Sunday, 15 August 2010

Pakistan floods: an emergency for the West - Ahmed Rashidi for the Telegraph

Unless we act decisively, large parts of flood-stricken Pakistan will be taken over by the Taliban, writes Ahmed Rashid.

Pakistan's floods have not just devastated the lives of millions of people, they now present an unparalleled national security challenge for the country, the region and the international community. Lest anyone under-estimate the scale of the disaster, all four of Pakistan's wars with India combined did not cause such damage.

It has become clear this week that, unless major aid is forthcoming immediately and international diplomatic effort is applied to improving Pakistan's relations with India, social and ethnic tensions will rise and there will be food riots. Large parts of the country that are now cut off will be taken over by the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated extremist groups, and governance will collapse. The risk is that Pakistan will become what many have long predicted – a failed state with nuclear weapons, although we are a long way off from that yet.

The heavy rain and floods have devastated the poorest and least literate areas of the country, where extremists and separatist movements thrive. Central Punjab – the country's richest region, where incomes and literacy are double those of other areas – has escaped the disaster. The resentment felt towards Punjab by ethnic groups in the smaller provinces is thus likely to increase.

In Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP), formerly the North Western Frontier Province, where both the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are based, millions of people have lost their homes and are on the move – this just a few months after many of them had returned home after successful military offensives against militants in the Swat valley. Now every single bridge in the Swat valley has been destroyed and the roads washed away.

Across the province, hundreds of miles of electricity pylons and gas lines have been ripped out, power stations have been flooded, and at least half of the livestock and standing crops have been destroyed. All of this will dramatically loosen the state's control over outlying areas, in particular those bordering Afghanistan, which could be captured quickly by local Taliban.

The poverty-stricken plains of southern Punjab and northern Sind, another major recruitment centre for extremists, have also been drowned. Millions of acres of crops have been destroyed and villages washed away. Joblessness and helplessness will lead to more young men joining the militants, who are propagating the idea that the floods are God's wrath against the government.

In Balochistan, the country's poorest region, which is beset with a separatist insurgency as well as hosting Afghan Taliban bases, flash floods and heavy rain have destroyed infrastructure and the below-subsistence economy. Baloch separatists are already blaming the government for poor relief efforts and urging a stepped-up struggle for independence.

And the floods have not stopped the rampant violence in the country. The Pakistani Taliban continue to carry out suicide bombings and assassinations and have vowed to wipe out the Awami National Party which governs KP province. The Taliban are now threatening to prevent Pakistani non-governmental organisations from carrying out relief work, while allowing militant groups who have set up their own relief camps to expand. In Balochistan, separatist violence goes on, while in Karachi, inter-ethnic killings have continued, with more than 100 murders in the past four weeks.

More than 60,000 Pakistani troops, many of whom were recently fighting the Taliban in KP, and virtually the entire helicopter fleet of the army, are now involved in flood relief. For months to come the army is unlikely to be in a position even to hold the areas along the Afghan border that it has won back from the militants.

That means the war in Afghanistan is about to become even more bloody. US and Nato efforts to secure southern Afghanistan – and new US troop deployments expected this month in eastern Afghanistan – will be affected, as more militants come across the border. The Taliban see the floods as a huge opportunity for recruitment in Pakistan, rather than a disaster.

Moreover, the truly catastrophic long-term destruction is to infrastructure and communications, and that will badly affect any campaign by the Pakistan army against the Taliban for years to come. Terrorists who have used border regions for training and contact with al-Qaeda will find it even easier to do so with the collapse of governance.

With the chronic shortage of foodstuffs and the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan, food prices have doubled or even tripled, which is likely to lead to acute social tensions. Vegetables are becoming scarce and the lack of livestock is already creating serious shortages of meat and milk for children.

So far, the international aid response, apart from American and British contributions, has been next to pathetic, something for which the US Special Envoy for the region, Richard Holbrooke, has publicly castigated America's allies. Britain has "earmarked", in the FCO's phrase, up to £31.3 million, while the US is providing some $71 million and has sent 19 heavy lift helicopters.

The proceeds of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which sanctioned $1.5 billion a year for five years for development projects in the civilian sector in Pakistan, are now likely to be diverted to flood relief. It is helpful that such money is available, but vital development projects on which the money should have been spent will now be halted.

Donations from the European Union, Nato countries and especially the Islamic world have been negligible, prompting international aid organisations such as Oxfam to complain of the lack of response. The UN appeal for $459 million to cover immediate relief for the next 90 days is so far not even half fulfilled.

Once there is sufficient humanitarian relief, the most urgent need is for donors to deliver project assistance to rebuild bridges and restore power and roads, particularly in the strategic KP province. The government's ineffectiveness and lack of response so far has been much criticised, but the reality is that Pakistan's coffers are empty and the country is entirely dependent for economic survival on a long-term $11.3 billion loan from the IMF.

India has failed to respond to the crisis and there remains bitter animosity between the two countries, particularly because India blames the current uprising in Indian Kashmir on Pakistan – even though Indian commentators admit that it is more indigenous than Pakistan-instigated.

Help is needed for the two countries to sort out their acute differences over their common river systems, the building of new dams on both sides of the border and the need to allow Indian relief goods, as well as cheaper food and construction materials, to enter Pakistan easily. International agencies would find it much simpler and cheaper to buy such goods from India rather than shipping them in from further afield.

None of this is going to be possible unless there are international diplomatic efforts to get the two rivals to talk to one another. India should understand that it does not further its own national security to have a destitute Pakistan on its borders.

Finally, the crisis adds urgency to the need for the US and Nato to open talks with the Afghan Taliban. A huge influx of Pakistani Taliban into Afghanistan, recruiting thousands more fighters from flood-affected Pakistan as they go, would seriously undermine the Afghan government and Nato.

The floods are more than a natural disaster: they herald a potential regional catastrophe that has to be met with far more determination, generosity and diplomacy than the West has shown so far.

Ahmed Rashid's latest book is 'Descent into Chaos: the United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia' (Viking). A revised edition of his best-selling 'Taliban' has been reissued by IB Tauris

A dying man trusted you to save his baby — don’t let him down - Jemima Khan

The Pakistan floods have devastated a nation already reeling from violence and poverty. Unless the West steps up its aid, the Taliban will fill the void

Pakistan celebrated its 63rd birthday yesterday. It’s the country I feel I grew up in, arriving 15 years ago almost to the day as a 21-year-old bride and emerging a decade later a more questioning and conflicted person. I now have children who support the national cricket team and who visit every school holiday. I am still maddened by Pakistan’s faults, but I am inextricably connected to it and become defensive if others criticise.

I still go there often. Last year I visited the refugee camps close to the Swat valley where the army was fighting the Taliban. At that time there were up to 2.5m internally displaced people as a result of conflict in the northwest of the country. I heard how every child in the camp had witnessed public beheadings.

A few years earlier I was in Pakistan in the aftermath of the earthquake that killed about 75,000 people. On top of the war against the Taliban, with almost daily suicide bombings, a separatist uprising in the province of Baluchistan, a hostile neighbour, recession, inflation and unemployment, Pakistan seems to face a natural disaster almost every year.

Nothing, though, compares to the catastrophe of the floods. Friends recount tales of a few heartening miracles but without much conviction — a one-year-old baby found alive inside a floating water cooler reunited with its mother, a newborn rescued after being bound by his dying father to the top branches of a tree.

The death toll, amounting to 1,600 people, has, Alhamdulillah (praise to God), so far been low relative to the magnitude of the disaster facing Pakistan. Mostly, though, the stories are grim. My ex-husband Imran Khan, whom I spoke to after he visited flood-hit areas in the northwest, sounded uncharacteristically defeated; more so, I thought, than even after his cancer hospital was bombed in 1996. “Pakistan could implode, Jem,” he said. “We are already on the brink of bankruptcy. The poverty and the suffering will be unimaginable. Best not to send the children this weekend. There’s too much to do.”

There are reports of fights for food at distribution points, with widowed women and the weak left empty-handed, of survivors attacking government officials, of babies with nothing but contaminated water to drink, of herds of dead water buffalo floating in flood water, of acute diarrhoea.

What many forget is that ordinary Pakistanis have suffered more as a result of corruption and terrorism than anyone else Two million people are now homeless, electricity grids have been closed down to prevent electrocution, water supplies are contaminated, livestock drowned, 1.7m acres of crops destroyed, bridges, roads, schools, whole villages swept away. Experts have warned of the high risk of a cholera epidemic and further monsoon downpours are forecast. Unlike in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, when people jumped into their cars crammed with whatever supplies they had in their kitchens and drove to the affected areas, this time there is no voluntary mobilisation. “People don’t even know where to begin,” Imran says wearily.

Every province in Pakistan has been affected and 14m people — about one in 10 of the population — need help.

That is more than the total affected by the Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti quake combined. Dr Mohammed Rafiq, the Pakistan programme specialist for Unicef, the United Nations children’s organisation, says: “This is the worst challenge I have seen in my lifetime, far worse than the earthquake. That was contained in one area so the rest of the country was able to help. This has affected everyone and what we are seeing now is only the beginning. This is a long-term emergency.” There are 6m children in urgent need of help.

Yet the response from the international community has been described as “sluggish”, a diplomatic euphemism for depressing, inadequate, pathetic. So far it has committed funding that works out at just over $3 (£1.90) per flood-affected person, according to the BBC. The commitment per person after the 2005 Pakistani earthquake was, by comparison, $70 and for this year’s earthquake in Haiti it was $495.

Friends I have spoken to in Britain are keen to donate but are concerned that their money will line some corrupt official’s pocket or go to some organisation that is a front for terrorism. You only have to look at the blogs to see there’s not much sympathy left for Pakistan in the West.

Corruption and terrorism have become synonymous with the country, not helped by David Cameron’s recent remarks in India that Pakistan must not be allowed to “promote the export of terror” nor the publication of documents by WikiLeaks linking ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, to the Taliban.

It’s not just the international community that is wary. Pakistanis themselves have failed to donate to the emergency fund set up by their own government. Many are choosing to give hand-outs directly instead. There’s widespread anger in the country against the government, exacerbated by the president’s ill-timed and costly jaunt to London to see our own prime minister earlier this month. As Imran says: “No one trusts the government to administer the funds properly. No one knows where to give or where to even begin to help. It’s so huge.”

There are good reasons to be cynical. Pakistan has a president formerly known as Mr 10% (upgraded since his presidency to Mr 110%), who is alleged to have acquired up to $1.5 billion (£960m) through corruption. Seventy per cent of the money given by the World Bank to be spent on flood prevention has been embezzled or spent badly, according to Syed Adil Gilani at Transparency International Pakistan, the non-governmental organisation.

What many forget is that ordinary Pakistanis have suffered more as a result of corruption and terrorism than anyone else. Before 2002, when President Pervez Musharraf sent the Pakistani army into the tribal areas at the behest of America, there had never been any suicide bombings and there was no Pakistani Taliban. Since then more than 8,000 civilians have been killed in suicide bombings and 30 militant groups are operating illegally in the country.

Pakistan has lost more than 2,000 soldiers fighting militants inside its borders. Seventy American Predator drone attacks this year alone have killed 200 Pakistanis with no leading terrorists among the dead. Pakistan has become both the collateral damage of the war in Afghanistan as well as the West’s favourite whipping boy now that it looks unwinnable.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban and the banned Islamic charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa have called on the government to reject western aid. They have a vested interest. The danger is that charities with ties to militant groups will step in to provide relief to the affected communities as happened after the earthquake.

I travelled to the quake-obliterated areas a year later. I saw two things: first, that the international donor agencies such as Unicef, which are already established in Pakistan and have a proven track record at operating in disaster zones, do an exemplary job working with local partners with logistical knowledge. I visited Unicef schools and well-run camps where children were sheltered, fed, inoculated and educated.

Second, in areas where aid agencies do not have a presence, we heard reports of unaccounted-for missing children and saw painted signs outside several madrasahs — some of which were Saudi-funded — advertising the fact that they had absorbed earthquake orphans who had nowhere else to go.

Jihadi-linked charitable organisations have been very effective at providing aid in times of crisis. The 2m children in Pakistan’s madrasahs are provided with free shelter, food and limited education where there is no government-funded alternative. In Mianwali, Imran’s constituency, 70% of all government schools are closed — “20% are ghost schools which exist only on paper, the other 50% have no teachers. It’s not surprising that poor people send their children to madrasahs”. There is a danger that those same charities will step into the void and gain credibility in the face of the government’s ineptitude.

The floods are likely to lead to massive poverty and unrest in an already volatile nuclear-armed country. There are two reasons why this should concern us here. In the geopolitical sense an impoverished, unstable, ungovernable Pakistan, with no control over militant extremists, would be a disaster that would make the floods look like rising damp. More importantly, it should concern us as human beings: a dying father tied his newborn child to a tree trusting that someone would help. That someone should be all of us.

To help Unicef’s Pakistan floods appeal go to

Citizen's Speak: The Diary of Umer Mumtaz

Please help spread this message. My contact is

August 2, 2010

Once again Allah Subhanah has put to test the people of this country in the form of floods. Beyond asking for Allah's forgiveness we need to help our fellow beings in their hour of need and try to pass this test.

Alhamdolillah, as of today we were able to collect enough funds to prepare 200 packets of rations. Tomorrow, Tuesday 3rd August 2010, two of our friends Najam-us-Sehr (300-5000975) and Faiz Ali Khan (0302-8054104) will InshaAllah reach Mingora (Swat) and try to deliver these rations to areas which are hard to access. We will update all with the results when they get back.

We are also trying to investigate the feasibility of restoration of drinking water supply in the affected areas. One possibility is the provision of truck mounted generators which may be able to provide electricity on a turn-by-turn basis to workable tube wells.
Since the geographical extent of this calamity is so vast we can only start with one location where we have local help. All are requested to send us first-hand information about other areas so that we may co-ordinate our efforts with those working there.

All of us have great faith in the resolve of the Pakistani Nation as seen in the successful recovery from the Kashmir earthquake and the IDP exodus.

August 6, 2010

Alhamdolillah on 3rd August 200 packs of rations weighing 19kg and costing Rs. 1,430/- each were distributed among the devastated in Mingora region. Movement beyond Mingora was restricted due to various reasons.

Today the team has again reached Mingora and is arranging for logistics of a further 200 packs beyond Madyan. The road bridge at Madyan has been damaged and all movement beyond has to be done by foot. Our team has prepared 11kg packs this time so that they can be carried onward by porters/volunteers. The ration packs consist of:

Rice 6kg
Moong 1kg
Lobia 1kg
Ghee 1kg
Sugar 1kg
Salt 250g
Tea 250g
Lighter 1pc

We ask all concerned to pray for the well-being of the people affected by the floods and those trying to provide relief to them. We also request everybody to spread the word and urge them to go out and help human beings in crisis. And with Allah lies the final reward.

August 9, 2010

Following five persons visited Swat valley from 6th till 8th August and Alhamdolillah a further total of 165 packs of rations worth Rs. 135,500/- were delivered in the hands of the needy.

Faiz Ali Khan
Najam us Sahar
Sajid Mehmood
Dr. Inayat
Shahid Khan

These people were the first outsiders to reach Madyan and Bahrain to assess the situation on ground. Travel included 3 hours by foot one way from Jaray village where the first road damage is located. Jaray village is one and a half hours by road from Mingoara. Porters were used to carry the ration packs where needed. The people at both these places were very happy to see help arriving. Sixty families in Madyan were also given vouchers to come and collect their ration packs at Jaray village and they are expected to make the journey by today or tomorrow.

Besides distributing the ration the team was able to establish links with local volunteers at both the locations to streamline further distribution. 200 families have been identified till date in Bahrain and following rations are being prepared for distribution there:

Rice 10kg
Ghee 2.50kg
Sugar 3kg
Lobia 3kg
Daal Channa 1kg
Nido powder milk 1kg
Tea 0.5kg
Salt 0.25kg
Mixed Masala 0.25kg
Bath Soap 3pc
Laundry Soap 3pc
Total weight of one pack: 23kg
Cost of one pack: Rs. 2,190/-
Total cost of rations: Rs. 438,000/-

The team has spent Rs. 1,052,000/- till date, all on rations, and has nearly depleted the donation pool.

All are requested to donate more as Insha’Allah we expect the logistics to Bahrain and beyond till Kalam to improve in the near future and a lot of aid will be required in those areas.
A project of fresh water supply in Mingoara city has been accomplished by transporting two generators of 125KVA from Islamabad. These generators have been connected to four tube wells at the moment, and water is being supplied on 4-hour basis. It is expected that this water supply will serve 30,000 to 60,000 persons daily who had no water since the last ten days. Cost of this project was undertaken by a single donor and we expect an expenditure of Rs.300,000/- for the first week.

We feel that with the opening of land route up to Kalam coupled with the advent of Ramazan more relief work will be required by the end of this week. We request all to come forward and contribute in this effort.

Citizen's Speak: THALI.


Thali became almost a house hold name in Islamabad during the IDP crisis. Once again, during flood relief they have risen to the occassion as launched a mission to feed the displaced countrymen. They are collecting donations in both Cash and Kind and are surely a movement that requires your encouragement and support.

You can make your drops at the point convenient to you:
House no 44. Luqman Hakeem Road. G-6/3 Islamabad
or House 60 C Satellite town Murree road.

Please however call on the following numbers before doing so, or you may even refer to these numbers for any details and queries: 03335600082, 03458562843, 03345110013

If you want to volunteer- contact: