By: Yasmeen Aftab Ali
It’s not just the watch on borders that the Pakistan Army is called upon to keep besides fighting the War on Terror. The armed forces are called upon to help in every national calamity the nation faces; be it floods, earth quakes or manning polling stations to name a few.
Most recently, Rehan Hashmi, Chairman District Municipal Corporation Central was forced to seek Army help in saving 2 million people living in low lying area of Sindh affecting 30 union councils out of 51 when it was hit by stormy rains.
This was a desperate measure as the Sindh Local Government Minister, Jam Khan Shoro, Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner Central did not respond to his telephone calls. (as reported by the Daily Times September 07, 2017)
On 8 October 2005, the massive earthquake that hit North of Pakistan, killing 73,000 people, injuring hundreds, leaving many without shelter, also saw the Army stepping in to do its bit. The earthquake wreaked havoc in structural and economic set up of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. An FRC (Federal Relief Commission) was formed with all organizations working in cohesion. However, A permanent “Crisis Management Agency” was established under the Chairman Joint Services Committee (CJSC) to support efforts of the civil administration by using all means available.
Providing food and shelter to the displaced, medical health facilities, camps were set up. Pakistan Army ensured clean drinking water, meals ready to eat (MRE), medicines, tents, and blankets. Twelve Army Engineer battalions were entrusted the task of reopening roads closed due to the earthquake. Many bridges particularly in Balakot and within the Jhelum Valley were damaged badly. A task entrusted to Pak Army.
In the 2010 floods, Pakistan Army’s role in relief operations was huge. With 20 million Pakistanis affected, it was the Army that coordinated provision of food supplies and relief efforts. Villages, roads, bridges simply disappeared under the rush of angry waters. Many who lost everything in those floods felt betrayed by the politicians’ lack luster response. “They say that none of the politicians who usually spend millions during elections to take voters to polling stations when there are elections have made the trip this time.” (DW, 20.08.2010)
Let us not forget the famine in the Tharparkar area of Sindh province when General Rtd. Raheel Sharif was commanding the Pak Army. The draught was catastrophic and the local populace was faced with indifference by the local administration. Army had moved on orders of its COAS setting up medical camps and providing basic necessities to those affected.
These disasters stated are simply the tip of the iceberg!
On the role of Army to play disaster management managers, many say nonchalantly that since Army is the most organized institution in the country, it therefore falls in their domain to handle these calamities as well.
Are we seriously ignoring that since 1947, no government has seen fit to institute a disaster management organization to handle these natural disasters with full coordination of local governments and relevant organizations?
Are we seriously condoning every government that has come to power the failure to depend on inadequate, half-hearted and ad-hoc actions, rather than sharply making and well-coordinating immediate and long term strategies for natural disaster management?
District organizations, provincial governments, NGOs and police need to be on a platform, acting as the long arm of a central disaster management organization to combat these situations. Training local people on “mohalla” (street) basis is an excellent way to respond to critical situations. Strategies must be put in place to transport aid from source to place of requirement.
Being prepared with programs to handle these situations is the key to effective reaction. Though it may be necessary to ask the Pakistani Military for use of their hardware in relief operations, asking them to completely take over the relief operations reflects upon complete collapse of the civil administration.
Good governance incorporates within its structure disaster management. They must be prepared, react sharply and rehabilitate the affected. Also, steps taken towards pre-disaster management will go a long way in deflecting and reducing impact once a natural disaster hits.
We, the People of Pakistan want to see our civil set-up strong. We want the masses to have confidence in the people they have elected are there for them. We want to know that our elected have the will and the infra structures in place for the well-being and safe guard of their people. Whether in normal circumstances or in an extraordinary one.
As Amit Kalantri famously quoted, “System fails when people with ability don’t have authority and people with authority don’t have ability.”
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @yasmeen_9