I’ve been surprised at the number of important Pakistani writers who have lent their voices to try to get aid delivered to Pakistan. In some instances, the analysis that they offer has been both helpful and insightful; in others, downright disappointing. Still, I think it’s important that the role of the public intellectual and author-critic is still alive in Pakistan.
Kamila Shamsie had a piece about the “timber mafia” in the UK Guardian:
It is possible to regard the floods as separate from the first two horsemen of the Apocalypse – the Taliban and the army. Floods are, after all, “natural disasters” or “acts of God” (take your pick – in Pakistan, most people will choose the latter). No one is culpable, no one could have prevented it. The truth is, the death toll could have been much lower, assistance much more quickly and efficiently at hand. Instead, report after report talks of the inadequacy of the state’s response to the crisis. This is made more maddening by the fact that much of the flooding took place in parts of the country that were already a humanitarian disaster zone.
These areas are of no strategic interest to anyone because they have neither exported terrorism nor do they have the ambition to join a fight against it. Their only export to the world outside is onions, tomatoes, sugar cane, wheat and mangoes. The word terrorism does not even exist in Seraiki and Sindhi, the languages of the majority of the people who have been rendered homeless. They belong to that forgotten part of humanity that has quietly tilled the land for centuries, the small farmers, the peasants, the farmhands, generations of people who are born and work and die on the same small piece of land.And this time there are 20 million of them.
Daniyal Mueenuddin’s piece in the New York Times captured the plight of the farmer extremely well:
I found most pitiful a family gathered around a prostrate brown-and-white brindled cow. The father told me that the cow had been lost in the water for four days, and the previous night it had clambered up on another section of the levee, a mile away. The people of this area recognize their cattle as easily as you or I recognize a cousin or neighbor — they sleep with their animals around them at night, and graze them all day; their animals are born and die near them. Someone passing by told the family that their cow had been found, and the father went and got it and led it to their little encampment.
His other piece in the NY Times, which called for the US to use this opportunity to win over the Pakistanis to fighting against extremists, was less compelling.
The best of the pieces was definitely Ali Sethi’s in the New York Times with its damning expose of the collusion between the Americans and the Pakistani elite:
The answer came in evasive, fragmented sentences: there was an airbase on the Sindhi side of the highway. This was where the military’s newest F-16 fighter jets were parked. But local residents believed that the base also housed the notorious American drones used to kill Islamist militants in the mountains. If true, this meant that the military was getting tens of millions of dollars a year in exchange, none of which trickled down to the local population.
Mohsin Hamid was disappointing in his calls to shore up the Pakistani state in this piece in Dawn. And HM Naqvi’s piece on Global Post was forgettable.