Archive for August 3rd, 2010

Pakistani British MPs Slam Zardari Visit

As Reported by AFP

British MPs of Pakistani origin hit out at President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday, saying he should be back home sorting out the flooding disaster rather than launching his son’s career.

Some ethnic Pakistani politicians have pulled out of a planned meeting with Zardari, insisting he should abandon his visit to Britain to head up Islamabad’s response to the devastating floods.

Zardari starts his five-day visit later Tuesday. Alongside talks with Prime Minister David Cameron, Zardari was to meet with Pakistani-origin MPs, and attend an event Saturday which reports say is primarily to launch the political career of his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

The 21-year-old is the son of Zardari and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He is co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party alongside his father and has been studying at Britain’s Oxford University.

“I’m not going to meet with the president because I believe that a head of state needs to be in his country of origin when there’s a state of emergency,” Lord Nazir Ahmed told AFP.

“For him to spend tens of thousands of pounds (dollars, euros) on the launch of his son’s political career at a time when his country needs him shows that he’s out of touch and his advisors are ill-informed.

“Quite frankly, staying in five-star hotels with his huge entourage, tens of big cars that have been hired just to give him this protocol in London, it’s quite outrageous.”

Ahmed, from the opposition Labour Party, has pulled out of Thursday’s lunch event at a London hotel.

“I would rather the money should go to the flood victims than wasting money on a five-star lunch. I could have easily met him at the high commission for a cup of tea,” the Pakistan-born peer said.

Fellow Labour MP Khalid Mahmood has also turned down his invite, insisting Zardari should be in Pakistan rather than visiting Britain for political reasons.

“The issue is the huge environmental catastrophe that’s going on — a lot of people are dying there,” he said.

“No matter what he can do or can’t do, he should be there to try to support the people, not swanning around in the UK and France.”

A spokesman for Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Britain’s first female Muslim Cabinet minister, told AFP she will be attending the meeting.

Qassim Afzal, a senior Lib Dem politician of Pakistan origin, said he would attend the meeting, even if “British Pakistanis themselves feel that at this moment in time he should have stayed in Pakistan.”

National Interest Equals 180 million

By Sibtayn Naqvi for The Blue Rickshaw

With the calamity struck upon Pakistan, many of our citizens have suffered at the hands of a horrific torrential downpour, a tragic AirBlue accident and a sickening “target killing” environment prevalent in Karachi. One would believe to look for guidance, consolation and leadership in the civilian government. To quote spider-man “with great power comes great responsibility”, but for Asif Zardari, this means pursuing “national interests” abroad, while thousands of lives have been disrupted and lost across the nation.

Now all in fairness, as one politician proudly displayed on his twitter “I cannot understand y a State visit by a President to further Pakistan’s national interests shud be politicised. It’s hard work no holiday”. Do tell me, is it absolutely vital for Mr. Zardari at this time to be pursing “national interests” by sipping tea and munching on biscuits with the very Prime Minister who stated that my country should not be allowed to “promote the export of terror”?

The President has made numerous trips abroad to pursue “national interests” since taking the reins of the Presidency. Even though such trips cost (on average) Rs. 20 million, I have rarely seen a public outcry in regards to such escapades. Being the President of a powerful nation housing 180 million people, Mr. President, some empathy in regards to the timing of your foreign affairs could have been witnessed this time around.

Was it absolutely crucial to use public money (that is already bare minimum) to travel abroad in the current circumstances? Would it not have been possible to formulate a domestic trip to Swat, Peshawar or Nowshera to stand by the unfortunate flood victims? Could the Rs. 20 million not have been used to conduct a memorial service for the tragic victims who lost their lives in the Margalla Hills? Is it too much to ask for Rs. 20 million to be spent on increased security in Karachi so we don’t read headlines on target killings every morning?

Throughout Pakistan’s turbulent history we have constantly heard drawing room chatter in regards to the Establishment not allowing the civilian government to flourish. Let’s put a spotlight over the recent weeks to see why the Pakistan Army has an image of being our savior rather than the civilian government. When target killings are carried out in Karachi, the Rangers step in. When ED202 crashed in the Margalla Hills, the Army came to the rescue (while one Minister exclaimed prematurely that there were a number of survivors), when the monsoonal floods hit the Northern regions, General Kayani surveyed the damage while expediting relief efforts, when the British Prime Minister made scathing remarks towards Pakistan, our ISI chief suspended his foreign trip to the United Kingdom. You of all people should know Mr. President public perception does matter.

Why was there a lack of civilian government presence in all the incidents mentioned above? Is the launch of Bilawal Zardari as a 21-year-old PPP-Chairman more important than the diminished livelihood of thousands across the country? Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t the young Zardari exclaim “jaan chahyai, jaan deingay hum, khoon chahyai, khoon deingay hum”? I’d like to see some of that passion come to the forefront Mr. President.

Now let’s get to the favorite topic of the day. Fake degrees. For the 2008 general elections, there was a provision requiring all candidates to have an undergraduate degree. Regardless of whether the law is satisfactory, it was penned in ink. Do tell me, who gives the right to 47 sitting members of Parliament to provide the Election Commission of Pakistan with phony documents? Ironically, the majority of these illegal Parliamentarians are not even from the Pakistan Peoples Party. Take the high ground, the moral ground, Mr. President. Allow the report presented by the autonomous Higher Education Commission to run its proper course. Break down the barriers being constructed by the Ministry of Education.

Pakistan is a very resilient nation. Over the last decade, we have experienced the effects of an on-going war being carried out in Afghanistan. We have seen a rise in domestic violence that has cost 3,433 lives in 215 suicide attacks. Pakistan lost nearly 80,000 citizens in the tragic earthquake of 2005. Our military has suffered 8785 casualties of which 2273 soldiers have died. Karachi endured 156 incidents of targeted killings in 2009. 334 were targeted and killed in the first seven months of 2010, while their have been 889 murders in Karachi alone during the same time period. 152 Pakistani’s tragically lost their lives in the Margalla Hills, while the current flood that has swept the country has already taken the lives of more than 1,200 citizens.

But we are still standing strong. We carry out an honest day of living without electricity and ridiculously high prices of domestic commodities. Despite the hardships we have faced, our faith in this country has strengthened our confidence. In less than two weeks we will be out in the streets, waving our flags, saluting our soldiers and standing with our heads high. The globe may assume we are a fractured nation, and some may state that we export terror, but our national interests lay within our own borders. Our morals will carry us forward, but being at the helm of affairs Mr. President it is your duty to lead the way. We have suffered enough to watch Establishment dictate terms, or civilian governments bankrupting the national exchequer. It is high time the 180 million are looked after for they make up the “national interests”.

Sibtayn Naqvi is a freelance journalist and writes for The Blue Rickshaw. He may be contacted at

Pakistanis’ Anger Grows as Flood Damage Mounts

By Adam B Ellick for The New York Times

The damage from Pakistan’s worst floods in generations mounted on Monday as rescue operations continued and public fury rose in the country’s most volatile province.

The official death toll remains under 800, but on Monday the minister of information in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, formerly the North-West Frontier Province, estimated the true number to be 1,500. Another provincial official said 1.4 million people had lost their homes. As much as 70 percent of the region’s livestock is gone.

The number of people affected by the floods is 2.5 million, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

“The next week is critical. With further heavy rains there is a real danger that the flooding will spread further south into Sindh Province,” Ateeb Siddiqui, director of operations with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, said in a statement.

The displaced are clustered in hundreds of schools, largely fending for themselves for food and drinking water. Pakistani television channels showed survivors voicing venomous anger toward a government that has provided little immediate aid.

Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zardari landed in France for talks with the French government.

“People think that the government is not providing anything to them,” said Adnan Khan, an official at the government’s disaster-relief management office. “But the scale is so high and huge that we cannot cater to all of the people.”

The growing frustration with the government adds to its troubles in dealing with the province, which abuts Afghanistan in Pakistan’s north and is a pivotal battleground against the Islamic militants operating in both countries.

For the past year, the government and the military have been engaged in a campaign to restore public services, trying to rebuild trust after more than two million people were displaced last year when government forces launched a major offensive against militants. But the reconstruction efforts have been painfully slow, and the public mood has shifted from frustrated to furious.

Analysts said the government’s flood relief effort would not only serve as another test of public trust, but would also most likely be exploited as a wedge by foreign governments and militant organizations.

Last summer, hard-line Islamist charities ended up providing significant aid to the displaced, while Pakistani authorities were unable to deliver enough help but refused to allow American agencies to deliver more. The authorities did not want to be associated with the United States, widely blamed here for many of the country’s ills.

That has not changed. For the moment, the United States, which has pledged $10 million in aid for flood victims and has donated thousands of meals, is handing over the supplies for Pakistan to deliver. The United States is also sending 2 water filtration systems, 7 helicopters and 12 prefabricated bridges.

One of the priorities is rebuilding a crucial bridge in Dir district, which remains largely cut off and where thousands are feared trapped or dead. And in Upper Swat, mules were being used to shuttle food rations across high waters to the hungry, an official said.

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