Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Saturday, 21 August 2010 11:50 UK

Pakistan flood victims 'have no concept of terrorism'

Families travel through flood waters
It is estimated 20 million people have been affected by the floods

By Mohammed Hanif
BBC News, Pakistan

Three weeks after the start of the floods in Pakistan, a fifth of the country is under water. More international aid is now reaching the country - but the world's media finds it hard to stop talking about terrorism.

Many Pakistanis who have not been directly affected by the floods ask each other this question: Is it a punishment from Allah? Or is He just testing our faith?

One of the many religious scholars who pop up on our television screens during the holy month of Ramadan was asked the same question last week.

He shook his head and answered with the kind of hokey wisdom only TV preachers are capable of: "If you have transgressed, He is punishing you. If He likes you He is testing you."

Not everyone is reaching out for a divine explanation though.

In southern Punjab, poet Ashu Laal linked the fury of the river Indus to our collective greed and corporate rape of the land.

These areas are of no strategic interest to anyone because they have neither exported terrorism nor do they have the ambition to join a fight against it

People have built roads, bridges and houses on the river bed and, when the Indus returned after many decades, it could not find its old path.

It went around like a mad dog, sniffing for its old habitat and devoured everything on the way.


Between the righteous indignation of the faithful and poetic flourishes of folk wisdom, the reality might be quite simple, a reminder of something we have lived through before, only 63 years ago.

The images of old people on donkey carts, naked children perched over salvaged household items and cows and goats on the move kept reminding me of something that I had seen before, but I could not quite place where I had seen it.

Muslim families flee Hindu India for
In 1947, the Indian sub-continent won independence from Britain after a 30-year struggle
Colonial India was divided into two separate states: Pakistan which had a Muslim majority and India which had a Hindu majority
This led to the mass migration of 10 million people

Then a journalist colleague of mine, chasing the flood, arrived in southern Punjab and reported back that the bridge over the river Cehnab resembled a giant set that might have been erected for a film about Partition, when India and Pakistan were prised apart.

A Partition set in Noah's time, I thought.

He was obviously referring to the millions who have been on the move, on donkey carts, tractors and trolleys but mostly on foot, shrivelled old men carrying their beds on their heads, women shepherding half a dozen children, grandmothers separated from their families, walking in a daze, towards a destination that they have no clue about.

For many of them this is the longest journey they have ever undertaken in their lives.

Like two million-odd people butchered during the Partition, these people have rarely registered in the national debate and their faces have never been seen on our TV screens before.

Small farmers

It seems the land has ripped out its entrails and thrown them out for all of us to see.

These people do not live in picturesque valleys where city folk go on holiday.

Residents help a man untie a chicken from his neck
One man tied a chicken round his neck when he had to swim to higher ground

These areas are of no strategic interest to anyone because they have neither exported terrorism nor do they have the ambition to join a fight against it.

Their only export to the world outside is onions, tomatoes, sugar cane, wheat and mangoes.

The word terrorism does not even exist in Seraiki and Sindhi, the languages of the majority of the people who have been rendered homeless.

They belong to that forgotten part of humanity that has quietly tilled the land for centuries, the small farmers, the peasants, the farmhands, generations of people who are born and work and die on the same small piece of land.

And this time there are 20 million of them.

What we do not realise is that these 20 million were poor but they were not starving. They come from a place where they can raise a whole family because they own a buffalo or a few goats.

They were probably the last 20 million who lived off the land and, in the process, fed us as well.

Pakistan's army is known worldwide for its talent for fighting on both sides of a conflict.

These 20 million are our invisible, slave army.

Automatic assumption

When the world media reports on the tragedy, it finds it difficult to leave behind a decade-long habit of linking everything to terrorism.

The reporters look for a banned militant organisation involved in relief work, usually some random men with beards will do. And we are told, in good faith I am sure, that if the victims are not provided with relief, they will all turn to the Taliban.

Our own politicians join the chorus.

A friend involved in relief work in Sindh pointed out that a hungry person is not likely to ask your views on terrorism before accepting your packet of food for the simple reason that their children are starving.

If this was a disaster movie, its poster would include the young man swimming across a deluge with his rooster tied around his neck.

A puzzled relief worker wondered aloud why the world would think that this man who has just swum cross a raging flood would want to bring about a bloody Islamist revolution in a far-flung country that he has never heard of?

Is it not obvious that he just wants to save his chickens?

But this is no movie.

That half-naked child that you see in pictures with his face covered in flies is not dead. Not yet. He has dozed off out of hunger and heat and exhaustion.

When he wakes up in a little while, he will ask for what every hungry child in the world asks for.

We were told that everyone, everywhere understands that language.

Map of affected area of Pakistan

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