Zardari bashed over trip
MUZAFFARGARH, Pakistan – President Asif Ali Zardari returned yesterday to flood-ravaged Pakistan, where he faced a storm of criticism for visiting Europe as his country was gripped by what his government called the nation’s worst natural disaster.
His arrival came as thousands fled a major city in central Pakistan threatened by swollen rivers, and as the United Nations said the nationwide aid response needed to be scaled up “massively”. The world body says it is working on a response plan that will likely require hundreds of millions of dollars in initial international assistance.
The Pakistani Taliban, which is allied to al-Qaeda and is fighting for the overthrow of the Pakistani state, urged the government not to accept any Western aid for flood relief. Spokesman Azam Tariq said the group would itself fund relief efforts.
The Taliban have attacked Western aid groups in Pakistan and called for them to leave the country, saying they are trying to implement a Western agenda. “Pakistan should reject this aid to maintain sovereignty and independence,” Tariq said in a telephone call to an Associated Press reporter.
The UN, relying on Pakistani figures, says the number of people affected by flooding over the past two weeks is 13.8 million – more than the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, although the death toll in each of those disasters was much higher than the 1 500 people killed in the floods.
The widespread crisis has overwhelmed the government and frustrated citizens who have complained about slow or non-existent aid efforts. A person is considered “affected” by the floods if he or she will need some form of assistance to recover, either short-term humanitarian aid or longer-term reconstruction help, the UN said.
Amid the relentless rains, Zardari – an unpopular figure to begin with – took off for a visit to France and Britain. His aides said he had to undertake the trip for diplomatic reasons, especially in Britain, whose Prime Minister David Cameron had recently accused Pakistan of exporting terror.
But the timing of the trip struck a raw nerve among many who said Zardari should have stayed with his suffering people – even though the president, fearful of assassination, rarely makes public appearances in Pakistan anyway. (AP)