Issues on the Periphery
Dr Shireen M. Mazari


It is now over three weeks since the earthquake happened, but the enormity of the devastation and suffering continues to overwhelm us. As in any situation involving the state, critics will also abound, but by and large there is a spirit of public-private cooperation that has risen above normal bureaucratic hurdles. The system is not perfect but even the foreign NGOs involved in the relief operations are prepared to acknowledge the work being done by the state in difficult and trying circumstances. Of course, the contribution of Pakistani civil society has been nothing short of amazing. As for the critics, they are also making a valuable contribution by alerting one to failings that need rectification.
However, there are two groups of critics whose line of critique is nothing short of absurd. Ironically, while they would see themselves as having nothing in common, their arguments do seem to have an unnerving similarity. First, there are those who have been crying hoarse about this tragedy being the wrath of God for the Pakistani state's evil ways! Though why God would want to punish the innocent, especially children, is never quite explained. This group of critics also saw Hurricane Katrina in the same vein, although here too it was the poor black population that suffered the major brunt. In any event, while our state may not be perfect, one cannot find anything particularly evil that is peculiar to us alone to have made God punish especially the innocent and the underprivileged amongst us.
The second group of critics is part of our so-called "liberal, enlightened and secular" elite. They have chosen to explain that the reason the international community has not responded as it was expected to, in terms of the flash appeal made by the UN, is either because we are one of the most corrupt countries of the world or because we are perceived to be linked with extremism or, even worse, a combination of both. That is why, according to them, unlike the massive outpouring of international assistance for the tsunami, there has been a lukewarm response towards Pakistan. This again is hardly a rational argument given that human suffering normally gets a human response beyond the pale of politics. We saw that even at the time of the earthquake in Bam in Iran. But such explanations do comfort the politically disgruntled souls, even at a time of national tragedy.
So how does one explain the difference in international response in terms of the tsunami and the October 8 earthquake? First, we should accept that there has been a tremendous response to earthquake relief, from many members of the international community, including Muslim states, and many Western and Asian states, as well as international NGOs and the UN. But some states have shown a lack of interest so far -- especially Australia which used to be so eager to sell us sick sheep and bad wheat -- while others have been a little niggardly. But we should be grateful for whatever has come and rely increasingly on our own efforts.
Why was it different for the tsunami? Primarily because the disaster went live on the international media as a result of amateur footage of the event as it was unfolding -- so the impact was immediate. Second, the number of foreign, especially Western tourists, who lost their lives, also impacted countries well beyond the disaster-stricken states. People in Europe felt the loss personally and many others had associations with the tourist resorts destroyed by the tsunami. So these factors galvanized the rich nations into giving a major response. As for the US, it saw the disaster in Indonesia, especially, as a means of redeeming its adverse image in the largest Muslim state. So let us not indulge in irrational self-flagellation merely because we want to indulge in diatribes against the state. There are more rational grounds on which to indulge in this activity.
At the end of the day, what is the difference between those offering the explanation of wrath of God and those offering the wrath of mankind explanation, except that one offers an explanation for why the disaster happened in terms of our spiritual sins and the other seeks to explain why mankind has not responded adequately by laying the blame on our temporal shortcomings.
Interestingly, these days God seems to dominate the thinking of many political leaders across the globe -- far beyond the Muslim World -- who all choose to explain their irrational actions in terms of being influenced by the Almighty. President Bush claims that God told him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. And who would have thought that India's leaders, who never tire of proudly claiming their secular ideology, would also resort to the Hindu religion to explain why its leadership did a total flip at the IAEA and voted for the EU-sponsored resolution against Iran! But that is how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to explain this erratic behavior and pacify the Left: "We have given diplomacy time to find a way out. The Gita says one has to do one's duty unmindful of the consequences." Perhaps the born-again factor is also an element in the new Bush-Singh rapport!
Coming back to the earthquake, there is another issue that has also come to the fore in its aftermath -- that of the Pakistan-India relationship. The LoC opening has encouraged those who feel this is the opportunity for Pakistan to unilaterally alter the paradigm of its India relationship. An example that is being cited is the case of Turkey which supposedly altered its relations with Greece after the latter sent aid for the Turkish earthquake victims of 1999. This supposedly led to a new dynamic emerging on the Cyprus issue, although how one can discount the Turkish quest for EU membership as a major factor is inexplicable. In any event, at the end of the day, the Turkish Cyprus issue remains unresolved, and a major responsibility for that lies on the EU itself.
So unilateral altering of paradigms does not get the desired results. In the Pakistan-India case, we are already witnessing India's politicking against Pakistan during this time of national tragedy. We saw India moving against Pakistan at the IAEA last week and now we have seen the Indian leadership attempting to drag Pakistan into the Delhi bombings, as well as the Indian media referring to one of the Red Fort attackers as Pakistani despite no proof of this having been established. Yet none other than India's former foreign secretary, Muchkun Dubey told the BBC, on October 31, that of "none of those who have been sentenced it has been said that he is a Pakistani citizen. In the Supreme Court judgment the involvement of Pakistan has not been mentioned anywhere." So what is the Indian media up to? We should not be surprised to find the Indians using this death sentence to work out a deal for RAW's Sarabjit Singh.
The point here is that Pakistan's tragedy is being used for point scoring by India rather than using it to truly seek a new framework for relationship with Pakistan. In such a situation, unilateral accommodations will not lead to desirable conflict resolution.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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