Saturday, July 06, 2013

Letter from Pakistan

Letter from Pakistan

Letter from... by Rizwan Atta , March 2012
Rizwan Atta looks at the growing tensions between the US and Pakistan and the outbreak of struggles from below
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton met Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar in London on the sidelines of the Somalia conference in late February to discuss the damaged relations between the two countries. Clinton said Pakistan was too important for her country to turn its back on. This eagerness is not without cause and has a history.
For almost half the period since independence Pakistan has been ruled by military dictatorships, with US support playing a pivotal role. Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a coup, became a US favourite after he joined the "war on terror". Another former dictator, Zia ul-Haq, enjoyed US support for joining the proxy war fought through Islamists against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
But even after the return of a civilian government, things were still "going well". But then a US operation inside Pakistan killed Osama bin Laden on the doorstep of a military training academy. This created a shock wave, including among lower ranks of the army, and led to huge questions about the nature of Pakistan's relationship with the US.
And last November a Nato attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post with Afghanistan, leading to a further deterioration in relations. In response Pakistan suspended Nato's use of land routes through Pakistan to resupply its military in Afghanistan. This forced the US and Nato to turn to costly northern supply routes from Central Asian states.
Pakistan, especially the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is now constantly blamed by the US for supporting certain groups fighting Nato forces in Afghanistan.
But for the US, facing difficulties in Afghanistan, it is hard to abandon the alliance with this key border state. The same is true for the Pakistani elite, who have benefited from their alliance with the US over decades. So the Pakistani government and the military find it hard to avoid condemning the actions taken by the US, a country seen as unwanted by ordinary people. But the "good old days" are over now, and changing realities are forcing both countries to change their "rules of engagement". Pakistan now wants to move closer to other states which are competing for influence in Afghanistan to reduce its dependency on the US, while some voices have recently appeared in the US complaining about human rights violations in the province of Balochistan. The US may try to use the genuine Baloch struggle for emancipation as a lever to put pressure on Pakistan.
The relationship between the governing Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) and the powerful military establishment has soured many times but has not ended in a coup d'état. The military is not in a position to rule alone in a country with so many problems, so indirect pressure is considered the best solution. Parliamentarians, whenever pressed, prefer to retreat to save the system. But the problem is that the system is not delivering.
Prices of almost all basic necessities are going up. A recent report by Save the Children says over a third of Pakistani families have been forced to cut back on their food intake due to high prices and other financial pressures. The situation in areas affected by floods in the last two years is even worse.
Imran Khan, the former Pakistan cricket captain turned politician, has emerged as a leading opponent of the US "war on terror" and Pakistan's role as a frontline state. He has persistently criticised corruption and called for an "independent" foreign policy and has been very vocal against both the PPP and the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N). Large numbers have been attracted to Khan's public rallies. His Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party is popular among youth, the lower middle class and casual labourers.
Increasing economic problems are bringing working people onto the streets. The past few years have seen many spontaneous protests by workers in textiles, telecommunications, energy, health, education and other sectors. The irony is that the foreign media prefer to show demonstrations by religious extremists, and local media generally plays down these struggles.

From Socialist Review 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

PAKISTAN: Government fails in earthquake response


From Green Left Weekly, October 26, 2005.
Rizwan Atta, Lahore
Although no-one knows the exact figure, the 7.6 magnitude earthquake on October 8 killed an estimated 53,000 people. On October 13, the World Health Organisation's regional director Hussein Gezairy said the earthquake was a bigger catastrophe than last year's tsunami in terms of the number of the people made homeless and the extent of destruction to infrastructure.

In the most affected areas, 80-90% of buildings collapsed. An estimated 8000 school buildings were destroyed or damaged in five districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Pakistani authorities estimate that 4 million people were directly affected by the earthquake, including 1 million who lost all shelter and livelihood. While officials say that nothing happened to nuclear facilities near Kahota, media are unable to enter to confirm, as the area is under military control.

There were no resources available for rescue operations in the badly hit northern areas of Pakistan and Kashmir. Almost a week after the quake, the government relief efforts still hadn't reached many villages and towns of Pakistani-Held Kashmir (PHK) and the most affected parts of NWFP. In those areas, hundreds of thousands of survivors, after many nights out in the cold, were still desperate to get help. When the army first reached this region, only 12 helicopters were mobilised. NATO, occupying nearby Afghanistan, sent some helicopters when Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, openly admitted that his regime didn't have enough. He then refused an offer of helicopter relief assistance from India, despite remote areas being inaccessible due to land sliding and blocked roads. Hungry survivors continue to die due to injuries and cold.

Even the pro-regime politicians in PHK have complained that relief has not reached many villages. Many children do not know where their parents or relatives are, but there is still no policy from the government to deal with this.

Relief workers have complained that many transport operators, including bus services and truck drivers have doubled their fares for Kashmir and Balakot. Yet others have generously transported relief goods free of charge.

There is an extreme shortage of tents, tarpaulins and other shelter items and blankets across the country. Prices of tents are on the rise in the market and traders are making a fortune.

Despite the enormous problems, Musharraf's regime is self-praising its work. Around the clock, the state-controlled Pakistan Television (PTV) shows pictures of press briefings, interviews and visits to the disaster zone by government officials, ministers, the prime minister and Musharraf. PTV has become the mouthpiece of the regime, with absolutely no criticism of the weaknesses of the relief efforts.

Reporters mostly talk with survivors at aid distribution facilities and at hospitals in Islamabad, and only aerial views of the remote villages are screened. TV comperes continually emphasise the "unity of the nation".

Officials are unhappy with the coverage of private channels, which show live interviews and the views of survivors. There have been reports of the media being denied entry to certain areas.

Current and previous governments in Pakistan completely neglected preparation for even minor disasters. This regime's priority was not to acquire helicopters for relief purposes, but to buy F-16s, which can't be used in rescue operations. Pakistan paid US$685 million to the US for the first 28 F-16s agreed on in a contract, and in March the US government promised to release some. Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institute argued that the deal would give US President George Bush "more leverage on Musharraf in pushing him in the direction of accommodation over Kashmir and other disputes".

No-one was trained in how to respond in the quake-prone areas. Even in Islamabad, rescue workers started to use heavy machinery to move rubble that was filled with live people.

There is no medical college in PHK and the infant mortality rate indicates the state of health facilities — 56 per 1000 live births. The situation in NWFP is no better, where the badly hit districts of Kohistan, Batagram and Mansehra have literacy rates of 11.1%, 18.3% and 36.3% respectively.

The government continues to use national chauvinist language, claiming that the enthusiasm of the people is like it was in the 1965 war with India. This shows the militaristic mind-set of our rulers. Officials and religious political parties and individuals are claiming openly that the quake was a test from God. Religious fundamentalists have claimed it was due to our wrongdoings and obscenities.

People and civil society organisations were first to collect necessary goods and bring them to the needy, not the army, which despite receiving more than one-third of the national budget, is not built to carry out rescue operations. The generosity of the people is unimaginable, but the World Trade Organisation, the US and the rich countries of the European Union have still not said they will abolish Pakistan's foreign debt, nor is this demand coming from Pakistan's rulers.

[The writer is the editor of the weekly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd (Workers' Struggle).]

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