Thursday 23 February 2017

Pakistan crisis deepens as recovery years away

Government fears Islamic militants will exploit chaos

Omar Waraich in Karachi

PAKISTAN'S president Asif Ali Zardari said yesterday that his country will need at least three years to recover from the worst floods in its history and warned that Islamic militants could exploit the "disarray".

Mr Zardari defended his government's response to the crisis and his absence from Pakistan when he chose to press on with visits to London, Paris and his family's chateau in Normandy as the tragedy unfolded at home.

The weak and unpopular civilian government has been roundly criticised for failing to mount an effective response to the floods, but Mr Zardari said Pakistan never had the capacity to cater for such a disaster.

The floods, which began nearly a month ago, have destroyed or damaged more than a million homes, affected more than 17 million people and left 1,500 people dead, according to the United Nations.

Challenge

The floods have now increased fears that Islamic militants may exploit the crisis. That fear was underscored yesterday as three bomb attacks in northwest Pakistan killed at least 36 people. Two of the bombs exploded in the tribal areas along the Afghan border and the third in the city of Peshawar.

"I see always such organisations and such people taking advantage of this human crisis," the embattled president told a small group of reporters at the presidential palace in Islamabad.

"It is again a challenge to not let them take advantage of this human crisis."

He said the "silver lining" would be if militants had also drowned. He said that he believed some of their armaments had been swept away by the waters.

Mr Zardari said he understood the anger that the floods, and the response to them, had generated. Islamic charities, some with suspected links to militant groups, have rapidly provided relief to Pakistanis, already frustrated with their leaders' track record on security, poverty and chronic power shortages.

Mr Zardari, who is about to complete two years in office, warned of social disorder while Pakistan tried to rebuild from the flooding, saying that "three years is the minimum" time needed to recover.

"There will be discontentment," he said. "There is no way any nation -- even if it's a superpower, we've seen examples in Katrina, we've seen Haiti, we've seen examples everywhere else -- can bring the same level of satisfaction that will be close to the expectations of people.

"What can you tell a mother whose child drowned? She's hurting. What can I do for her that will take the pain away? All I can do is share the pain."

But he bristled at the mention of criticism of his failure to cut short a trip to Europe, particularly his decision to visit a family chateau in Normandy.

"It gives me a reassurance that I'm so wanted," he said. "I have my own reasons for being where I was and at what time," he added.

"This is a long-term situation and one has to have the capacity to sustain yourself for three years, or even more, and not exhaust yourself immediately . . . anyway, that's part of the past and that's happened and that's gone and I'm here."

Terrorism

Officials defended the trip to Britain on diplomatic grounds after British Prime Minister David Cameron's accusation that Pakistan was an exporter of terrorism.

Pakistan's permanent representative to the UN said the accusation had affected charity-giving in the UK.

However, the British aid appeal yesterday topped £29m (€35m). Mr Zardari said he welcomed the €635m so far raised from international donors, during a time of tough economic conditions. (© Independent News Service)

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