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Last Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005, 12:09 GMT
Pakistan quake revives civic power

By Ahmed Rashid

Woman in Lahore collecting money for earthquake victims
Will an outpouring of private charity be translated into political activism?

Guest journalist and writer Ahmed Rashid reflects in his latest column for the BBC News website on the political consequences of the South Asian earthquake in Pakistan.

Pakistanis have astounded themselves with their own generosity since the catastrophic earthquake that hit the country on 8 October.

A tidal wave of ordinary people have rushed to help the victims of the earthquake, raising money or just hiring trucks and delivering goods to Kashmir.

These actions of civil society, not seen since the 1965 war against India, have united the nation and they will have significant political implications.

One thing is certain, Pakistan will never be the same again and the military regime of President Pervez Musharraf has the most to lose.

The military may now be facing its biggest challenge in the past six years as people see their own power - civic power - unleashed after a long time

While the government has been criticised, the private response to the quake has been hailed.

Within hours of the devastating quake, doctors flew from Karachi and Lahore to set up medical camps in the worst hit areas.

Most of the doctors worked in government hospitals and they could only get release forms to allow them to go up north to Kashmir after the intervention of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

From all over the country housewives sent truck loads of blankets and food, raising money from their relatives and friends in a frenzy of giving.

Many sent their own servants with the trucks to make sure the aid reached the right village or collection point.

The more astute donors linked up to long term projects connected with housing or rehabilitation.

Youthful energy

The most extraordinary work has been done by students.

Social workers in Karachi sort public donations
Private donations poured in from within Pakistan and abroad

Beaconhouse, the largest school complex in the country, provided its premises and thousands of students and teachers to pack and send relief goods, who also went on fundraising sprees themselves.

The Salamat Academy another multiple school complex sent piping hot food three times a day for those Kashmiris who had been bought to Lahore hospitals for attention.

The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) - Pakistan's top business school - sent members of its 'Trekking and Adventure Society' to survey villages in Kashmir that had been cut off by landslides.

They arrived several days before the army did, relayed back the villagers needs and students then sent up trucks filled with necessary goods.

LUMS's 4,500 students and staff have so far raised 10 million rupees ($167,000).

The teams of trekkers, who also trained themselves in grave digging are still there - now with picks and shovels.

Pakistanis living abroad have sent money and goods and Pakistani doctors are still arriving from abroad to work in the tented hospitals in Kashmir.

But in Washington, the Pakistani Embassy has been a major hurdle, refusing to help coordinate fund raising, to facilitate the passage of doctors or to allow PIA - the national airline - to send relief goods unless the aid or money is earmarked for the 'President's Relief Fund'.

The Pakistan embassy in London has been more sensible, agreeing to send all goods without discrimination.

Transparency

So far the President's Relief Fund has received an estimated US $100 million in donations, but experts estimate that private citizens donations are five to 10 times that sum.

Pakistani labourers unload relief goods at the Wagah border post
A Dubai-based Pakistani businessman imported 150,000 blankets from India

The government has promised transparency and accountability for all the money it spends, but there is no sign yet of an independent watch dog committee to oversee government spending and prevent corruption.

And given high levels of corruption and waste, ordinary people are weary of contributing to government relief funds.

A week after the quake, the organisation Transparency International released its annual report on corruption placing Pakistan close to the top of its Corruption Perception Index for 2005.

Muslims have a religious obligation to give an annual zakat (tax) to the poor equivalent to 2.5% of an individual's personal wealth - the onrush of money since the earthquake has gone deeper.

According to research carried out by the Aga Khan Foundation, among all the Muslim nations, Pakistanis are considered the most generous in giving to charity.

Military rule

So far at least the army has failed to profit from this coming together of the nation.

In fact the more people get involved the more critical they have become of the army's slow response to the quake and its apparent preoccupation with building a new general head quarters for itself in Islamabad or buying expensive weapon systems from abroad.

This opposition forced Gen Musharraf to, at least temporarily, postpone the purchase of F-16 fighter aircraft from the US at a cost of $4.5bn although the purchase of six radar equipped aircraft at a cost of $1bn from Sweden has gone ahead.

There is also a far greater desire for genuine democracy and civilian rule rather than manipulated elections held by the military.

Just before the quake the government held local council elections amid widespread allegations of vote-rigging.

With the current extent of public mobilization, it is unlikely that people will tolerate such an election again - especially in 2007 when general elections will be held.

For the last few years Pakistani intellectuals have complained about the public's apathy or lack of politicisation as people seemed grudgingly to have accepted another bout of military rule.

However the military may now be facing its biggest challenge in the past six years as people see their own power - civic power - unleashed after a long time.

Below is a selection of your reflections on this column.


Pakistan has had its fair share of 'elected' governments and teetered on bankcruptcy on each occasion. I don't see that now. Whichever way we look at it, Pakistan has come a long way, has a thriving economy and is now being rightly recognised as an important player vis a vis its strategic location. It is laughable to exploit a major catastrophe to take potshots at the present government. I believe our present government has done well and we should all back the leaders of our beloved country.
Imraan Khan Jadoon, England

It is very wrong of Mr Rashid criticising the army for not doing enough for the quake-stricken population. Although the private sector has done an enormous job, the Pakistan army, too, has been at the forefront of all the relief efforts. Mr Rashid wrote a nice article but it has been biased by his negativity towards Gen Musharraf.
Dr. Muhammad F. Sarwar, USA

Mr Rashid has got to the heart of the matter - that is the military's apathy towards the ordinary citizens of Pakistan and its metamorphosis into a commercial enterprise. The military was losing credibility even before the quake and after the quake the process has just speeded up.
Ilyas Baloch

Mr Rashid has a cynical and simplistic view. The so called democracy in Pakistan in which wealthy, influential thugs come to power again and again and exploit the country for their personal gain is not the solution. Pakistan needs strong civil and military leadership which it has in the form of President Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz. They have galvanized the masses. The military did a great job for the relief effort with their limited resources and under the circumstances.
Zubair, Canada

High levels of corruption, illiteracy and the presence of a family-based caste system make it impossible to have a civilian based government. Especially now with the rise of foreign militants and religious clashes between Shias and Sunnis. And most importantly the lack of civilian courage to raise a voice against such factors will never make it possible for Pakistan to have a sustainable civilian government. The military is (no matter how much I personally despise it) the one working institution of Pakistan. We have seen civilian governments which have almost brought the country to it knees.
Zara, Denmark

I agree with the insight Mr Rashid has provided. The earthquake and its consequences have clearly shown that the Pakistani army is not interested at all in the welfare of Kashmiris but only in holding the land in question. They have been exposed for using the plight of Kashmiris in only as a tool of propaganda to further vested interests.
Iqbal Khan, India

Ahmed Rashid is letting his personal bias against the military taint his reporting. While private relief efforts have been generous, they have suffered from lack of coordination, leading to inefficiency and even creation of obstacles at times. Just consider the streets of Muzaffarabad littered with donated clothing, and traffic jams caused by private relief convoys. The magnitude of the catastrophe was so huge that even the best equipped organisation would have struggled to provide adequate relief, yet the sanction afflicted Pakistani military was transporting injured citizens to hospitals within hours of the quake. Everyone associated with the relief effort I have spoken to understands that the military did the best it could under the circumstances, while the only grumbling I hear is from people who are pushing their own agendas in hour of national tragedy.
Naved, USA

As usual Ahmad Rashid's analysis and perceptions are highly objective and to the point. One wonders how the army was able to mobilise more than half a million soldiers and all sorts of equipment to the border with India in a show of force a few years ago, while people continue to die in Kashmir and NWFP and the Army is still not doing anything to prevent the death toll. Could this tragedy prove as the beginning of a true liberation of masses in Pakistan from the Colonialist minded army as Mr. Rashid suggests - one can only hope so.
Aziz Arya, Afghanistan

Ahmed Rashid is an anti-Musharraf fanatic and has completely lost all credibility in my eyes. The Pakistan military is at the forefront of relief efforts and Pakistanis are not going to pay attention to the worthless criticism of sofa-warriors like Mr Rashid against soldiers and civilians on the ground. This is probably the fourth or fifth time Mr Rashid has declared President Musharraf's demise.
Aamir Ali, Pakistan

If there is a goodness to come from this adversity, then the strengthening of civil society is a most welcome development. The mobilisation of people has to be taken forward in the guise of associations, information awareness and media campaigns.
Atif, London, UK

If this grassroots civic movement links up with the movement to restore democracy, ARD, it could have significant consequences for General Musharraf. On its own a short-term civic movement is unlikely to matter. A democratic government-in-exile for Pakistan should be supported by people in the west.
Arun Khanna, Indianapolis, USA

I agree with wisdomful words of Ahmed Rashid ,our neighbour and its people have only faced repeated military dictatorships. Naturally they think elections held in Indian Administered Kashmir are not fair where in Muzaffarabad there have hardly been any. The people power will rise and elect their representatives and let people of Pakistan held Kashmir have also a voice of their own, otherwise there would have been much development in terms of roads etc in so called Azad Kashmir I pray for welfare of all Kashmiri people as i am one of them. Dr Anil Kumar Dhar Thank you
Dr Anil Kumar , UK

The author is talking about civic power. But when it will yield its results politically is not in near future. Because civil governments are more corrupt than any other institution in Pakistan...
Ghazi, Canada

Way to go Pakistan !!! Keep it up !!! The more you civilian society rises up and comes together socially and politically ... the more friends you'll have in South Asia - starting with India. We're with you guys ! Keep the flags flying.
Ajay, USA/India

Mr Ahmed Rashid failed once again and could provide nothing more than his usual finger pointing toward President Musharraf and his favoured regime. It has to be noted that the political parties, the vast majority of Pakistanis (the so called civil society) and the army itself have shown a lot of determination. But why? Because the nation is united under a popular president, a progressive government and an army always there in need of ordinary Pakistanis. So, it is due to President Musharraf and his policies that we are seeing a re-invented patriotism in Pakistanis. If you take MQM, a political party having a strong hold in Karachi, as an example, one can see its contribution in such a great number because President Musharraf himself have somehow organised MQM and put them back into mainstream politics. MQM, thus showed good response. I would advice Mr Rashid to stop dividing Pakistanis.
Qureshi, Boston, MA, USA.

It's a wake up call for the "moderate & enlightened generals" of the Pakistan Army, especially the guy who's wearing two hats at the moment - President & General Pervez Musharraf. He & his army need to realize that in any civilised sovereign country, the army is there to protect/defend the geographical boundary and THATS IT. At the moment, Pakistan Army cannot do either. It will be in the best interest of Pakistan, if the army leaves the administration of the government to the civilians (These people are just as patriotic as the moderate & enlightened generals of the army and may be more). The army cannot and should not be running the country. They should be accountable to the elected civilian leaders. It has to be like that to be truly called "enlightened & moderate" or as the general president says himself - "Enlightened Moderation". It's just a wish. I just hope it comes true.
Shahid, UK




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