Mubbashir — Pakistan flood victims 'no terrorists'

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Pakistan flood victims ‘no terrorists’
By Mohammed Hanif
BBC News,
Three weeks after the start of the floods in Pakistan, a fifth of the country is
under water. More international aid is now reaching the country – but the world’s
media finds it hard to stop talking about terrorism.
Many Pakistanis who have not been directly affected by the floods ask each other
this question: Is it a punishment from Allah? Or is He just testing our faith?
One of the many religious scholars who pop up on our television screens during the
holy month of Ramadan was asked the same question last week.
He shook his head and answered with the kind of hokey wisdom only TV preachers are
capable of: “If you have transgressed, He is punishing you. If He likes you He is
testing you.”
Not everyone is reaching out for a divine explanation though.
In southern Punjab, poet Ashu Laal linked the fury of the river Indus to our
collective greed and corporate rape of the land.
“ 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 ”
People have built roads, bridges and houses on the river bed and, when the Indus
returned after many decades, it could not find its old path.
It went around like a mad dog, sniffing for its old habitat and devoured everything
on the way.
Between the righteous indignation of the faithful and poetic flourishes of folk
wisdom, the reality might be quite simple, a reminder of something we have lived
through before, only 63 years ago.
The images of old people on donkey carts, naked children perched over salvaged
household items and cows and goats on the move kept reminding me of something that I
had seen before, but I could not quite place where I had seen it.
# In 1947, the Indian sub-continent won independence from Britain after a 30-year
# Colonial India was divided into two separate states: Pakistan which had a Muslim
majority and India which had a Hindu majority
# This led to the mass migration of 10 million people
Then a journalist colleague of mine, chasing the flood, arrived in southern Punjab
and reported back that the bridge over the river Cehnab resembled a giant set that
might have been erected for a film about Partition, when India and Pakistan were
prised apart.
A Partition set in Noah’s time, I thought.
He was obviously referring to the millions who have been on the move, on donkey
carts, tractors and trolleys but mostly on foot, shrivelled old men carrying their
beds on their heads, women shepherding half a dozen children, grandmothers separated
from their families, walking in a daze, towards a destination that they have no clue
For many of them this is the longest journey they have ever undertaken in their lives.
Like two million-odd people butchered during the Partition, these people have rarely
registered in the national debate and their faces have never been seen on our TV
screens before.
Small farmers
It seems the land has ripped out its entrails and thrown them out for all of us to see.
These people do not live in picturesque valleys where city folk go on holiday.
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
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.
What we do not realise is that these 20 million were poor but they were not
starving. They come from a place where they can raise a whole family because they
own a buffalo or a few goats.
They were probably the last 20 million who lived off the land and, in the process,
fed us as well.
Pakistan’s army is known worldwide for its talent for fighting on both sides of a
These 20 million are our invisible, slave army.
Automatic assumption
When the world media reports on the tragedy, it finds it difficult to leave behind a
decade-long habit of linking everything to terrorism.
The reporters look for a banned militant organisation involved in relief work,
usually some random men with beards will do. And we are told, in good faith I am
sure, that if the victims are not provided with relief, they will all turn to the
Our own politicians join the chorus.
A friend involved in relief work in Sindh pointed out that a hungry person is not
likely to ask your views on terrorism before accepting your packet of food for the
simple reason that their children are starving.
If this was a disaster movie, its poster would include the young man swimming across
a deluge with his rooster tied around his neck.
A puzzled relief worker wondered aloud why the world would think that this man who
has just swum cross a raging flood would want to bring about a bloody Islamist
revolution in a far-flung country that he has never heard of?
Is it not obvious that he just wants to save his chickens?
But this is no movie.
That half-naked child that you see in pictures with his face covered in flies is not
dead. Not yet. He has dozed off out of hunger and heat and exhaustion.
When he wakes up in a little while, he will ask for what every hungry child in the
world asks for.
We were told that everyone, everywhere understands that language.
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