Thoughts on Independence Day

Nation is observing today the 63rd anniversary of the Independence Day at a time when the country is faced with what is being described as the worst natural disaster in 80 years. Regardless of whether these were triggered by global warming, climate change, the Al Nino factor or lack of planning, the crash floods have so far washed away more than 300,000 houses in all the four provinces. While the Met Office has been forecasting more rains and renewed fury in rivers and canals, from 15 to 20 million flood-affected people are battling for survival on treetops, rooftops and crumbling river embankments. Special Corps Commanders’ Conference in Rawalpindi has, for the first time in the history of independence, cancelled today’s military parade and the planned aerial display on September 6, the Defence Day. COAS General Ashfaq Parvaiz Kayani pledged that money saved thus would be spent on the rescue and relief of the marooned countrymen. About 55 military helicopters are already making sorties in the interior Sindh, Punjab and KP. Instead of adoring the images of the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the philosopher-poet Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal, the media is promoting the image of a half-naked villager wading in the snake-infested, chest-deep water. Television directors have shoved aside the videos of national songs sung with the typically ecstatic abandon by Mehdi Hassan and Noor Jehan. They prefer to take live the images of rain-soaked anchorpersons persuading the reluctant villagers to climb down the make-shift bedding they have tied to nearby cluster of trees. Popular images of Hadeeqa Kayani and Humaira Arshad have been replaced by the glum faces of Met Office doomsayers. Rescue and relief efforts suffered a setback on Friday when an overloaded boat capsized near Larkana in Sindh thus drowning 30 of the persons on board. Meanwhile, BBC showed a huge US ship full of American marines and helicopters arriving in the Karachi seaport. Generally speaking, the remarks even if partly true were not probably well-received but the special Afpak representative of the United States of America, Richard Holbrooke, taking advantage of the situation said that if all the aid was coming from Washington, where on earth the Friends of Pakistan and the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) actually were. When tsunami hit parts of southern India some years back, New Delhi flatly refused all offers of aid from the West. However, the context being qualitatively different, Islamabad has said that it immediately needs $500 million to cope with the crisis. Donor fatigue and trust deficit may have been the factors responsible for the phenomenon but television talk show hosts have been quoting sources in the National Bank of Pakistan as saying that barely four million rupees have arrived in the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.
Apart from deducting two-day salary of its employees, the government has imposed two to five percent flood surcharge on imports and products manufactured indigenously. The decision-makers expect the surcharge to fetch Rs150 million. Before December 16, 1971 when East Pakistan was part of the homeland, devastating floods hit what is now Bangladesh. The then government introduced a six-paisa flood surcharge on the sale of every litre of oil fuel. With the passage of time, the floods receded and the eastern wing seceded but the surcharge later became part of the oil price and the motorists have been paying it up to August 14, 2010. Secretary health, Punjab, is no poet but listening to a flood-affected Seraiki poet in an on-the-spot television show near Multan the other day, he was reminded of fairly appropriate lines: Kis jagah per band baandhain mashwaray hotay rahay; cheekhta chingharta pani saron per aa gaya! (Futile consultations continued as to where the embankment should be put up. Meanwhile, the roaring flood waters rushed in and submerged the masses).

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