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Minorities denied flood relief in Pakistan
First Published: 23:54 IST(18/8/2010)
Last Updated: 02:38 IST(19/8/2010)Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times
Karachi, August 18, 2010
Earlier this week, members of Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community, who were caught up in the raging floods around the Central Punjab town of Muzaffargarh, were not rescued from their homes because rescuers felt that Muslims must be given priority. Ahmadiyyas are ostracized by Pakistan’s mainstream Muslim community who consider them to be non-believers. In 1973, this community was officially declared a minority. Since then the discrimination against them has been severe.
The Ahmadiyyas complained to the government that not only were their community members not rescued but in some instances ejected from relief camps when their identity was disclosed. This has been refuted by the provincial Punjab government but eye witnesses have attested to this.
As the waters recede and people flock to relief camps and look for help, Pakistan’s power politics have come into play whereby chosen areas are being helped at the expense of others which are being completely ignored. Hamir Soomro, a landlord from Shikarpur, one of the most badly affected districts in Sindh, says that his area is not receiving government help, which is instead going to Khairpur, the constituency of the province’s Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah.
The UN says that the government suffers from a “image deficit” problem. “In plain words, they don’t trust the ability of the government to deliver,” says Mian Nawaz Sharif, opposition leader.
Earlier this week, Sharif met with Prime Minister Gilani and both agreed to the formation of a “clean commission” - comprising people of integrity, to oversee distribution of funds for for flood relief. The idea did not go down well with President Zardari whose office has blocked the move on grounds that the government is fully in control.
But the UN and donor agencies dont think so. They have pointed out that the government has no relief plan and is also unable to make an estimate of what is needed where. As a result, the situation has turned dire in many neglected or inaccessible areas.
In Kohistan, there are reports the five children died of starvation because help had not arrived.
Members of the Sikh community, who arrived in Gurdwaras in Lahore also complained of government apathy. They said members of their community were abandoned in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and had to arrange rescue for themselves.