Archive for the ‘ Pakistan Floods 2010 ’ Category

Caring for Pakistan’s Children

By Allison Zelkowitz for The Express Tribune

Every day we must each decide who to help, and who to ignore: the woman on the sidewalk begging for change, a neighbour carrying grocery bags up the apartment stairs, a colleague staying late in the office trying to finish a project. Sometimes we offer money, support, or time, and sometimes we walk by. Sometimes caring seems too hard.

These days, it seems that caring for Pakistan’s children is too hard. Millions of children are homeless, hungry, and sick in lower Sindh, which was devastated by flooding over a month ago. But Pakistan is not on the world’s good side at the moment — Osama Bin Laden was discovered here. Media reports on suicide attacks and terrorist networks abound. Relations between the US and Pakistan have soured. With so much negative news, it’s hard to feel good about helping Pakistan. Our hearts go out to the downtrodden and helpless, not those who are tinged with violence and controversy.

But Pakistan’s children don’t know this. They don’t know that if they had been born in a different country, they might not be going to bed hungry. They don’t know that if they spoke Japanese or Creole, rather than Sindhi, they might be sleeping in a waterproof tent, rather than under a plastic sack strung between trees. And they don’t know that, if they had survived last year’s floods, rather than this year’s – they might have clean water to drink.

More than two weeks ago, the United Nations launched a $357 million appeal to provide life-saving relief to over 5.4 million people affected by the floods, including 2 million children. Last year, when a $460 million appeal was issued to help victims of the 2010 floods, 64 per cent of this amount was committed by international donors in 18 days. This year, only 14 per cent has been pledged so far.

For aid workers like myself, the ‘humanitarian imperative’ guides our work — this principle avows that it is the duty of the international community to provide humanitarian assistance wherever needed. Our job is to save lives and reduce suffering when disaster strikes. We are trying to do this in flood-ravaged lower Sindh. Both the government and the humanitarian community in Pakistan have provided food, water, shelter, and medical care to hundreds of thousands of people. Save the Children — the organisation I work for — has reached over 240,000 people in less than four weeks. Yet there are still hundreds of communities who have received no support, and aid agencies will run out of funding soon. What, then, for Pakistan’s children?
In some areas of lower Sindh, it will take months for the flood waters to recede. While they wait, those with livestock will sell off their goats and cattle one by one, for ten to 20 per cent of their value, so they can feed their families. The less fortunate families, those without such assets, will take loans from wealthy landlords, and fall further into debt. Their children will eat once a day, and often only flatbread. They will suffer from skin diseases and diarrhoea, and some will contract malaria. As children become more malnourished, their immune systems will weaken. Soon many will die.

With so much need in the world, we often become deaf to cries for help. But national governments and international donor agencies are not deaf — they read the reports, they know the numbers. And 5.4 million people is no small number — it is more than the populations of Norway, Ireland, and New Zealand. Yet unlike these countries, the 5.4 million people in Pakistan affected by the floods do not have savings accounts or insurance. Right now, most have only make-shift shelters, a few clay pots, and some dirty blankets, and with that they are trying to get by.
Pakistan will likely remain at the forefront of global controversy for some time to come. But its children should not have to pay the price for this. The children in lower Sindh are not militants or politicians. They are like your children — hopeful, genuine, and kind — and they deserve to survive as all children do.

Pakistan’s Floods: Deja Vu, All Over Again

By Ishaan Tharoor for Time

These days when it rains in South Asia, it doesn’t just pour — it floods. A month of monsoon squalls has deluged hundreds of towns and villages in northwest India and Pakistan. The latter has seen the most acute flooding, and, on all evidence, has been the least prepared for it. At least 233 people have already died and 300,000 are now stranded or in makeshift camps — a figure that will surely grow. Officials in Pakistan claim some 5.5 million people so far have been affected by rising waters. That’s still only a fraction of the 20 million hit by last year’s catastrophic rains, but the forecast looks ominous.

Neva Khan, Oxfam’s Pakistan country director, spelled out the dimensions of the crisis on the relief agency’s website:
There is an urgent need to provide immediate and life saving relief to the millions affected. It hasn’t stopped raining in Sindh for the last 10 days. Large swathes of land are underwater and people are desperately awaiting relief. They have lost their crops, homes and livestock for the second time – and been pushed from last year’s disaster to this one.

Sindh, the vast, fertile province abutting the Arabian Sea, appears the worst affected. Across Pakistan, some 900 villages have been wholly submerged and millions of hectares of arable land — some still irrevocably damaged by last year’s floods — are under water.
What’s most depressing about the situation now is how keenly it echoes the 2010 calamity. Omar Waraich, TIME’s Islamabad correspondent, wrote this excellent piece a year ago for the magazine’s international editions. As the waters rise, Pakistan faces a familiar cocktail of maladies from last summer.

Then, the civilian government headed by the unpopular President Asif Zardari was hampered by political infighting and its fundamental subservience to the real power of Pakistan’s influential military. Now, not much has changed (though Zardari is still in his position, a surprise to some). Then, militants and terrorists were exposing the fragility of the Pakistani state with cold-blooded strikes on some of country’s major cities. Now, after a rancorous summer of barb-flinging with the U.S., not much has changed either — not least when suspected al-Qaeda allied militants raided a prominent naval base in Karachi earlier this year. Then, the cash-strapped government pleaded for foreign assistance. Now similar calls are being issued, with similar notes of desperation.

In the weeks to come, inquests will be made into whether enough had been done to shore up riverbanks, provide shelter and food for the hundreds of thousands left destitute for over a year, and prepare for the next season’s rains. Already, there are reports of angry civilians blockading roads — like last year — demanding outside intervention and aid. Cities like Karachi, which this summer has seen a spasm of internecine blood-letting, will be further strained by refugees fleeing the countryside.

On many levels, though, the disaster is not man-made. The floodplain of the great Indus river, home to over 100 million people, birthed one of the world’s first ancient civilizations. But the river likely also swallowed it up. Because of its own particular ecology, the Indus can’t be controlled by similar mechanisms of levees prevalent in the West. And climate change has made weather patterns more unpredictable and volatile. This BBC story from a year ago cites the research of an Indian scientist: Professor Rajiv Sinha, from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, who has had first hand experience of Asian river floods, takes a more strident position.

“What all the climate models predict is that the distribution of monsoon rains will become more uneven in the future,” he told BBC News.
“Total rainfall stays the same, but it comes in shorter more intense bursts.”

In August 2010, more than half of the normal monsoon rain fell in only one week. Typically it is spread over three months.
Professor Sinha remarked: “Rivers just can’t cope with all that water in such a short time. It was five times, maybe 10 times, more than normal.”
So, if the unusually intense 2010 monsoon is the shape of things to come – and that is uncertain – the future may hold more flood misery for the people of Pakistan.

It’s a closing sentence that has proven sadly prophetic.

The Illiteracy of Hate

A News and Opinion Special Report by Manzer Munir for Paksitanis for Peace

Alleged Taliban Member pic courtsey of Boston Globe

The Taliban are not just simply a bunch of illiterate thugs and bullies for they too often prove to be even worse than animals and barbarians.

Nowhere else in the world has a country experienced a more tragic and callous attack as the one on Christmas day, the birth day of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, than the one Pakistan experienced. In an attack described by President Obama as an “affront on humanity”, the cowards attacked helpless women, children and men while they queued up in food and aid distribution site such as the WFP depot, people who mind you are already suffering from the ongoing war, once in a lifetime floods, and the poverty and radicalism of a generation of desperate, hopeless and increasingly uneducated young men brainwashed by the Taliban and other radical Muslim extremists.

I am still disturbed by the disdain for basic human life that this new attack proves about this radical and extreme enemy. I imagine another one of their brain washed ‘walking zombies’, this time purportedly a woman suicide bomber, a first, even for Pakistan, killed in excess of 43 people in Bajur Pakistan at a World Food Program rations and aid storage and distribution center.

The Pakistani authorities and several domestic and foreign NGO’s who provide food aid at various centers in the area are temporarily closing these centers in order to have increased security. This means that aid distribution will come to a crawl and up to several hundred thousand people will now have to suffer at the hands of the attacker and their backers, the Taliban who have claimed responsibility. The authorities will have to ensure the safety of aid organizations and their personnel for both Pakistani and non Pakistanis relief workers involved in getting food, water and medicine to many people who are either suffering from the war or from the floods.

This catastrophe, although not of near Biblical proportions, does present both a security and humanitarian problem to both the government of Pakistan as well the suffering citizens in the northwest areas of the country where; Taliban fighters take sanctuary from the war in Afghanistan to regroup and return to the fight in warmer weather after the winter months as we have seen in years past. In fact, the reach of the Taliban in Pakistan is now not only reputed to be in the headquartered areas such as in Quetta Pakistan among the restive Baluchi population, now they are so often found to be in major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and many points in between as they use their religious cover to endear themselves to certain impressionable, weakened or illiterate individuals that are so commonly found in throughout the country. 

Here are the some of the depressing facts. Pakistan, a nation approaching 180 million people at current estimates, perhaps only boasts to having about 60-65% of the male population at a literate level and at best, the females to be only at 40-45% of the total female population. Sadly, what this means is that 4 out of 10 Pakistani males are completely illiterate while up to as many as 6 out of 10 women are not able to read or write. Poverty breeds extremism since there is no support from any government programs or hope for any solution.

Time and time again throughout history and not just of Pakistan’s, we can see that the role of the church, synagogue or mosque in building the community is deeper than that of any government initiatives or other measures. The poverty for these young men along with the lack of jobs like for those individuals who are either very poorly paid construction site workers, household labor or servants, or beggars and sewer workers, a job sadly almost seems to have been reserved for Pakistan’s Christian community members as many can attest in Pakistan of their unfortunate and depressing state. One does not need to remind the reader of the plight of Asia Bibi (also Aasia and Ayesa), the Christian Pakistani woman who is still awaiting her fate in Pakistani courts after more than a year and a half since first being accused of a BS blasphemy charge and being in jail ever since. 

The medieval mentality of these radical extremists is not something that needs to be described as the evidence is here in this latest attack . Certainly anyone alive in any part of the world outside Pakistan and Afghanistan with eyes, TV, radio or newspaper within their reach can see plenty of near daily reminders of the carnage that many natives of these lands see, and to what they have painfully become accustomed.

 The Pakistani and Afghani Talibans have by all the various reports in newspapers and media sources over the last several years have pointed out to the fact that these groups all have too often similar goals. Not only that, these groups all share the same characteristics. The anti-Americanism, the pro-Wahaabi or Orthodox version of Islam, the need for justice for the ‘suffering of the Palestinian people’ , and the anti-colonial and often times anti western sentiment amongst these groups. The radicalization of certain Muslim groups be they Hamas and Hezbollah in the Mideast or Lashkar e taiba, or any other militant outfit operating in this part of the world as mentioned in this quote a few days before he passed, the late Richard Holbrooke of the US State department said that there are a range of militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that “an expert could add another 30.” His exact words are in quotations. 

The radical Muslim groups who take prey of the weaker, cannot think for themselves because they are scions of those abjectly illiterate segments of the society who are only educated in the madrassahs of Pakistan. This is the de facto way of educating Pakistan’s poorer children in little mosque schools which consist of nothing but Qu’ranic surahs and words of ‘wisdom’ or ‘interpretation’ by the local mullah of the said mosque/school. Most probably these children in many Pakistani madrassahs, especially the ones who live near the border areas within the NWFP or North West Frontier Province of Pakistan as this is the part of the country most affected by its close proximity to Afghanistan.

The people in this area of Pakistan, as well as their cousins in Afghanistan have been fighting one enemy or another for the better part of 100 years now. Whether to them the enemy be the British, during the height of the British Raj rule in India, or to the Soviets and the Red army and the Cold War, then in chronological order came the infighting after the Russian withdrawal as various Tajik, Afghani, Uzbek, Pakistani warlords came in to try and consolidate power to now us Americans and the Pakistanis who are our allies in this war.

Granted we do often hear that the Pakistanis can be doing more. By all accounts, the Pakistani government can do more in terms of fighting this war on terror. Numerous western reports and articles in respected dailies have alleged that small elements within both Pakistan’s Army as well as the spy agency, the ISI, have sympathizers to either the Taliban’s cause or they want to be on favorable terms with a powerful entity that most in Pakistan’s establishment believes that Pakistan will be dealing with and not a weakened Karzai once the US begins to draw down troops and end the war by 2014. If this is indeed true, then these ‘officers’ and supposed ‘leaders’ of Pakistan should realize that the colluding with the enemy, which in this case is the Taliban, is tantamount to treason, and the members of the armed forces of Pakistan as well as the intelligence community should not be assisting the enemies of all concerned: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. 

Of course we must not kid ourselves and assume that only alleviating the illiteracy and poverty of the Pakistani youth will and bettering the education system of the Pakistani poor, particularly that of the refugees and residents of the northwest areas near the Afghan border. No there needs to be a study and introspection by the people of these two countries where this hatred breeds. To to get out of this darkness, the population needs be provided not only safety when delivering food aid and or medicine but aldo most importantly give them a book, a pen, and a paper. And teach them how to fish for knowledge with basic comprehension and deductive reasoning skills that can reject a radical and violent view of Islam too often manipulated by the clergy. This is the only way we can come to end this illiteracy of hate.

Manzer Munir, is a proud and patriotic Pakistani American, an author, who plans to write a book on Pakistan, who is also a blogger and journalist, and as the Founder of Pakistanis for Peace  can be found at www.PakistanisforPeace.com, www.DigitalJournal.com ,www.Open.Salon.com, www.Examiner.com, as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Sami Yusuf – Hear Your Call (Pakistan Flood Relief)

A Charity Single Released By Sami Yusuf where all profits go to help the Flood victims of Pakistan

British singer-songwriter Sami Yusuf, dubbed “Islam’s biggest rock star”, is donating profits from his latest single to help flood victims in Pakistan. Born in Iran, but raised in the UK, the singer is urging fans to recognize the ongoing plight of those affected by the floods. Profits from Hear Your Call will go to Save the Children, which is working in the four provinces hit by the disaster.

Sami has sold more than seven million albums worldwide. He said: “This is an enormous disaster and I personally feel we all, as fellow humans, have a responsibility to help the victims in any way we can.

“The floods have completely changed many people’s lives and through our actions, we can offer hope. “In such times we have to align ourselves with the right organizations to reach out to the affected areas as effectively and urgently as possible.”

The track can be download from iTunes and the artist’s official website.
http://www.itunes.com
http://www.samiyusufofficial.com/

Aasia Bibi and Impurities in the Land of the Pure

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The case of Aasia Noreen aka Aasia Bibi illustrates how far Pakistan has to go to secure freedoms for its religious minorities. Christians and Hindus are not the only minorities who are persecuted for their beliefs but it is also Muslim minorities such as the Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Shiites who are routinely harassed, discriminated and also killed. Sadly, it is the case of Aasia Bibi that has brought some much needed attention to Pakistan’s sad state of affairs towards the treatment of its religious minorities.

Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code consist of its blasphemy laws and of all the Muslim countries of the world that have anti-blasphemy laws, Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are by far the strictest. There is section 295 that forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object. Then there is section 295-A that “forbids outraging religious feelings.” There is also 295-B which prohibits defiling the Qu’ran and was originally punishable by life imprisonment but has since been amended to up to three years imprisonment.

No section of the blasphemy law is more controversial or harder to prove than Article 295-C, the law that Aasia Bibi is allegedly charged with having broken. In respect to prophet Muhammad, this statute states that ” Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.”

Aasia’s case and charges against her started almost a year and a half ago when there was a quarrel over a bowl of water in a dusty village in the heart of Pakistan’s Punjab province. A group of women were working the fields in the heat of the Pakistani sun when one of them, Aasia Bibi, dipped her glass in the communal bucket of drinking water to fetch herself and others a glass of water to drink and immediately was rebuffed by the other women who claimed that the water was now unclean as it had been touched by a non-Muslim. According to witnesses, instead of quietly bowing her head and taking the indignities, Aasia’s crime was that she mounted a strong defense of her faith and remained steadfast in her demeanor that she did nothing wrong. Too often in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws are used against religious minorities to settle personal vendettas and old scores according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group monitoring the case.

The news traveled fast in Aasia’s village of Ittan Wali, in Punjab’s Sheikhupura district that a Christian woman had insulted the prophet. The local mullah got on the mosque loudspeakers, urging the “faithful” to take action against Aasia Bibi. In sad but familiar pattern, her defense of her faith was somehow twisted into an accusation of blasphemy, according to her family and others familiar with the case. Soon as a mob gathered outside her home ready to take the law into their own hands and handing out vigilante justice, the police moved in and took her into custody. But instead of protecting her, they charged her with insulting Islam and its prophet under the blasphemy laws.

And then on Nov. 8, after suffering 18 months in prison, Aasia Bibi was sentenced to death by a district court, making her the first person to be handed the death penalty in Pakistan under the blasphemy laws. Many before her over the years have been charged, but punishment had been commuted to lesser penalties than the death sentence imposed on Aasia Bibi. No concrete evidence was ever presented against Aasia, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch. Instead, the district judge relied on the testimonies of three other women, all of whom were hostile towards her.

Unfortunately this is a common insult hurled at many of Pakistan’s 2 million Christians who make up just 1.59% of the total population. Often, Christians in Pakistan are discriminated and persecuted and many times only get the lowest of the low jobs such as street sweepers, janitorial and sanitation workers. In fact, in Pakistan, the term ‘Chura‘ has become synonym with the Christian community as it relates to an unclean person akin to how the untouchables or Dalit community is seen in India. In India however, the Dalits are not subjected to arcane state blasphemy laws geared towards religious minorities as in Pakistan or are threatened with their lives at the hands of the Hindu majority.

As discussed in a couple of my previous articles, Taliban 1o1, History and Origins and Taliban 201, The Rise of the Pakistani Taliban, the Islamization of Pakistan started under the late General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan who took over the leadership of the country through a military coup in 1977 when he hung the deposed and democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Earlier in 1973, the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan had declared that “Islam shall be the religion of the Pakistan” and had systematically begun the process of restricting the participation of religious minorities in government and politics.

Before General Zia, there were only two reported cases of blasphemy. Since the death sentence was inserted in 1986 into the Penal Code for the blasphemy laws, this number has now reached 962 — including 340 members of the Ahmadi Muslim community, 119 Christians, and 14 Hindus. A close examination of the cases reveals the blasphemy laws are often invoked to settle personal scores, or they are used by Islamist extremists as cover to persecute religious minorities, sadly with the help of the state under these laws.

General Zia began this policy of Islamization of Pakistan in conjunction with his support for the war against the Russians and assistance to the Afghan Mujahedeen as well as the building of thousands of madrassahs or religious schools across Afghanistan and Pakistan which nurtured the young men into what later became the Taliban. Many of these blasphemy laws fully came into being under his reign, although some were around since as early as more than 100 years prior when the British drew up the Indian Penal Code of 1860 which was initially an ill foreseen aim at keeping the peace among the many fractured faiths of the subcontinent. For instance, section 295-A, which “forbids outraging religious feelings”, could have been applied against a Muslim who insulted a Hindu or a Hindu who taunted a Sikh or Christian or vice versa. However under Zia, the blasphemy laws were expanded and almost exclusively applied against Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadis, Islamilis and Shiites as well as against the Christian and Hindu populations.

Recently, a religious ‘leader’ came out and has offered over $6000 to anyone who can kill Aasia Bibi while she awaits her punishment in police custody. Outrage and denunciations on this case are coming from across the world as many people are appalled at the sad state of rights for religious minorities in Pakistan. The Pope has intervened also asking for clemency for Aasia Bibi from Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. Against all manner of reason and justice, Lahore’s High Court recently issued an order on November 29, 2o1o, preventing Zardari from exercising his constitutional authority to pardon Aasia Bibi.

In a country rife with violence and chaos and one that has become synonymous with terror the world over, the case of Aasia Bibi is yet another dark stain on the country’s image around the world. The Taliban and the extremist groups ravaging Pakistan can be explained as being a violent minority and do not and should not reflect on the nation as a whole as the majority of people in Pakistan are opposed to them and their views of Islam. But the blasphemy laws, for as long as they have stayed on the books in Pakistan and in the constitution, cannot and should not be excused in any shape or form. These laws need to be repealed and the constitution needs to be amended in an emergency manner so that Aasia Bibi and other religious minority citizens of Pakistan are not subjected to cruel and subjective laws that are almost exclusively used against minorities to settle scores, personal vendettas, and instill terror in less than 3 percent of the country that is not part of the religious majority of Sunni Muslims.

There needs to be international pressure placed on Pakistan from the United Nations, the United States, Europe and others to modify the constitution immediately and to pardon this 45 year old mother of five children. It is ironic that in a country where many people sympathize with Osama’s Al Qaeda and profess to hate the west with one hand, they decry with the other why not enough western aid has came to their country when it recently saw the worst flooding in its history. Can you blame the American citizens, the Europeans or citizens of any other Christian nation from hesitating to give aid to a country that not only plays a duplicitous game when it comes to terrorists and terror havens but also treats Christians and other religious minorities in the manner as in the case of Aasia Bibi?

The name Pakistan literally translates into “The Land of the Pure”. And as a child growing up I was told that the meaning of Pakistan’s flag is this: “The green is a traditional Islamic color and the crescent moon and star are also Islamic symbols. The white stripe represents the non-Muslim minority and religious groups of Pakistan and there place in the country.” In my view, as long as the nation sanctions and tolerates these utterly unjust and biased blasphemy laws, the religious minorities of Pakistan clearly have no place in this land of the ‘pure’.

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

A Silver Lining in Pakistan’s Floods

By Maha Hosain Aziz for Bloomberg Businessweek

With the devastating floods that began in July, Mother Nature has left an indelible imprint on Pakistan—its geography, its people, its national psyche. But it has also created an opportunity to change the destiny of millions of flood victims who traumatically lost their loved ones, homes, and livelihoods in mere days. This natural disaster may have given the country an opportunity to tackle a recurring point of contention in Pakistan—feudalism.

Academics, journalists, and analysts have frequently pointed to feudalism as a reason for the huge inequalities in Pakistan, claiming that many landlords treat their tenants and peasants like slaves. According to a 2009 estimate by campaigner Anti-Slavery International, debt has forced more than 1.8 million people to work for their landlords with no pay. If there is truth to this today, in even a few cases, perhaps the floods have delivered Pakistan an opportunity to empower those trapped in decades of feudalism and poverty.

The question is how to capitalize on this potential opportunity. Land reforms in 1959, 1972, and 1977 failed to redistribute land more equitably and are not expected ever to be legitimately carried out by any government, due to political constraints. What is possible today, in a post-flood scenario, is a collaborative effort among the private sector, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and foreign donors to be creative about job creation, even if only on a small scale. If successful, at least some of these landless flood victims could be given an opportunity to rebuild their lives outside the feudal context.

Laboring for the Owners

As many flood victims return to their homes to figure out how to rehabilitate their lives, others have already declared they will never go back. They appear to feel the floods have given them an opportunity to break away from the hold of their landlords. They did not own the land they were tilling and had to give large portions of their produce to their landlords while never coming close to paying off their debts.

Recent media coverage has captured the anger of many flood victims, particularly in rural Sindh. Some residents of Dari, near Kandhkhot, for instance, reportedly said they were literally left on the side of the road and abandoned by their landlords when the floods began. Unable to find shelter, they took refuge under some trees for a few weeks before making their way to overpopulated relief camps. Others with health problems made their way to camps but were turned away for medical treatment because they were not registered and have yet to be contacted by their landlords. Those who had small plots of land fear they will never retrieve what they owned because all the paperwork has been washed away.

There have also been reports of some influential landlords having had floodwaters diverted to save their own lands and instead engulf the villages of the poor. Others have said food rations and other forms of aid given to these landlords have only been passed on to their relatives and voters, while some apparently have kept the aid in storage for their own use in the coming months. While this has been difficult to prove, the perception of such acts has likely added to the resentment of some tenants and peasants toward their landlords that could derail feudal relations in the long term. As flood relief efforts increasingly focus on rehabilitation, we have to consider what these flood victims will do now. If they are not in a position to return to work on the land of their feudal lords, how will they make a living?

Earning Money in Aid Projects

Beyond finding housing for these landless flood victims, there is a real need to focus on job-creation strategies. Some aid agencies, such as Oxfam and the UNDP, have already teamed up with local NGOs to offer cash-for-work programs. In the Charsada and Nowshera districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, for instance, 1,500 flood victims from relief camps are being paid to pick up and dispose of rubble from the streets and build drains and roads,
working five days per week and receiving 400 to 600 Pakistani rupees ($4.7 to $7) for six hours of labor in a UNDP-sponsored project.

So while they earn money, these flood victims are rebuilding their homes.

But these jobs are short-term and do not cater to those who feel they cannot return home to work for their landlords. It would thus be prudent to think about long-term employment strategies, such as bottom-up programs, specifically for this cadre of flood victims. Perhaps foreign aid and NGO workers could work together with a local microfinance bank to introduce a combination of vocational training and loans for these flood victims so they can create their own employment and gain self-sufficiency. Or maybe social entrepreneurs can ally with the private sector to consider training flood victims for rural outsourcing in a particular area. There should also be a psychological component to any rehabilitation efforts, not only to help the flood-afflicted cope with the ongoing trauma of the floods, but also to introduce them to the idea of economic independence through these job creation projects.

This is the time to be creative for those flood victims who are not in a position to go home and work for their landlords anymore. It would be worthwhile for a local university, such as Lahore University of Management Sciences or Karachi’s Institute of Business Administration, to organize a job-creation conference, drawing on the perspectives of local businessmen, entrepreneurs, academics, NGO workers, and the flood victims themselves. These participants could start by “adopting” one flood-afflicted community of landless tenants and peasants, and brainstorming creative strategies specifically for their long-term employment and self-sufficiency.

We have already witnessed how quickly Pakistanis all over the world and in the country have rallied together to raise money aggressively for flood relief in the past few months. As the floods recede and recovery effects have turned to rehabilitation, perhaps these individuals would now be willing to offer “patient capital” to invest in their own job-creation project targeting those flood victims who will no longer go back to their feudal setup. It may not turn a profit for investors immediately, but if this works, it could provide at least one landless tenant or peasant with economic freedom—for the first time in his life

Maha Hosain Aziz is the senior teaching fellow in South Asian Politics at London’s School of Oriental & African Studies.

Pakistani Peace Builders Turn Cultural Diplomacy to Flood Relief

By Carrie Loewenthal Massey for America.gov

When Pakistani Americans Mahnaz Fancy and Zeyba Rahman launched Pakistani Peace Builders ( PPB ) in May, they did so to bring Pakistani music and heritage to American audiences. An independent cultural diplomacy campaign, PPB aimed to counteract stereotypes and misperceptions of Pakistanis that Fancy and Rahman saw becoming more prominent.

“The only way we know how to make a difference is to show the other face of Pakistan,” she added. “We as Pakistani Americans are very concerned about being misread and misconstrued.”

Exposing Pakistan’s rich cultural roots “is a really important way of explaining that the fundamentalists are a minority,” Fancy said.

In July, New York City delighted in a celebration of one aspect of Pakistani tradition at PPB’s first event, a hugely successful festival of Sufi music. Nearly 25 musicians representing different regions of Pakistan performed a free, outdoor show in Union Square, one of the most popular public spaces in Manhattan.

“It was an unbelievable experience. … People needed some way to feel good about themselves as Pakistani Americans,” Fancy said.

And then the floods came.

PPB immediately added a humanitarian angle to its cultural mission following the devastating floods that struck Pakistan in late July, killing 1,800 people, affecting more than 20 million others and destroying crops across the country. Building on the momentum generated by the Sufi festival, the PPB partnered with ML Social Vision, the venture philanthropy arm of Washington-based ML Resources, to start Relief4Pakistan, a grass-roots effort to mobilize funds for relief in the flood affected areas.

“As we were wrapping up the concert and the floods hit, I just kept getting phone calls from people all over [the United States] saying, ‘What do we do? How do we respond?’” said Fancy. “People had ideas of packing food and sending it. [The pace] was insane in that initial moment.”

To give donors some direction, Relief4Pakistan sends donations to Mercy Corps, a Seattle, Washington-based nongovernment organization. Mercy Corps has an established reputation and experience on the ground in Pakistan, according to Fancy. Some of Mercy Corps’ efforts include providing safe drinking water, setting up water filtration units and distributing food and relief materials.

Using Facebook and personal networks to encourage support and raise money, Relief4Pakistan has raised nearly $150,000 in aid since August.

“We’ve had donors from all over the place. We’ve had friends hosting events and sending the proceeds,” Fancy said.

Celebrity endorsements have helped bring in funds as well. Aasif Mandvi, an Indian-born, British-raised comedian and cast member of the popular U.S. television program The Daily Show, hosted a stand-up comedy night to benefit Relief4Pakistan, and Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir — whose credits include Iron Man ( 2008 ) and Star Trek ( 2009 ) — has also joined the campaign.

Relief4Pakistan’s second phase of flood assistance launches in November with a major reconstruction project. The effort will focus on Bangla Ichha Union Council, a four-village area in the Rojhan subdistrict of the Rajanpur district in southern Punjab. According to Fancy, 95 percent of the 40,000 people living in the villages depend on their own crops for sustenance, and their fields remain ravaged by the floods.

“Our first goal is to plant at least 1,000 acres of wheat by the end of November. We want to raise money to get seeds and fertilizer for some of the most vulnerable people, those that own less than five acres of land,” Fancy said.

To complete the project, Relief4Pakistan is partnering with Operation USA, a Los Angeles–based relief agency that “shares our philosophy that development ought to be done by empowering the local community to learn skills and develop a sustainable strategy to take care of themselves,” explained Fancy. Relief4Pakistan and Operation USA are reaching out to local Pakistani organizations to tap their resources and train the community members in necessary skills.

Relief4Pakistan will raise funds through Facebook again, but has also already engaged a wider circle of American philanthropists, Fancy said. Their goal is to build a sort of global village, a network of people worldwide coming together to help, and Fancy hopes the model of “the power of a global village” will set a precedent for other successful relief efforts.

“We’re really riffing off of [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton’s ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ … Our overarching goal is to appeal to the humanity of the wider donor public,” said Fancy. “It takes effort from Pakistani Americans and Pakistanis in other countries … it’s the responsibility of each member of this global village.”

At the height of its flood relief efforts, PPB has not forgotten its mission of cultural diplomacy. In fact, much fundraising continues to come from film screenings, art exhibitions and comedy performances showcasing the talents of Pakistani artists.

“Part of our cultural mission is using culture to humanize [Pakistan] and at the same time putting it into action through these much needed flood relief efforts,” Fancy said.

PPB plans to hold more cultural events beyond those dedicated to flood relief. The organization would like to hold the Sufi music festival annually, expanding it to include artists from other South Asian countries.

“[We want] to show what Sufism is in other parts of the world. Pakistan is a microcosm of a larger issue, which is the whole Muslim world,” Fancy said. “Muslims in [South Asia] have been remarkably liberal and secular in comparison to what people think they are.”

Through PPB, Fancy, who is 41 years old, will keep working to transform the younger Pakistani-American generation’s misconceptions of the Muslim world.

“I find it so distressing that people of our parents’ generation know much more about Pakistan than our generation,” she said.

And she worries that the knowledge the younger generation has gained from the media has left it grossly misled about Pakistani and Muslim identities.

“This sense of being primitive and tribal is not the true modern history of this part of the world,” Fancy said. “It’s only true of the minority that has taken the loudspeaker and is misbroadcasting lots of things they think are collective traits [of Muslims], but they’re not.”

( This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov )

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