Our opposition parties, in particular, and sections of our press, more generally, have tried to give the impression that international donors are stingy with Pakistan because of the government’s lack of credibility. I disagree and suggest that those arguing this position should read some of the comments to articles in the foreign press urging donors to aid Pakistan in its time of need. Even progressive publications like The Guardian and MSNBC’s site have plenty of comments suggesting that Pakistanis are terrorists so who cares if they drown.
It is this association with the Taliban’s image that has hurt Pakistan far more than the government’s credibility, for Pakistan is not the only developing country with corrupt leadership. There are ways around that if international donors are serious about helping out. There is no compulsion of going through government channels. Aid can be sent directly to trusted Pakistani charities. Moreover, internationally-known NGOs, such as Oxfam or Medecins Sans Frontieres, working to collect funds for Pakistan’s flood victims are way behind in their targets. There should be no credibility issue here as these groups have excellent track records. It is simply that Pakistan has suffered from such bad press in connection to terrorism in recent years that the few opinion-makers and journalists who are writing about the need to help innocent Pakistanis are simply not being heeded.
On the other hand, some charities that have managed to collect sizeable funds are those that evoke feelings of sympathy among fellow Muslims, names like Islamic Relief. Saudi Arabia’s private telethon collected $110 million, which must be lauded as the largest private contribution from any country yet. However, other oil-rich Gulf countries, such as the UAE or Qatar, have given virtually nothing, while Kuwait has only offered about $5 million, which incidentally, is the same amount that India has offered. As a comparison, Kuwait gave $500 million when Hurricane Katrina struck, while Qatar gave $100 million.
This is however no time for holding on to ego. Pakistan must accept funds, no matter where they come from. Otherwise we would be wronging our own people. This is no time for attitude towards old enemies or sifting through agendas (whether right-wing or left-wing) of potential donors. The immediate need is to feed, provide shelter for and curb the spread of disease among the hundreds of thousands that have lost everything. The threat of recruitment by extremist forces among those displaced is also perhaps misplaced. In the immediate aftermath of this catastrophe, most flood victims are simply too concerned about the very basics of life to think about ideology. They may riot for lack of basic amenities but it is unlikely they will be lured into fundamentalism at this stage.
Later, when we are in a position to reconstruct, coordination will be the greatest challenge. The lacklustre response by the international community may present only one silver lining: it will force us to look inward and tap indigenous resources. Haiti was promised much more than Pakistan by the world but very little of it actually materialised. Since we are not promised much to begin with, we need to look actively at Pakistani sources. This includes not just wealthy Pakistanis in the country but also those abroad who are willing to help, including those who may be dual or triple nationals, but see themselves primarily as Pakistani. The government needs to bolster its role as facilitator and help channelise these resources. Without involving itself in fund collection, it needs to nevertheless help identify those who can contribute large sums of money and encourage them to pick NGOs of their choice to work with. The media can help cover these efforts to maintain transparency.
Pakistani embassies abroad should be actively seeking out and preparing lists of large donors of Pakistani origin. There are some who can spare a million dollars each, others half a million, and perhaps many who can give a quarter of a million. These people need to be brought on board and partnered with various NGOs and government authorities to help rebuild.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2010.