Natural calamity and a divided nation | By Tariq Aqil

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Natural calamity and a divided nation

AT 0300 hours on 6th September 1965 the mighty juggernaut of the Indian army struck with full force across the international borders, spitting fire and brimstone and leaving death and destruction in its wake.

The Indian C-in-C General Chowdry was dreaming of enjoying a “Patiala peg” in the Lahore Gymkhana that evening. He had grossly miscalculated the grit, determination and spirit of sacrifice of the Pakistani nation and its defence forces.

On that fateful day the entire nation waited with abated breath. There was an air of excitement and expectation. Amidst mounting tension President Ayub Khan Addressed the nation on radio exactly at mid-day.

In a clear strident voice brimming with confidence and resolve he declared “My dear countrymen, the hour of trial for a hundred million Pakistanis has struck” The young Pakistani nation was electrified.

The hundred million souls were transformed into a welded shield of impregnable armour. Ayub suddenly appeared to be a Salah-ud- Din Ayubi leading the Islamic lashkar against the dark and sinister forces of the ruthless crusaders.

The fight for survival was on. The battleground became a theatre replete with acts of heroism, valour and bravery. In the words of a senior Pakistani commander “The trenches are where we belong.

This is where we live, this is where we die.” This was undoubtedly the finest hour in the life of the Pakistani nation. For the first time in history all ethnic, sectarian and regional differences evaporated into thin air.

From Chittagong to Chitral the entire nation stood defiant and united in its hour of trial. The Pakistani nation had received its baptism in blood and achieved nation status practically overnight.

When a calamity — natural or manmade — strikes a nation is usually united to face the danger head on and defeat the enemy striking at the very roots of the nation. Pakistan today is inundated by the worst floods in the history of the nation.

This natural calamity should have forced political rivals and even bitter enemies to forget their partisan agendas and political interests and face this mortal danger together and collectively in response to this deadly catastrophe that has the potential to damage the country beyond repair.

Ironically our political elite appears to be beyond any responsible political attitude or the will to face a national calamity with resolve and determination.

Our politicians are as usual back to their old tricks and narrow political interests proving the fact that they just cannot see beyond the tip of their nose.

The most recent and shameful example of disunity was a letter written by the KP Finance Minister Taimur Jhagra to the Federal Government that the PTI Provincial Government is unable to deliver a budget surplus.

This was done just a few days before the IMF Board was to consider a loan package for Pakistan and it is clear that the only objective of this was to stop the bail package for Pakistan.

The leaked phone conversation between Shaukat Tareen and Jhagra confirmed the intentions of the PTI to damage the country for their own narrow and short sighted political objectives. Fortunately the Fund program was not cancelled and the Board of the IMF approved the disbursement needed for Pakistan to avoid the risk of default.

Pakistan today is faced with the worst humanitarian crisis and natural calamity of all times. We are faced with a dire economic challenge, soaring prices, inflation and a danger to our very survival.

The need of the hour is that all our political leaders and national institutions to stand united to face this epic challenge together but ironically this has not happened.

The natural crisis created by the onslaught of monsoon rains and floods is far worse than any other calamity faced by the nation.

More than 33 million people have been affected and almost a third of the country is under water, eighty districts have been declared calamity hit and about 1500 people have lost their lives and destruction to the infrastructure and damage to crops has been monumental.

Over half a million people are in relief camps and according to initial estimates the economic cost is over $ 10 billion. This danger to the nation did not stop our politicians to take a break from confrontational politics and stop their bitter accusations at least for the time being.

Imran Khan and his PTI went ahead with their public rallies even during the chaos and destruction in the country. In a public address Imran Khan said that he will continue to hold rallies in floods, heat waves and even war.

One senior PTI leader called on the overseas Pakistanis not to send funds for flood relief in response to the appeal of the Federal Government. The focus of the political elite appears to be on politics at the cost of human lives.

A high level meeting a few day ago presided over by the PM and attended by the Services Chiefs took stock of the flood situation and chalked out a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation plan. This meeting was boycotted by the PTI Chief Minister in KP and Chowdry Pervez Elahi of Punjab.

If the people of Pakistan want to get rid of toxic, rapacious and religious extremist leaders they will have to accept universal human values and the rule of law only then will the tide turn in their favour.

—The writer is Professor of History, based in Islamabad.

 

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