by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 7, Safar, 1444)
Amid the politically-engineered crisis that has devastated Pakistan’s economy, the country has been struck by a deluge, as if Allah is punishing the rulers for their perfidy and callousness. Massive floods caused by heavy rains have submerged more than 60 percent of the land. Some 700,000 acres of agricultural crops in Balochistan alone have been wiped out. Quetta, the provincial capital, is cut off from the rest of the country. The losses in Sindh and Punjab—major agricultural-producing provinces—are definitely much higher.
Large parts of the country have been cut off, especially in the north because swollen rivers have washed away mountainous roads and bridges. Gilgit-Baltistan is cut off from the rest of the country. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK), cities like Swat, Maingora and Nowshera have been evacuated because river waters have reached dangerous levels.
Hundreds of villages have been wiped out; tens of thousands of homes of ordinary people—little more than mud huts—have collapsed and families have seen their children swept away by the floods, their helplessness writ large on their distraught faces. While the regime comprising criminals and thieves indulge in dirty politics—that is all they are capable of doing—people are dying of hunger. Before this odd assortment of criminals was imposed on the people, Pakistan’s poverty rate stood at 60 million. Today it has escalated to 90 million and by the time the flood waters subside, it could easily surpass 120 million: about 55% of the population.
What is the regime’s response? The usual appeal to overseas Pakistanis. They must do their “patriotic duty”, is the most popular refrain. Diplomats in Pakistani missions busy themselves with issuing press releases urging Pakistanis to contribute toward the “Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.” When the prime minister (Shehbaz Sharif) is a certified thief, will Pakistanis respond; should they respond?
There is also another issue that needs clarification. What is the definition of an overseas Pakistani? Is it any person of Pakistani origin who works and lives abroad or just those that work abroad but will have to return to their country of birth? What about those that live abroad but do not work at all?
There are people of Pakistani origin who live in North America (US and Canada) as well as Europe. Almost all of them are citizens of the countries where they reside. The vast majority of expatriate Pakistanis are in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain. They work mostly in back-breaking menial jobs but have no legal status or citizenship rights. These poor labourers also remit the largest amount of foreign exchange to Pakistan.
There is also another category of people that reside in Europe or Dubai. We are referring to people like Nawaz Sharif (the escaped convict), his sons Hassan and Husain as well as children of the current prime minister who is a certified thief. They own mansions in the most expensive part of London bought with wealth stolen from Pakistan. Then there is Is’haq Dar, another criminal on the run. Add to that the Zaradi-Bhutto combine and one gets the picture.
So, when the imposed regime appeals to overseas Pakistani to do their “patriotic duty”, it can be safely assumed that it does not include this gang of thieves and robbers in its appeal list. In fact, these criminals are waiting for the opportunity to steal whatever money the hard-working overseas Pakistanis send to help their country of origin.
There have also been reports that all the generals in the Pakistan army, cabinet ministers as well as members of parliament have announced that they would donate one month’s salary to help the flood victims. This is good news as well as bad.
The good news is that there is an army of generals as well as cabinet ministers in Pakistan. So, that makes a large pool of donors. The bad news is that their salaries are not very high. Hardly anybody survives on their salary. It is the perks and other benefits that they get that are way out of proportion, resulting in mass poverty.
Let us clarify. If the generals are really serious about helping the flood victims, they could donate the vast land holdings that are given to them for free. What have they done to deserve such handouts? The generals have become land tycoons.
We also need to look at the politicians. The Sharif family (an unfortunate name, because they are anything but Sharif!) own sugar mills, steel factories as well as hundreds of acres of land at Jatti Omra where they have built a palatial home. The Zardaris, another mafia family, also own vast landholdings and properties. These should be confiscated and sold to raise funds to help the poor people devastated by floods. There are other big landlords, descendants of people who were given thousands of acres of land by the British colonialists because they betrayed their fellow Muslims during the 1857 uprising.
Here is a deal. Whatever amount these mega-thieves in Pakistan and abroad donate to the flood relief fund, overseas Pakistanis will match them. In the meantime, overseas Pakistanis should be very careful in not depositing a penny into the so-called prime minister’s fund. This money will disappear the moment overseas Pakistanis press the “send” button on their laptop or computer to confirm transfer of funds.