The Teetering State: Why We in Pakistan Celebrated the Birth of Our Nation in Silence
Bhutto, Fatima, New Statesman (1996)
This is the month of Pakistan's birth, the month that a generation once claimed for freedom and liberty. But on 14 August, its 63rd birthday, Pakistan was submerged. There was no fanfare as on previous anniversaries - no noisy street festivals marked by flag-waving and family outings, no young men on motorcycles paying homage to national monuments and shouting slogans into the open air, little celebratory music on state television. Instead, there were vigils, quiet remembrances and a solemn accounting of what has been one of Pakistan's most turbulent years since its proud but bloody inception.
According to the UN, the flooding has affected more than 14 million people, making it Pakistan's worst ever natural disaster. The government claims 20 million people - roughly 12 per cent of the population - have been affected. As I write, six million people are in desperate need of food aid, more than three million children are at risk of contracting fatal waterborne diseases, and millions more are displaced. Over two million acres of agricultural land have been ravaged. With the monsoon season still upon us, Pakistan's food belt, Punjab and Sindh Provinces, has been hit especially hard.
As the country suffered, the entire top echelon of the Pakistani state - led by the rapacious president, Asif Ali Zardari - embarked on a tour of Europe. First up was a visit to France: a handshake with the Sarkozys and then a jaunt to the president's private chateau. London was next, and the itinerary barely unchanged - handshake, swanning around, photo opportunities at stately houses. When asked by the BBC why he had abandoned his country as floods raged from the northernmost province to the southern tip of Pakistan, Zardari cleared his throat and replied that parliament was in session and that he, as a munificent democrat, had empowered others to deal with the disaster; the prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was on duty.
But even the city of Birmingham was not far enough away from Pakistan to protect Zardari from outrage at his feckless rule, as an old man, a supporter of his own party, lobbed two shoes at the president while he was addressing a crowd of British Pakistanis. Zardari's machine was quick to block reports of the attack appearing on Pakistani television channels and to restrict access to websites that carried accounts of how the shoe went flying towards the ducking president.
Back home in Pakistan, a scandal grew over parliamentarians who had fudged paperwork to claim that they possessed academic degrees - once a condition of participation in provincial or national politics. So far, of the 47 MPs shown to have bogus degrees, the largest number of offenders came from the president's Pakistan Peoples Party. One of its coalition partners, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), had almost as many. …