Saturday, 4 September 2010

Self-inflicted wounds - A Pakistani Paradox

"The humanity of Pakistan's victims takes a backseat to the preconceived image that Westerners have of Pakistan as a country."
These were the words of Mosharraf Zaidi about the world's response to the floods in Pakistan on a couples weeks back in an article that reverberated around the internet. Why was Pakistan not receiving the same level of empathy as Haiti or other countries facing crises? The constant refrain by many commentators was that the international community was not stepping up to the plate during the this game-changing disaster. Since then a number of countries, particularly the United States, have demonstrated forthright commitment to recovery in the South Asian country. Is it enough? Pakistan's Prime Minister estimates the losses from the floods at over $43 billion. Obviously, there will be a shortfall and the devastation that has befallen the country will not disappear quickly by any means.

Yet, there is a perplexing paradox in Pakistan today. The government is wandering from embassy to embassy (or even country to country) asking for support; at the same time it is doing little to safeguard the very little population that is under its control. This week was a case in point, as in the last several days, sectarian violence in Lahore and Quetta has killed over one hundred people. Meanwhile, the government maintains it is ready to deliver aid to flood victims and help them rehabilitate their villages. There is no natural disaster in Islamabad or Karachi or Lahore. Nevertheless, people are dying. People who are peacefully living are being slaughtered. The Pakistani Taliban, according to a senior commander, took credit for the recent attacks on Shiite Muslims: "Our war is against American and Pakistani security forces, but Shiites are also our target because they, too, are our enemies."

There is a triple-sense of outrage that emerges. Firstly, who is this group to declare enemies of people based simply on their creed. A Pakistan that is to be purified to just one conception of Islamic perfection, will always be impure. The concept of killing difference is self-destructive and abhorrent. Secondly, the government is proving wholly ineffective in stopping rounds of sectarian and political violence (this is besides daily issues of law and order). Thirdly, and most importantly, Pakistan at all levels is appealing to the outside world for help, while domestic elements within the country are still perpetrating, accepting and even encouraging violence, instability and disorder. Yes, the flood aid should continue. And yes, the writings of Zaidi and others will inform on the underlying humanity of people in Pakistan. However, to ask for help in restoring a house that is losing its very foundation by the minute is a paradox now prevalent in Pakistan.

The flood aid will come, and some homes will be rebuilt, but will that save the country? When will the conspiracy theories stop about who is responsible for blowing up mosques? Pakistan has a 170 million people, the overwhelming number of him are tremendous ambassadors for their faith and nation. Regardless, what is killing Pakistan now is not an act of God, or an act of War (by the US), nor floods, but Pakistan itself.

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