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Flood response stokes anger in former Taliban stronghold

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-27

Residents of Pakistan's Swat Valley have expressed growing resentment at the government's handling of flood relief efforts, leading to concern about the stability of the restive former Taliban stronghold.

REUTERS - Babou Zay has witnessed Pakistan's wars, military coups, assassinations, political upheaval and notorious state corruption cases.

Few events have made the retired farmer, who says he is 100 years old, more mistrustful of his leaders than floods which have ravaged Pakistan and raised questions about the stability of the government because of its slow response.
 
"I heard on the radio that the government would give 200,000 rupees to each family. We received nothing. All this aid money we hear about. The government stole it," said Zay, who has a long white beard and missing teeth, as he stared at the Swat River, which ruined his home and hundreds of others nearby.
 
Anger has been rising over the government's handling of the catastrophe and it's likely to get worse as flood victims demand compensation for destroyed houses, crops and livestock.
 
Swat Valley in the northwest was one of the worst hit areas and government inaction here could have severe political consequences.
 
It has been trying to win more public support in Swat since the army pushed out Taliban insurgents from their stronghold in an offensive over a year ago, promising to invest over a billion dollars in schools, industries and hospitals and build up police and security forces.
 
Those plans have been washed away by the floods, which have left six million homeless in Pakistan and destroyed roads bridges and crops on a path from the northwest to the south.
 
People interviewed in Swat said they don't want to return to the days when the Taliban were whipping and publicly hanging people from street poles to enforce their harsh versions of Islam.
 
Yet that revulsion with militants is unlikely to work in the government's favour as it tries to improve its image.
 
"Yes, some people will be angry," said independent political analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi. "But the numbers are so large that not everyone is going to be satisfied. There are still some areas that can only be reached by helicopter and there is a shortage of those. It will take time to get to everyone and the opposition is continuing to put pressure on the government."
 
A few feet from a building that was blown up by the Taliban during battles with the army, labourers work eight hours a day, brick by brick, to build a suspension bridge to replace the three-story high concrete one that stood there since 1966 which collapsed under the pressure of raging flood waters.
 
"The government has done nothing. We don't want their help anymore. We can only rely on ourselves," said labourer Altaf Hussain, whose daily wage is paid by a jeweler who started a charity for flood victims.
 
Trauma
 
At a ferry crossing, Mohammed Sherin, a forest officer for the state, said he wanted a new government.
 
"Allah must send us someone to take over that will help us," he said. "Someone who is upright and follows the principles of Islam. Someone transparent."
 
Few expect that any time soon.
 
"There's a lot of mismanagement and a lack of organisation," Saad Sarfraz Sheikh, an aid volunteer told Reuters from Lahore where he was organising a private relief convoy.
 
"People don't trust the government funds set up to help because of the 2005 earthquake and what happened to the victims of that. It has a lot to do with the earthquake because people are still homeless. People say, 'These earthquake survivors don't even have houses yet so why should we be giving more money?' "
 
The flood trauma has been so great, and the response so slow and inadequate, that Swat residents have concluded thay are a victim of a big conspiracy.
 
"The Taliban are the agents of the government and the military. All of this is just a big game," said Abdul Halim Abu Rauf.

 

Date created : 2010-08-27

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