It will take years to repair the flood damage in Pakistan, warns Zardari

President tells Omar Waraich that Islamists will try to take advantage of country's plight

Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, said yesterday that his country will need at least three years to recover from the worst floods in its history and warned that Islamist militants could exploit the "disarray".

In his first interview since the start of the crisis, Mr Zardari defended his government's response to it and his absence from Pakistan when he chose to press on with visits to London, Paris and his family's chateau in Normandy as the tragedy unfolded at home.

The weak and unpopular civilian government has been roundly criticised for failing to mount an effective response to the floods, but Mr Zardari said Pakistan never had the capacity to cater for such an eventuality. The floods, which began nearly a month ago, have destroyed or damaged 1.2 million homes, affected more than 17 million people and left 1,500 people dead, according to the United Nations.

The floods have increased fears that Islamist militants, chastened and scattered by military offensives mounted by the Pakistani army last year, may take an opportunity given by the state's failures to help the population.

That fear was underscored yesterday as three bomb attacks in northwest Pakistan killed at least 36 people. Two of the bombs exploded in the tribal areas along the Afghan border and the third in the city of Peshawar.

"I see always such organisations and such people taking advantage of this human crisis," the embattled president told a small group of reporters at the presidential palace in Islamabad. "It is again a challenge to not let them take advantage of this human crisis."

He said the "silver lining" would be if militants had also drowned. He said that he believed some of their armaments had been swept away by the waters. Mr Zardari declined to say whether the floods had closed off the possibility of an offensive in North Waziristan, the biggest militant hideout along the Afghan border and one that Washington has long wanted Pakistan to take part in.

"The army has not abandoned its posts along the border, it has probably just taken refuge under the mountains," he said. After the waters recede, "they will be there. The fight goes on on all fronts. If you're fighting for a cause and the fight becomes larger, or bigger, you don't give up".

Mr Zardari said he understood the anger that the floods, and the response to them, had generated, often heightening criticism of his government's sluggish response. Islamist charities, some with suspected links to militant groups, have rapidly provided relief to Pakistanis, already frustrated with their leaders' track record on security, poverty and chronic power shortages.

Mr Zardari, who is about to complete two years in office, warned of social disorder, while Pakistan tried to rebuild from the flooding, saying that "three years is the minimum" time to recover.

"There will be discontentment," he said. "There is no way any nation – even if it's a superpower, we've seen examples in Katrina, we've seen Haiti, we've seen examples everywhere else – can bring the same level of satisfaction that will be close to the expectations of people."

He added: "What can you tell a mother whose child drowned or the wall collapsed? She's hurting. What I can do for her that will take the pain away? All I can do is share the pain."

But he bristled at the mention of criticism of his failure to cut short a trip to Europe, particularly his decision to visit a family chateau in Normandy. "It gives me a reassurance that I'm so wanted," he said. "There is a question that I'm so wanted and so desired by the people that [they were asking], 'Why were you out?'"

"I have my own reasons for being where I was and at what time," he said. "This is a long term situation and one has to have the capacity to sustain yourself for three years, or even more, and not exhaust yourself immediately ... Anyway, that's part of the past and that's happened and that's gone and I'm here."

Officials defended the trip to Britain on diplomatic grounds after Prime Minister David Cameron's accusation that Pakistan was an exporter of terrorism.

Pakistan's permanent representative to the UN said the accusation had affected charity giving in the UK.

However, the British aid appeal yesterday topped £29m. The head of the Disasters Emergency Committee said public donations were "leading the way and shaming politicians across the world" after a slow response to an international appeal.

Mr Zardari, head of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, said he welcomed the $800m (£516m) so far raised from international donors, during a time of tough economic conditions.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Reimagined: Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Collette in the film adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
Cannes 2015Dheepan, film review
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine