. It's a graphic account of the state of affairs in Pakistan. Alas! so callous are the democratic rulers. They lack commitment to people and it has remained a national tragedy during civilian rules and people are compelled to look the other way. People live between the devil and the deep sea.
    MAK Lodhi

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  20. Good article and I think you have more patience than most. Personally, I would like to see more than a shoe thrown at Zardari. I'd like to see him live homeless knee-deep in floodwater for just a single day.

    You are correct that he has not committed a war crime like Bush/Cheney/Rummie/Wolfo did in illegally invading Iraq. But, ironically, Zardari has performed worse than the intellectually lazy, aloof, elitist Bush (all those describe Zardari as well) did during the Katrina crisis. Both men are oblivious to the plight of the underprivileged. Bush never left the country - although Laura Bush tucks him into bed every night by 9pm CST and he never reads the newspapers, so he missed the news of Katrina by 1.5 days - which is also unforgivable.

    I've written about 8 articles on this topic and have tried to show photos of the worst scenes possible and have put donation links on my site. I think the shoe incident has drawn focus away from what is most critical. What is most tragic is that the poorer areas have been hit the hardest - and with food prices skyrocketing it's the people who need the food the most who will suffer, and over 3 million poor children are exposed to water-borne disease - according to UN:

    Great post someone had on Reddit putting this in perspective that got 185 comments: "To put Pakistan's disaster in perspective in relation to Huricane Katrina: (1) multiply the magnitude by 10x, (2) take away $4.75B of the $5B in government aid and donations, (3) imagine the people affected having 1/100th the income, and (4) cut the public interest and media attention to 1/10th"

    Zardari should be in Pakistan every waking minute. General Kayani should probably takeover because the military seems the only people competent enough to do anything - but I doubt he even wants the headache at this point. Meanwhile, Pakistani Taliban are taking advantage of the situation.

    As an American, it will be very bad news if the world doesn't help Pakistan rebuild when this is over. If the U.S. were wise it would put as many resources as possible over there to help out. One chopper in Pakistan will do a hell of alot more good than a chopper in Afghanistan trying to kill some "high value target" (aren't they all?).

    Michael Hughes

  21. Thank you for the detailed comment Michael.
    Let me take your comments one by one:
    1- My patience normally has a very short fuse. The reason for my not supporting the shoe throwing is because it deflects focus from where needed as you have correctly pointed out & two, it reflects an uncivilized reaction as a nation.
    2-I will agree that facing a national calamity as we are, the President SHOULD have been in the country. I have not minced words in so saying in my article.
    3-I do not think judging by USA's reaction, that we should be depending on them to do much good for us in overcoming the disaster.Please correct me if I am wrong.At best, this is debatable which itself speaks volumes for the "friendship" USA has for Pakistan.
    4-It is not JUST Zardari, but politicians in GENERAL who are failing to lead by example.
    5-Army under Kiyani will not take over because:
    a)It has a drift that democracy must be allowed to run it's course.
    b)We are also NOT expecting a revolution from grass root because there is no catalyst for it and
    c)This government(and opposition) suits USA as it is pliant. It is a harsh reality that USA has great impact on politics of Pakistan.
    6)I 100% agree when you state that a helicopter can be used for saving lives rather than attacking some in Afghanistan.However, for this you need unanimity of objectives. USA has always had her own objectives in the region. I hope this serves as a case to bring home the point to the doubtful.