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Political lessons from the earthquake

There was a time in Pakistan when boundary lines between the haves and the have nots were very clearly defined. The haves had their own living spaces, their own social and political circles. Institutions did not matter to them as each elite was an institution in his/her own right. The poverty, the failing judicial system, inflation & the lawlessness was only for the have nots who lived in the other part of the country where there was no safe drinking water, roofs collapsed during heavy rains and buildings were unsafe.

In other words, a very clear divide. However, much to the dismay of the country's elite the boundary lines are starting to get murky as demonstrated by the October 8th earthquake.

October 8th 2005 was the day which brought home to us a simple fact: when there is no rule of law, everyone is affected. When hands are greased and unsafe buildings constructed everyone is in danger. The children of the affluent parents of Marghalla Towers in Islamabad and the children under the roofs of public schools in Kashmir are equally at risk.

It may seem to be a harsh statement but the truth is that this might be a blessing in disguise .Will it be too much to ask that the incestuous elite of Pakistan treat this as a wake up call? It is hoped that they realize that while their social positions might allow them to play hookey from traffic rules, civil and even criminal laws, Mother Nature is quite egalitarian in the devastation that she inflicts. All the more reason that Pakistanis need to seriously look at how they can cope best with natural disasters. At the risk of digressing from the subject matter, one would like to state that while a lot of columnists are focusing on the need of developing and implementing building codes, setting up a national disaster management plan, it is also important to focus on the need for citizens to lobby to ensure that Pakistan becomes a part of the Global Seismographic Network. This network allows data to be shared among countries and also allows for some level of predictability built into quake planning. Sub service activity can be monitored and if tectonic plates shift, they are mapped for new fault lines and cracks well before an earthquake. Both India and Pakistan are not members of this Network because of state understood reasons of nuclear security. It is perhaps time to rethink this strategy.

However, lets come back to the subject of political lessons learnt from the earthquake In addition to October 8th being a wake call to set up disaster management and civil defence in the country, the earthquake also brought home to Pakistan another very important fact: the voice of the army comes first, the voice of the public representatives second and that of the citizens third. This is evident from the fact that in terms of aid, relief and rehabilitation plans, the army is the one which does the assessment, formulates plans and implements them while the public representatives particularly the opposition cry themselves hoarse to be heard. Almost two months after the earthquake, the voice of the citizens for relief and rehabilitation plans still has not been heard. The citizens of the area have not been consulted whether they want a five star hotel in the area, tent schools or food.

Before the earthquake, there was a joke that while other countries of the world have armies, Pakistan Army has a country. The earthquake and the following two months showed us that this is a fact. How?

Well, take for instance the question of rehabilitation and aid process. It is commendable that Pakistan has managed to receive so many pledges from the international community. The opposition raised a hue and cry about being excluded from the formulation of the rehabilitation plans insisting that these plans have not been discussed in the Parliament. They therefore refused to attend the International Donors Conference held at Islamabad on November 19th. The President kept his rehabilitation plans a secret and ``unveiled "them like a magician taking a rabbit out from a hat at the International Donors Conference. In spite of the opposition, the government magnanimously proposed the formation of a committee of both treasury and opposition members to discuss the plans which incidentally are already being implemented! The President of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, Mr. Chaudhry Shujaat in a public statement declared `` The opposition leaders were asked to bring their own proposals for the terms of reference of the committee but any negative proposal from them would not be acceptable by the government" Former Prime Minister Ch Shujaat Hussain also went on to say that `` The opposition would not be allowed to raise questions regarding relief and rehabilitation work to be done in quake hit areas and about the magnitude of this work. He however, assured the opposition that if they come up with good proposals, the government would not waste a minute in accepting them" And then they say Pakistan is not a democratic country!

The opposition on being asked to give proposals for the terms of reference of the committee gave proposals such as having supremacy of the Parliament, Parliament should be consulted in the development of the rehabilitation and reconstruction plans and that aid funds should be used in a transparent manner. Such proposals were termed as`` irrelevant" by the government and the drawing rooms of Islamabad declared that if only the opposition leaders had a national vision things would be much different.

It is also true that the Pakistan army appears to play a very important role in the relief efforts of the earthquake affected. The army jawans from Rawalpindi reached the Marghalla Towers in Islamabad in less than three hours; the distance between Rawalpindi and Islamabad being only twenty miles. The citizens are also reminded through news reports that the army suffered physical, logistical and material losses but in spite of this they reached Islamabad in three hours. It is interesting to remember that these losses were sustained by the Army in Kashmir and not at its Headquarters in Rawalpindi but still this is cited as the reason for the delay in getting to Islamabad from Rawalpindi.

According to the Federal Education Minister, General (r)Javed Ashraf Qazi the country should be grateful to the army as ``the army responded to the nation's call despite the fact that it also faced causalities. "The Minister further added that `The fuel needs of all the helicopters being used for relief measures were being met from the defence budget and the army has sacrificed all its resources for the relief operations." Commendable. Indeed commendable that the army should use the citizens' money allocated to the defense budget on citizens in times of emergency. It is unfortunate that in Pakistan it is forgotten that the defense budget is also taxpayers' money in the first place.

While on the subject of aid and rehabilitation work, one must confess that one fails to understand news reports which declare that `` Army volunteers are busy in aid work" One thought that the Pakistani citizens were paying the army soldiers but guess one was wrong.
 

 

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individualland.com (Last Updated Wednesday, 26 October 2016)

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