By Patricia Lee SharpeWhen Islamist threats forced USAID director Rajiv Shah to leave a refugee encampment on the Indus last week, the Pakistani government was silent. Evidently the Pakistani government was unable to protect Dr. Shah. Or was the government simply unwilling to protect him? Are the Taliban that close to control, if only indirectly, for now?
The understandable but nevertheless ignoble scamper-to-safety on the part of Dr. Shah was the splendidly-successful culmination of an Islamist fear campaign: aid workers from the international community are not welcome, the Taliban say, thus proving (as if there were any doubt, given the number of innocents who have died from Taliban suicide bombings) that the Taliban have as little concern for the Pakistani poor as the urban elite have.
If any victims of nature’s excesses need help from outsiders, it’s those displaced by the hungry waters of the Indus and its tributaries. But help is falling short of need.
There’s no mystery here. When I tried to persuade some people to make a contribution, I got an outpouring of anger that focused on the disfunctionality and untrustworthiness of the Pakistani government. Evidently, all too many people are willing to let powerless people suffer for the sins of a neglectful leadership.
Sadly, there’s not much to dispute over Pakistan’s disfunctionality. Worse, and tragic for those suffering from an over-generous monsoon, is this: the disfunctionality is no accident. Pakistan’s leaders, both civilian and military, have been (1) systematically corrupt and self-seeking and, the corollary, (2) perennially neglectful of the welfare of the majority of the population. For decades, this criminal elite, civilian and military, has (3) gained and maintained power by (a) pandering to Islamists who couldn’t get elected and (b) exaggerating to the point of falsity threats from India. At the very least, India must be undercut and bled, bled, bled, because the more India succeeds in creating a functional modern system, the worst Pakistan looks.
Clearly the Pakistani government has been totally flumoxxed and embarrassed by India’s ability and willingness to offer $5,000,000 and helicopters to flood relief. If ever there was evidence that the elite currently in power has no interest in public welfare, this is it. Let them drown! Let them starve! Let them die of cholera. Aid from India is unacceptable! Fortunately the international community shamed Pakistan into accepting Indian aid—but only if it comes with a U.N. label stamped on it. So far as I know, India hasn’t balked at the whitewashing.
If the Pakistani government cares so little for the welfare of flood victims, how fair is it to scold potential donors for being niggardly? Already a long dormant volcano is erupting in Sumatra, with some deaths reported, and who knows when or where the next unimaginably catastrophic act of nature will require huge charitable efforts? Might it not be better to save one’s compassionate giving for situations in which one can be confident that funds will be well used? This, I imagine, is what many non-givers who could give are thinking.
Karachi daily Dawn reported Shah’s ungraceful departure as well as allegations that Lashkar-e-Taiba had infiltrated its operatives into the Sukkur camp, which it also claimed to control. Lashkar-e-Taiba is the charitable-cum-terrorist organization linked to the bloody attack on Mumbai. Pakistan has refused to extradite or even to indite its leadership, despite India’s submission of plausible evidence that Lashkar’s operatives were responsible for planning and funding the attack.
It would appear that Lashkar operates with impunity in Pakistan, where the government in Islamabad has so far failed to apologize for being unable to protect the top USIAD official from harm. Why? Disinclination to call attention to general incompetence? Contempt for Pakistan's largest aid donor in this calamity? Fear of Lashkar? In regard to all three, note this, as well: the Zadari/Gilani government has never announced, loudly and clearly, that those who threaten harm to aid workers or who actually do harm to them, will be apprehended and prosecuted.
So who’s in control? Lashkar? And/or the Taliban? Seems like.