Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Thursday, 21 October 2010 11:53 UK

Is Pakistan in denial about tackling its problems?

Aerial view of Pakistani floods, Nowshera City
The aftermath of the devastating monsoon floods continues

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Pakistan

The aftermath of the great monsoon floods is still a major problem facing Pakistan which is also suffering from regular suicide bomb attacks by Taliban militants. But as Aleem Maqbool reports, there seems to be little determination and will to tackle the country's problems head on.

In Mianwali, in Punjab, by the banks of the River Indus, we surveyed the impact of the floods with a local businessman and landowner.

All around, we could see the devastation caused to his farms, and the effect that would have on hundreds of labourers.

I asked him whether he believed money had in the past been embezzled instead of going into flood prevention projects, as many have suggested. And who, generally, he blamed for the lack of preparedness.

His response was surprising.

Pakistani flood victims
Many flood victims have been neglected

"You know, we've never had so much water come down the Kabul River (from Afghanistan) and flow into the Indus?" he said. "Strange, isn't it?"

I took a moment to digest the question, then asked if he was trying to suggest Afghanistan or America had something to do with the floods.

He paused for a moment.

"India," he said, without a hint of irony.

Slightly taken aback by what this educated and erudite man was saying, I suggested that there had been the highest rainfall ever recorded in Pakistan, and surely that could not have been caused by India.

He scoffed: "Don't you know they have the technology to create artificial clouds and send them across the border?"

I decided to leave the discussion at that.

Blame culture

But in Pakistan, there does seem to be a bogeyman for every one of its multitude of crises.

That often, of course, diverts attention from the underlying problems and serves to shield those with true responsibility.

It may... be that the ruling elite here do not really think things are all that bad

Take the huge cricket scandal this year in which Pakistani players were accused of cheating in return for large sums of money.

Initially, there was shock and a sense of shame, but very soon Pakistani politicians and diplomats were accusing the British press, and, yes, the Indians, of a conspiracy to destroy Pakistani cricket.

This week Pakistan's cricket board may have been pushed into announcing a new code of conduct for its players, but no one here really believes that much will change.

The board's chairman - who was accused of not providing enough security when the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by gunmen here last year, who was in charge during a disastrous tour of Australia when rumours of cheating resurfaced, and who is seen by many around the world as having handled the latest crisis badly - remains comfortably in charge.

President Asif Ali Zardari even sent him a note of congratulations this week, following the news that at least one match was found to be free from cheating.

The West, Zionists, and the international media, all often prove handy bogeymen, but so too does President Zardari himself.

It seems the focus of hatred and blame does not have to be foreign.

Crisis after crisis

In over a year of living and working in Pakistan, a country I have a lot of affection for, I have not been able to escape a sense that this is a state, in many ways, in denial of just how big the issues are that it is facing.

A soldier of the Pakistani para military force observes pedestrians during a patrol to ensure security in Karachi, Pakistan
Perhaps people have decided there is simply nothing they can do to change things, and so it might be better just to pretend everything is fine

Look at suicide bombings. In the last couple of years, hundreds upon hundreds of civilians have been killed in these attacks.

I remember meeting 14-year-old Adnan in Peshawar, a couple of days after nine members of his family, including his parents and all his siblings, were killed in a bombing in a packed market place.

I remember visiting the site itself, with bits of flesh still clinging to the masonry.

But Adnan is unlikely ever to get a comprehensive inquest.

The bombing which killed his family and well over 100 others, was out of the newspapers in a matter of days.

On most occasions, the innocent victims are reduced to little more than a body count.

It has been the same pattern - attack after attack, crisis after crisis.

Huge potential

In the last few weeks, we have travelled the country and witnessed scores of people fighting over scraps of aid following the floods.

Whole families sick through the lack of clean drinking water, and thousands and thousands of homeless people with no means of earning a living.

But astoundingly, all this barely registers with Pakistan's 24-hour news channels and newspapers any more.

Instead, for much of the last fortnight, the media here has been focussing on a highly technical battle between the government and the judiciary. A sophisticated - and some would say manufactured - crisis, when people's much more basic needs require urgent attention.

Perhaps people have decided there is simply nothing they can do to change things, and so it might be better just to pretend everything is fine.

But it may also be that the ruling elite here, from the political class, the army, and the powerful intelligence agencies, do not really think things are all that bad in any case - for them, at least.

There is such huge potential in Pakistan with its enterprising people, its rich swathes of arable land and its beautiful northern resorts.

But if the adage that "recovery starts with an acknowledgement of the problem" is true, then many will be worried for Pakistan, because there are plenty of serious problems here - but there seems to be very little appetite for really confronting them.

How to listen to: From Our Own Correspondent

Radio 4: Saturdays, 1130. Second weekly edition on Thursdays, 1100 (some weeks only)

World Service: See programme schedules

Download the podcast

Listen on iPlayer

Story by story at the programme website

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific