Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Month Later: 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'

As a Pakistani it has become awfully hard for me to concentrate my blog on anything other than immense tragedy that has befallen our people. So many have died and tragically many more are going to follow their fate in the compassionless cold of the bleak Himalayan winter.

After this update I will make a conscious effort write on some other topic, but today I will once again concentrate on the subject that has managed to rock most of us to our very bones. This going to be a longish piece, so please bear with me.


The Good (brave lad)

There are so many new stories one hears every day – like the 13-year old boy from Balakot, now recovering at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital with a damaged spine, who tells us:

As the ground began to shake, the teacher yelled at us to get out as fast as we could from the classroom. Only a few made it; most of us got trapped in the falling masonry. Most died, some of injuries, others of thirst as there was no water to be had for those trapped under the rubble for the many days that followed.
So we continue to shed fresh tears every day as it’s impossible to become immune to tales of such unfathomable horror.


The Bad (politician)

And then we get messages from others who tell us of the indescribable incompetence of our exalted and pampered leadership. It appears Shaukat Aziz appeared on BBC’s Sunday programme ‘Talking Point’ on 31st October. This is what one American had to say in an email that was forwarded to me by a mutual friend:

You may or may not have seen it, but Shaukat Aziz appeared "live" yesterday on the BBC program "Talking Point" with Yvette Stevens, who is Head of the UN relief effort (Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). She was appealing for more aid, while Shaukat was going out of his way to stress that "no Pakistani victim of the earthquake is hungry," I believe were his words. Even as she continued to appeal for urgent, incremental contributions, Shaukat was explaining that "these people are used to stockpiling food for the winter" and that "they are not hungry!" I could not believe my ears. He might have qualified his statements by suggesting that food is perhaps less urgent than shelter (on the theory that people will freeze to death before they starve to death.) But he didn't. Nor did he go out of his way to support the UN's appeal for more aid. In fact, he undercut it.

Yvette must have been stunned, thinking, “Here I had a global audience and was appealing urgently for more aid which is desperately needed, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan was taking the wind right out of my sails!"

What kind of false pride authorizes a Prime Minister to deny his own people aid that his own government cannot understandably itself deliver?
I did not see the programme but it is clearly evident that this foreign emailer was stunned by our prime minister’s response. (If any reader watched ‘Talking Point’ please do add your comments as I have been unable to obtain transcript of the programme).

Having suffered, in recent months, Shaukat Aziz’s political and verbal progress (on television and in newsprint) I find little reason to doubt the American emailer’s honesty, and his obvious concern for the plight of the earthquake victims comes out all too clearly in his message. On the other hand, unlike him, our present leadership seems to suffer from a most callous and completely dim-witted form of verbal diarrhoea.


The Ugly (reality)

The current situation is so grim that even the normally timid ‘Granny’ of local newspapers
reported today:

A large number of shocked people interviewed by this reporter last week in many areas battered by the October 8 earthquake complained they were still without any help from the government and whatever little assistance that could reach them had come from non-governmental sources, including political and religious parties and groups, besides some international donor agencies.

A large number of people were still desperate for tents to save themselves from the cold. The government’s directives to manufacturers not to sell their product to anyone else, perhaps to neutralize the impact of religious and jihadi outfits and other opposition groups, is proving counter-productive.

“This will result in more deaths,” said Abdul Jabbar, who had trekked down to Muzaffarabad after negotiating a dangerous mountain route for two days from his hamlet in Jhelum Valley. “When TV teams and other people could get to difficult areas immediately after the earthquake, why couldn’t the military-men?” he asked.

To be fair the magnitude of the catastrophe would have been beyond the control of most governments but doesIslamabad’s top hierarchy have to issue orders restricting the sale of tents? Their time would perhaps be better spent addressing other more urgent issues; the same newspaper reported in a separate article:

Doctors said most of the hospitals in Rawalpindi and Islamabad had already become overcrowded, while hundreds of patients along with their attendants were coming in Islamabad and Rawalpindi everyday. They suggested establishment of more hospitals in the twin cities.

“Unfortunately, the government is not realising the gravity of the situation when thousands of people will leave Kashmir due to extremely cold weather and rush towards the hospitals of Rawalpindi and Islamabad,” they said.

Doctors said hundreds of amputees and injured people admitted in the tented hospitals would not survive if properly equipped hospitals were not set up for them on a war footing.

“You can’t treat an amputee with a plastered leg in the tented hospitals because they cannot be provided with proper medical treatment and the weather in Islamabad, which is getting colder day by day, might cause an increase in mortality rate,” they feared. “In these circumstances, the government should either hire more buildings or get some school buildings to properly treat the injured. If such steps were not immediately taken, the nation will be heading for another catastrophe,” they suggested.


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