Ayesha Siddiqa: My country needs help, not disapproval

An Anglophile writer says Britain could pay a heavy price for showing little understanding of Pakistan's history and current plight

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Why is the world not responding to Pakistan's current turmoil caused by the floods? Millions have been rendered homeless and hit by food scarcity. There is also now the fear of epidemics in flood-affected areas. Yet, the world does not seem too eager to come to Pakistan's rescue. Is it, as Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, Hussain Haroon said, because of the disenchantment caused by David Cameron when he criticised Pakistan as a source of terrorism? Or could the international community, particularly the European Union, not care less about a state which seems incapable of looking after itself?

Many people are unhappy with the way in which Pakistan has chosen to fight the war on terror or manage its own internal affairs. The present government's inefficiency and, as some consider it, insensitivity in solving people's problems does not inspire many around the world. However, the inefficiency is just one part of the story. For the natural calamity is far more than it could have prepared for.

These are the worst floods in 80 years in the territory now known as Pakistan. The most affected areas are in the north, where the state's military was already trying to fight the Taliban. The available military resources are insufficient to help those perishing in floodwater or dying of hunger and disease. After the 2005 earthquake in the Northern Areas and Kashmir, the local community turned out in force to help the victims. This time, the help is limited because of the economic conditions overall.

Food inflation and availability have already hit the country severely. The fear is that the religious right will use this opportunity to make inroads into common people. What matters for a hungry family is not ideology but who provides their food and clothing. But the militants' attempts to win hearts and minds could, alarmingly, bring about the failure or defeat of liberal Pakistan. This is already under siege: the suicide bombing of a popular Sufi shrine in Lahore or the destruction of another shrine in Peshawar are tantamount to attacks on a Pakistan that can think in multipolar terms and is liberal in its perception of others.

David Cameron might have been partly right in what he said the other week, but his choice of venue for delivering his message and the manner in which he did were ill-judged. He could, instead, have put pressure on Islamabad during one of the private meetings, and insisted upon the military breaking its links with militant outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and others. But the Prime Minister seems to have put a greater burden on the ordinary people than on the country's defence establishment, and this may further hamper the supply of aid to the flood-affected Pakistan. The religious right will rally public opinion against Britain and try to paint everything coming from the UK as undesirable – including relief supplies.

Hakimullah Mehsud's Taliban and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have already asked the government to refuse assistance from the US and have offered the government $17m. Although the Taliban may not be able to deliver that kind of money, they intend to use the natural calamity to muster greater support for themselves among the people.

Militant groups are also filling the gap left by the state in numerous areas such as the tribal belt and northern areas affected by floods. And their message becomes more effective as they salvage the lives of the millions made homeless. The short supply of food, medical aid, housing and other facilities have made people desperate. Meanwhile, the state apparatus is inefficient, lacks resources and in many places does not even have the infrastructure to come to the aid of ordinary people.

Pakistan's liberal civil society and the world at large cannot afford to lose a battle that is not solely about saving a state but also about rescuing the soul of liberal Pakistan, as envisioned by the country's founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a man of western tastes and lifestyle. Jinnah was as much an anglophile as many other Pakistanis who want a liberal Pakistan to survive. And this is not just about lifestyle but about a value system.

Like many other Pakistanis, I would like to convince my fellow citizens of the need to fight militant forces which are creating problems for us and for other countries, including the UK. There are millions of ordinary Pakistanis among the 180 million population who do not subscribe to what happened in 9/11 or 7/7. But the liberal voice is being drowned out by those who argue that the US and Britain are ideologically opposed to Pakistan and whose aim is to embarrass us.

Britain's new security policy, especially its border control measures, have added to the estrangement, without necessarily enhancing the security of Pakistanis or Britons. The treatment given to most Pakistanis at the High Commission in Islamabad or at border control in the UK is certainly worse than that meted out to a US diplomatic mission or at an American port of entry. There are many Pakistanis now who are in two minds about visiting the UK.

I am from the generation that grew up reading Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. The idea of rethinking plans to visit Britain is like cutting me off of my own intellectual legacy. Just imagine the perception of the country among those who are not even anglophiles.

Border controls might be as necessary as the Cameron statement, but eventually it is not going to achieve much in terms of turning Pakistan around or saving its liberal soul. Rather, it is necessary to communicate to the ordinary Pakistani that the world cares for their country and wants it saved not only from floods but from militancy.

The US efforts at pledging greater resources and deploying more helicopters for relief activities in Pakistan are truly commendable. If 10 Downing Street thinks that there is a serious problem of militancy in Pakistan, which there is, it needs to think of other ways to salvage the situation. Perhaps providing a helping hand and nudging Pakistan's government to respond to its people's needs is a better idea.

Ayesha Siddiqa is the author of 'Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy'

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