By Anjum Altaf
I received the following announcement from the Pakistan Solidarity Network in connection with a teach-in planned in New York on Friday, September 17, 2010.
The Urgent Need for Solidarity With Pakistan’s Flood Victims
Even as Americans revisit the lingering destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, half a world away Pakistan is experiencing one of the most calamitous disasters in recent memory.
Nearly 20 million people have been directly affected. More than 8 million need urgent aid. 800,000 people are stranded. A full 14 million people across the country are now homeless. The country’s infrastructure, already in disrepair, has been simply washed away.
As with so many natural disasters we’ve seen in recent years, this tragedy too is carved out of a history of unsustainable policies. Years of neoliberal economic policies and militarism have stripped the Pakistani State of its capacity to meet the people’s needs.
Pakistan’s elites, both civilian and military, have much to answer for, but so do U.S. elites and the Obama administration, whose ratcheting up of the war on terror has made a bad situation worse. Likewise, harsh conditions attached to Pakistan’s external debt by institutions like the IMF share much of the blame for the scale of the social and economic crisis.
Meanwhile, international aid has been reluctantly offered and slow to arrive, perhaps because for years now, politicians and the media, particularly in the U.S., have encouraged a view of Pakistan as nothing but a crucible for terrorism, thus obscuring the humanity of its people. The U.S. has spent $33 billion on the recent surge in Afghanistan: nearly three times what Pakistan will need for its reconstruction, and some 165 times the amount the US has pledged for flood relief. But the American military wasted no time in exploiting the floods to airbrush its own public image in the region.
In response, progressive activists in Pakistan are launching a national campaign against the servicing of foreign debt and the squandering of enormous resources on the military.
Here in the U.S., similar awareness and activism is sorely needed. We need to hold this government and institutions like the IMF accountable for the destructive role that they continue to play in the region. Please join us to build solidarity with ordinary Pakistanis and raise badly-needed funds for grassroots flood-relief.
While the needs of the flood affected are undeniable, I feel we need to debate the analysis of the causes of Pakistan’s problems contained in this statement. I would like readers to write whether they agree with the analysis or not and give the reasons for their opinion. This is a general exercise in analysis and all readers, not just Pakistanis, should feel free to participate.
With respect to the specific campaign of the Pakistan Solidarity Network against the servicing of foreign debt, there are two references available to readers. The first is a critique of the campaign by Akbar Zaidi (A Senseless Demand) while the second is a defense by Farzana Bari (A Sensible Demand). Readers can consult these references in formulating their responses.
It is important to engage in such discussions both as pedagogical exercises in analysis and as contributions to the formulation of robust policies at the national level.