Pakistan Floods: Islamists Step In To Fill Government Vacuum
As monsoon rains continue to hammer Pakistan and move southward, relief agencies are warning that the amount of aid needed by Pakistanis is “absolutely daunting”. The life of Pakistanis, especially in the region of the Swat Valley, which was already a nightmare due to the Taliban, the Pakistani army offensive and the US drone attacks has now become hell on earth. Ordinary Pakistanis feel abandoned by their government, and the floods could put the already precarious position of President Zardari in jeopardy.
UN officials said today that 4.5 million people have already been affected by the floods while 500,000 people were evacuated from risk-areas in the South of the country. Today, General Nadeem Ahmed, of the National Disaster Management Authority, said at a press conference that “the worst floods in Pakistan history have now affected 12 million people.” General Ahmed added that 650,000 houses had been destroyed.
“In my opinion, when assessments are complete, this will be the biggest disaster in the history of Pakistan,” said General Ahmed at today’s press conference in Islamabad.
Flood victims are accusing the authorities of failing to come to their aid. There is also mounting anger at the absence of President Zardari, who left the country for a visit to France- where he stayed in a castle owned by his deceased wife Benazir Bhutto- and the UK.
Meanwhile, Islamist groups linked to the Pakistani Taliban are stepping in to provide aid to their countrymen stricken by the disaster, and filling the vacuum left by the incompetent and overwhelmed government authorities. Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic fundamentalist group linked to the Taliban and Pakistan’s oldest religious party, is at the forefront of this charity effort as they did in the aftermath of a 2005 earthquake in Kashmir which killed 75,000 people.
Jamaat-e-Islami denies it is helping to push any political agenda.
“Have you seen any government officials? There is no one from the government here. The only ones who are providing help are our Muslim brothers. We are not here for political reasons, we are simply here to provide help,” said Fazal Mebood, a spokesman from Jamaat-e-Islami.
Meanwhile, officials in the densely populated province of Sindh have cautioned that major floods in the next 48 hours will threatens hundreds of communities along the Indus river. The World Food Program said it was preparing enough food aid for 2.5 million flood victims for 3 months.
“It is a rolling emergency, this is something that is not over, the rains are continuing. That means the people who are already affected are being further affected, and the people who were not affected yet are now at risk of being hit by damage to their homes, their crops and businesses,” said Emilia Casella from the UN food agency.
The World Food Program will ask for $63 million to finance emergency aid in Pakistan while UNICEF appealed for $47.3 million to fund its operations in the country. This help will be likely not enough, and will come too late while Islamic charity groups are making their help count on the ground and winning more Pakistanis’ “hearts and minds”