By Clément Paule
Translation: Davina Durgana
Passage au crible n°11
On October 29th, 2010, many spokespeople for the humanitarian agencies of the United Nations have reaffirmed their worries regarding the fragile situation of millions of displaced Pakistanis. These alarming statements emphasize the lack of shelter and food with the approach of winter, three months after the downfall of torrential rain that have ravaged Pakistan. Since the 26th of July 2010, the massive floods have in effect reached almost a fifth of the country, from the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – located in the Northwest – all the way to the Southern region of Sindh. For now, the human death toll has risen to nearly 1800 deaths and around 14 million victims. According to the material damages, it can be estimated that 43 million dollars from the agriculture sector – crucial to the national economy – has been deeply affected. According to U.N. officials, this could be the worst catastrophe in the history of Pakistan. Henceforth, many analysts have brought up the uncertain future of a destabilized State that will intensify the internal conflict of opposition to the authorities by Islamist groups.
In the first place, it must be emphasized that Pakistan – the 6th most populated country in the world – is particularly vulnerable to natural risks, above all seismic and hydrological. Since the beginning of the 1990s, many significant floods have struck this territory equally vulnerable to earthquakes. Recall for example the 6 million people that were affected – including more than 1300 deaths – by the strong rains accompanying the monsoon of the winter of 1992. The Emergency Events Database of the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters has accounted for dozens of similar phenomena since 1900. For now, the rising numbers as well as the socio-economic costs tied to this type of disaster appear to have much greater of an impact than large earthquakes as well as incurring more deaths.
Then, it is important to recall certain historical precedents establishing a structural link between the management of catastrophes and the political situation. In this respect, the cyclone of Bhola that hit Eastern Pakistan – currently Bangladesh – in November 1970 seemed to reveal this interdependence. The passivity of the Federal Government had them stigmatized by the separatist opposition – The Awami League – allowing them at the last moment to win the provincial elections a month later and to proclaim the Bengali secession. If the success of this secession had a lot to do with the Indian involvement in the conflict, it was not less so than this natural disaster that was strongly exploited by political actors. Finally, the recent earthquake of October 2005 – which occurred in the disputed region of Kashmir – has equally evoked a powerful transnational mobilization. However, there are many tensions due to those opposed to Western non-governmental organizations and the Pakistani army critical of their supervision, minimize their assistance. Ultimately, the national agency, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority that had been put in place by the authorities to centralize aid flows, were accused of corruption and massive embezzlement.
1. Internationalization of the Catastrophe. It is important to recall here that disaster is inscribed in a system of historical, political and strategic pressures. With this logic, the international dynamics of humanitarian intervention must be analyzed with a perspective to these regional issues.
2. Concurrent Aid Management. Obviously, there are many divides that pervade the space of the aid operators and determine the distribution of scarce resources and its terms. In other words, the dispersion of strategies – and of objectives – transforms aid into an object of competition, extending diplomatically to the heart of the Pakistani State.
Clearly, in the first place, certain characteristics of this catastrophe present a slow process – contrary to the tsunami of 2004 or the Haitian earthquake – where the impact manifested in the mid-term. In this instance, the damages incurred by the floods are decreased by the economic crisis that has clamped down on this country that has recently called to the International Monetary Fund. Emphasized by the four million hectares of arable land that were submerged, Pakistan is restricted to the importation of foodstuffs to attempt to prevent a probable soaring in prices. And yet, this leaves the prediction of a rise in social tensions in a State already profoundly divided by ethnic conflicts – tied to a contested centralization – religious and overall political. In this regard, it is important to recall the specific role of military that took power from 1999 to 2008 with General Musharraf, and their ambivalent relations to the current civil government. In addition to this view, the national authorities – traditionally allied with the United States – have been facing for a decade an insurrection of armed groups tied to the Afghan Taliban. This complex configuration of opposing interests has been re-transcribed in the post-disaster crisis. Additionally, the management of the disaster seems to be a way of changing the existing relationships of power, for both local and international actors.
Behind the consensual rhetoric of the global solidarity demonstrates, in effect, a true catastrophe of diplomacy formed by the strategic objectives of donors. To this end, it must be mentioned that American aid has risen to almost a half-million dollars. If this commitment could permit the ameliorating of the image of Washington – marred by the mistakes in the war in Afghanistan – they could sustain overall a traditional and indispensible ally for their regional establishment. This imperative of national security, according to the expression of Senator John Kerry, has been confirmed by the recent announcement of military assistance of two million dollars in five years. In this same logic, the considerable mobilization of the Muslim world can hardly be reduced to a simple expression of mutual aid. Additionally, the Saudi contributions – 365 million dollars – and Iranian – 100 million – evokes their influence as an approach of soft power aiming to affirm their presence in the disaster-struck region. In the same manner, their Chinese neighbors, emergent donors, have promised nearly 250 million the 23rd of September 2010. In addition, the entanglement of symbolic and political dimensions are expressed in the refusal of the Pakistani Government to accept direct aid from its Indian rival.
Remarking equally on the process of the appeal of the United Nations – in requesting from this point forward 1.9 million dollars – have not assembled to this day, but 39% of the solicited sum. After the world crisis, the forms of financing allowed the explanation of this shortcoming: Muslim countries and China seemed to give priority to bilateral aid, while the Western donors do not trust them and attribute all of their funds to the United Nations System, to non-governmental organizations, or also to the International Movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement. For now, the Pakistani authorities have recently attempted to affirm their leadership on the reconstruction plan in refusing the direct control of projects by external actors. This demand for control of aid seems to be vital for a weakened government, which was very criticized for its inefficiency, notably for their regional officials. Moreover, according to certain analysts, the strong mobilization of the army – 60,000 soldiers were deployed at the end of August – has eclipsed civil power and has made possible a coup d’état similar to that of 1999. Finally, other commentators have emphasized the growing role of Islamist organizations – such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa or Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat – in the assistance, likely to accentuate the delegitimizing of a regime allied with Americans. This extreme fragility of the Pakistani state, especially on their borders, reinforces the necessity of international aid where the donor’s local mastery is not crucial.
Jaffrelot Christophe (Éd.), Le Pakistan, carrefour de tensions régionales, Bruxelles, Complexe, 2002.
OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), FTS (Financial Tracking Service), Table A: List of All Commitments/Contributions and Pledges as of 02 November 2010, 2 novembre 2010, consulté sur le site : http://www.reliefweb.int/fts [2 novembre 2010].
Questions internationales, « Les catastrophes naturelles », (19), mai-juin 2006.
Site internet de l’agence pakistanaise NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) : http://www.ndma.gov.pk/.