South Asian nations have for decades been used to living from crisis to crisis. The rapidly increasing populations of the sub-continent’s two nuclear powers—India and Pakistan—and their sky-rocketing corruption indexes have ensured that these two powers remain bogged down with existential issues like ensuring there is adequate food, water, electricity, primary health, education and infrastructure.
Yet although government after government in these two nations have suffered this inheritance of losses, the government machinery in both still moves at a snail’s pace when confronted with challenges. Maoists in India and the jihadists in Pakistan are the greatest threats to the two respective nations, something which the governments in New Delhi and Islamabad have publicly acknowledged. Yet in both cases the malaise can be traced back to the lack of development and little or no governance.
The massive disaster dealt by floods in Pakistan is a case in point. Consider the statistics: more than 20 million people directly affected; an area the size of the UK inundated; more than $15 billion needed for damage control, relief and rehabilitation; an estimated minimum of five years for getting things back to normal even if the government machinery functions efficiently.
The floods in Pakistan haven’t just dealt a major blow to Pakistan’s economy, but also have enormous strategic implications. First and foremost is the threat to Pakistan’s unity and integrity, particularly because there’s a historical precedence for upheaval. About a year before Pakistan’s dismemberment and the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, East Pakistan was ravaged by a natural calamity similar in scale to the floods of 2010. The Bhola cyclone hit East Pakistan on November 12, 1970, leaving in its wake anywhere between 300,000 to one million dead and 3.5 million displaced. The government of Gen. Yahya Khan did precious little to mitigate the suffering of the Bengalis, which sowed the seeds of disenchantment and disaffection among the Bengalis against West Pakistan. Similar charges are being levelled against the Asif Ali Zardari government today.
The other strategic fallout of the floods in Pakistan is that almost 90 percent of the fatalities have occurred in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP) Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA)—in other words, those areas that are inhabited by non-Punjabi minorities. Taken together with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, the rural areas of Punjab which are also very badly affected, and you have a military problem. These three areas are, after all, the major recruiting grounds for the Pakistan Army. Meanwhile, the floods have hit hard provinces like Punjab and Sind, which are the granaries of the nation. This creates a food crisis in the immediate future which may not be properly resolved for years.
Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, has gone on record as saying that his nation may require its own Marshall Plan and nothing less than $10 to $15 billion will do to meet it. So far, though, Pakistan has received about one-thirtieth of this amount in foreign aid, not counting $5 million offered by India, which may or may not be accepted by Islamabad for political reasons.