Leading article: A wretched situation made worse

Related Topics

This newspaper's interview today with the Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, reveals a leader at bay. Mr Zardari angrily denies that it was remiss of him to have left the country in the wake of the disastrous floods which have inundated more than a fifth of Pakistan's land mass and affected some 20 million people. He also asserts that the emergency is giving succour to domestic extremists.

It is worth addressing those points in detail. The question of whether Mr Zardari neglected his responsibilities when he travelled to London earlier this month is moot. It is questionable how much the President could have done in practical terms by returning home more quickly. Arguably, he did a more useful job raising awareness of the disaster abroad. Yet, whatever the truth, the episode certainly did the President no favours in the eyes of many Pakistanis.

As for the boost to extremism from the disaster, President Zardari is, sadly, correct. Fundamentalist Islamist charities, some with links to militant groups, have stepped in to the gap left by the inadequacies of the state in response to the disaster, delivering aid to those who have lost their livelihoods much more effectively than the central authorities.

The Pakistani state, particularly the intelligence services, must bear much of the responsibility for the existing reach of these groups. David Cameron was right when he said that some elements within the Pakistani state "look both ways" when it comes to extremism. Official corruption has also contributed to the state's ineffectual response. A state-sponsored fund-raising drive in the country raised little, mainly because of fears that the money would be misappropriated. Lingering questions over Mr Zardari's own record when it comes to corruption have not helped matters.

In addition to this, the slow and meagre flow of international aid thus far has made an already wretched situation worse. The beneficiaries of the aid from local charities have made the affected communities more receptive to the extremist message (just as Hamas's provision of social services to suffering Palestinians boosted that group's popularity in Gaza). And the inadequate response of Islamabad has confirmed the view of many Pakistanis that the central state has little to offer them.

The reluctance of many foreign governments to provide emergency financial support to Mr Zardari's government has not only helped to destabilise this country, it has been a missed opportunity. Prior to the floods, surveys suggested that some 70 per cent of Pakistanis viewed the US unfavourably. But where US troops have joined the relief effort in the north-west of the country, the local population has expressed positive attitudes to America. A stronger aid effort could have been a huge boost to relations between Pakistan and the West.

Pledges of emergency help from international governments have now, belatedly, reached $800m (£500bn). And the International Monetary Fund is considering giving Pakistan some leeway on the repayments for its $10bn loan taken out two years ago. This is all welcome. The immediate priority must be to get food, water and shelter to the displaced victims and to prevent the spread of disease. Then there is the need to rebuild homes and roads, replace swamped energy infrastructure and replant crops.

But in the longer term, the outside world needs to overhaul its approach to Pakistan. Bilateral aid from the US and Europe needs to be directed towards building up Pakistan's civil society, rather than channelled, as much of it is at present, to the county's over-mighty military. Western governments need to start treating Pakistan not only as a security problem, but a nation in urgent need of development. These devastating floods have revealed the country to be both.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot