No donors in fatigues

Whose responsibility is it to provide for the earthquake victims?

It is not surprising to see Gen Musharraf to use the war on terror to demand money from the international community. Relying on the FATWAT card, he solicited or received generous debt cancellation, development grants, military aid and even investment. After the earthquake, his calls for international assistance were along two lines: first, that it is the world’s duty to come to the aid of the earthquake victims, and second, that such an act will help Pakistan in the war against terror.

By any measure, it is clear that Pakistan has received much less than the estimated US$5.2 billion it needs for reconstruction and rehabilitation. It is also clear that unless aid efforts are intensified, many more lives will be lost due to the harsh Himalayan winter. Purely on humanitarian grounds, ordinary people and governments around the world must do more to help. But it is also necessary, especially in the absence in Pakistan of a government that is accountable to its own citizens, for the international community to ensure that Pakistan spends money — its own or that it receives from international donors — on what ought to be spending on.

Moreover, it is important to examine what Pakistani military establishment’s own contributions are. Postponing the purchase of its long cherished F-16 planes was the correct move, even if it appeared to come reluctantly. But Pakistan signed a US$1 bn deal to purchase Swedish airborne early warning systems after the quake. Despite drawing criticism for going ahead with the deal even as reconstruction costs stared Pakistan in the face, Musharraf remains equivocal about delaying this purchase. Apart from these two big ticket arms purchases, commentators like Ayaz Amir have zeroed in on the Pakistani army’s decision to build a new headquarters complex in Islamabad, which they contend is a luxury which Pakistan can ill afford.

But it also appears that the Pakistani military is passing on the costs of recovery operations to the federal government. So even as he blames the rest of the world for its parsimonious attitude towards his country’s quake victims, Musharraf must first explain why his own military cannot make some financial sacrifices first. He also must explain why the management of earthquake relief funds has been placed under an opaque military audit, instead of under a relatively more transparent civilian auditor-general. What this means is that while the Pakistani military will pass on the tab to the Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Authority (a body that is headed by a top military commander), international donors and the Pakistani people will remain in the dark as to how these funds were utilised. Soon after the quake, The Acorn had warned that democratic reconciliation must precede reconstruction and rehabilitation in Pakistan. Unfortunately, that did not happen. As international donors arrive in Islamabad in a bid to raise more funds for reconstruction and rehabilitation, the least Gen Musharraf and his regime should do is to go to extraordinary lengths to assure them that the aid money will be well spent and as importantly, well accounted for.

Related Posts: More discussion on Salman Rushdie’s article on compassion fatigue and the political test for aid-worthiness, on Jagadish’s and Amardeep’s blogs.

Update: Iqbal Haider makes very much the same points in a Dawn editorial, while Air Chief Marshal (retd) Jamal Khan of the Pakistan Air Force refutes, arguing ‘it is also illogical to advocate that Pakistan cannot simultaneously deal with the difficult challenges of the earthquake and meet, at the same time, the minimum essential requirements of national security’.

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