Tuesday, August 17

Former PM Nawaz Sharif says Pakistan doesn't need Western flood aid, and other tales of flood aid to Paistan

On August 15 the (U.K.) Telegraph reported that the former Pakistani Prime Minister and leader of Pakistan's major political opposition party said Pakistan should “stand on its own two feet” as the UN chief urged the world to send massive amounts of disaster aid money to Pakistan:
Nawaz Sharif said his country had sufficient resources to rebuild millions of homes, buildings and bridges destroyed in the worst floods in 80 years. ... Sharif said his country had sufficient resources to rebuild millions of homes, buildings and bridges destroyed in the worst floods in 80 years. ... [He] said it was time for his country to take responsibility for the welfare of its people and to meet the costs of rebuilding swathes of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa from its own budget.

He has proposed a series of cuts in government spending to raise £2 billion to rebuild homes and infrastructure. “If the government agrees, we have about $3 billion within our own resources,” he said. ...

He was speaking amid growing fears in Pakistan that the international community would not give as much aid for flood relief as it did following the 2005 earthquake. ... Islamabad has said it needs billions of dollars to rebuild. The US has pledged $100 million, while Britain has earmarked £31 million. The UN has an appeal for just under £300 million [$467million] — significantly less than the $5.5 [pounds] billion given in response to the 2005 earthquake appeal. Mr Sharif said suspicion that aid would not reach the victims was deterring both international organisations and Pakistanis from giving more.

Mr Sharif said if the fundraising effort was run by an independent commission and all party leaders worked together, Pakistan could generate enough money. “If we don’t follow this route, I can tell you there will be no rehabilitation of flood victims because people won’t trust it,” he said.
My hat's off to Mr Sharif for his comments. I note this is the second time in recent days he's been on target in his public statements; the first, Pundita readers might recall, was when he said that Pakistan needed to stop meddling in Afghanistan's affairs. I needed smelling salts to recover from that shock.

However, I warn his remarks about aid are also crafted to appeal to the hardline element in Pakistan, including the Taliban. The factions have demanded that the Zardari regime reject international flood aid on the argument that his government will steal the funds.

Here the Taliban are playing a particularly nasty two-faced game. While portraying themselves as great defenders of Pakistan's downtrodden, they're ruthlessly dangling $20 million of their own money for flood aid -- money to be released providing the government refuses the international aid.

They shouldn't be bargaining with their own people's lives; they should just go ahead and spend the $20 million on flood relief while continuing to register protests about corruption and calling on the international community to hold off on aid for that reason.

In any event, Sharif's comments to the Telegraph are very welcome; particularly so because they were made on the heels of the same newspaper's August 13 report that Zardari's regime had diverted 300 million pounds from disaster aid to Pakistan's 2005 earthquake survivors. The regime has denied the claim but the Telegraph presented enough evidence in their report to raise an eyebrow. The British regime, which coughed up a lot of aid money for the 2005 quake survivors, is investigating the situation, according to the Telegraph.

Meanwhile, over at the Jewish Journal's My Pakistan blog, Mahim Maher opens a small window on efforts by individual Pakistanis to aid their nation's flood survivors:
[Y]oung people from universities and schools have been working tirelessly to start small groups to collect donations. They have been heading off to the flood-hit areas in Sindh with truckloads of bottled water, biscuits, dried milk and medicines. Almost everyone one I know, poor and rich, have been giving money or other donations to people and groups they trust.
We need more such reports before Pakistan's national flag takes on the shape of a begging bowl.

Three quarters of Pakistan is not underwater, and 150 million Pakistanis out of the country's 170 million are not flood survivors. Even excluding children and the country's poorest from that figure, that leaves many millions of Pakistanis who should be able to help the flood survivors and rebuild after the floods have passed. Yet incessant calls for donations from the international aid groups, the United Nations, and foreign governments (including my own) eager to prop up Pakistan's military are conveying the wrong impression that all Pakistanis are professional victims.

Maher also notes:
The latest news is that our prime minister is setting up a national commission or panel of well-trusted men to oversee aid spending. Two of the names shortlisted are Edhi, the man who runs one of Pakistan’s biggest and most successful charities, and Justice (retd) Bhagwandas, a former judge with an impeccable reputation. We can only hope that the money reaches the people who need it.
I am afraid that hope is not enough when billions of dollars are in the offing. The World Bank's International Development Association has already pledged $900 million in financial assistance:
... partly by reallocating undisbursed funds from ongoing projects ... The World Bank didn’t give details of the aid beyond a $1.3 million grant and $10 million to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority.
Realize that if any of that financial assistance is given in cash, Bank/IDA oversight of how the money is used becomes impossible. That's because the money becomes the property of Pakistan's government. That would be the same for all aid received in the form of cash.

And I am afraid that a panel of honest leading citizens is not a strong enough defense against theft of aid money -- and this observation doesn't only apply to Pakistan, I might add. The World Bank and international aid organizations have admitted that on average as much as 40 percent of all development loans/relief aid to poor countries is stolen or diverted by corrupt officials in recipient governments.

For those born yesterday, it's no use being outraged about the situation; the enduring argument in international aid and development circles is that monies diverted by corruption and mismanagement are simply the markup for humanitarian projects, and not enough reason to halt all aid and development assistance. Also, the development banks have worked hard for more than a decade to establish better oversight mechanisms.

However, in the case of Pakistan's regime, draconian oversight is necessary, given their history of diverting financial assistance to warfare against India, nuclear weapons, and terrorist groups. Yet every Pakistani regime has resisted adequate oversight of internationally funded aid and development projects. Thus, the present flood crisis, which is having a devastating impact on the country's fragile economy, is the perfect time for the international community to wring oversight concessions from Pakistan. This would be the best way to help the panel of honest Pakistanis stand against the corruption in their government and the military.

But the only way the international community will take such actions is if it's called out for enabling Pakistan's war machine. All previous attempts to hold the community responsible have floundered, or been too weak to do significant good. Reference the U.S.-led investigation of the horrifically corrupt Oil for Food Program, which let many of the scoundrels involved off the hook. So, this time, the calling out needs to be very strong and sustained.

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