Will the political elite please stand up?

Published: August 20, 2010

Are politicians willing to spend cash in the face of disaster?

While the world’s rich dole out money to help Pakistan’s flood victims, our own rich political elite have refuse to budge.

By now we should have seen members of the ruling elite buying tents, building shelters and providing gallons of clean drinking water to the homeless millions. But in every flooded district of the country, all you will find are Pakistani civilians and military volunteers – not politicians.

This is a lesson for the Pakistani nation. Compare the generous response to a nation wide campaign in Saudi Arabia to raise funds for the victims of floods to the reaction of the Pakistani elite:

What happened in Saudi Arabia?

On August 17, 2010, the first day of the Saudi campaign:

–         King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz Al Saud, donated $5.3 million of his private funds to victims

–         Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdelzziz Al Saud gave $2.7 million of his own for the cause

–         Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdelaziz Al Saud gave two million Saudi riyals

–         Governor of Tabouk donated 1 million Saudi Riyals

–         Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdelaziz Al Saud gave 10 million Saudi riyals

–         Businessman Eesa bin Mohammad al Eesa, president of the Samba Financial Group, donated two million Saudi riyals

Let us also not forget the sight of Saudi women visiting public aid collection camps in different Saudis cities, photographed by the international media donating their jewellery to King Abdullah’s campaign.

What happened in Pakistan?

Leaders in Pakistan, on the other hand, behaved a little differently:

–         Pakistani president Asif Zardari (considered a billionaire in terms of dollars by some) has reportedly donated Rs5 million to a fund named after his son and daughter – and only Rs1 million to the government fund. This is less than what he might have spent wandering in France and Britain earlier this month.

–         Shockingly, PPP is trying to get large companies to donate relief money into party funds. This means that the party is quietly trying to direct aid money to private funds rather than relief funds run by the government or the Pakistani military. The ruling party is reported to have convened a meeting in business hub Karachi where leading businessmen were asked to donate to a ‘Bakhtawar Fund’, named after the president’s elder daughter. The meeting was chaired by the president’s sister, Senator Faryal Talpur. But she also failed to get a pledge for a single rupee from the attending businessmen.

–         The Sharif family has donated Rs10 million, which is peanuts compared to what the family could have donated. Not to mention the fact that no one knows how this amount will be spent. Pakistanis are yet to see any member of the Sharif clan seeing off trucks carrying relief goods or opening clean water plants in the affected areas.

–         None of the 1,000 members of the federal and provincial parliaments have been seem in the affected areas helping people or distributing aid. If anything, a few of the shameless politicians were quick to jump in front of visiting TV crews. One, from Sindh, was seen seated in a boat run by the army for the media giving an interview to a leading anchor. The politician pretended he was organizing the rescue operations in Sindh. An unusual situation in Pakistan is that the country’s closed club of political elite monopolizes large chunks of the economy. So these politicians control everything, benefit from inflation, pay no taxes and are under no obligation to donate generously when fellow countrymen are in need.

–         The Pakistan Army donated one day’s salary of its soldiers, who mostly come from poor backfgrounds, for the relief effort. No politician is yet to take a similar step. Remember, we are talking about people who arrive to the federal parliament in expensive, imported, luxury cars, wearing expensive watches and jewelry and looking awash in wealth.

–         The millionaires and billionaires from Pakistan’s business community, unlike the politicians, are donating directly to the victims in the affected areas but refuse to route the money through the coffers of a government run by this political elite.

What have we learned?

While the country reels from a humanitarian tragedy, it is the Pakistani middle class, the Pakistani business class, a few religious charities and the armed forces that have come to the rescue of their fellow countrymen during the disaster. These are the groups that will always step up to help their countrymen.

Pakistan’s politicians, despite being among them the nation’s richest few, will disappeared in a flash during a crisis as they have done now.


Ahmed Quraishi

The author is a journalist and a public policy professional, with government & private sector experience across Pakistan and the Middle East. He tweets @Office_AQPk (twitter.com/Office_AQPk)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • faraz

    Army is part of the Government, it takes 30 percent of budget from tax payers money. The army isnt contributing from its own pocket. Please come out of the 90s when PTV used to be the only source of information.Recommend

  • http://aacounterterror.wordpress.com Anas Abbas

    its laughable to imagine that Saudi women visiting public aid collection camps in different Saudis cities, photographed by the international media donating their jewellery to King Abdullah’s campaign. Recommend

  • Saleem

    The writer seems to be ill-informed or not informed at all.
    Except for one MP from Jampur (which has been pointed out by media and acknowledged by family sources) all other MPs whose areas have been affected by these floods are present in their respective constituencies and supervising relief and rescue efforts,I for myself have seen ministers,MNAs,MPAs,Senators and other public representatives taking pains in reducing public miseries and that too in a back drop of they being themselves victims in most of the cases.
    It is shocking for me to learn of educated persons such as this esteemed writer drawing parallels between government and one of its organ i.e. Army, since the above mentioned institution is funded and budgeted by the government and doesn’t feed itself from its own resources and moreover I must remind the writer that even in most developed countries such as USA the rescue and relief is carried out by military, Katrina is the best example in the hindsight.Recommend

  • Callen

    The donations are not directly from the army genius @faraz it comes from the salary of the soldiers who work like any one of us to earn the pay. They have donated part of their salary which the deserved rightfully. And nooo there are governmental businesses as well so the idea of redirecting taxpayers money to the needy with the face of the army is plausible!!!
    What have you done rather than critisize every single effort ???Recommend

  • http://tribune.com.pk/story/19711/whose-country-is-this-anyways/ Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    Why should our elite do anything. They are playing the “give us money of the taliban will win card”, eventually the dollars will flow in. As a nation we will loose even more credibility, but atleast the Pakistani elite can go on living without paying their taxes or contributing anything out of their pockets.

    This is the case anywhere in the world. Its always those who have the least to offer who are the most generous. We should be thankful that we are a resilient nation that has learnt to make the most of what little we have. Recommend

  • http://hotmail Abdul Rahman Khan

    @ Faraz – It’s just not the quantum of financial donation by army that matters. They are doing yeomen serevices in every nook and corner of flood affected areas and providing relief and succour to the ravaged people which should be appreciated. Look at our moneyed class and politicians. What NS and AZ have contributed is absolutely nothing in proportion to what they amassed riches by corruption while in power. Recommend

  • Haris Zohaib Memon

    You have been rather critical in your paradigm but still hats off to you for denuding those who are, firstly not donating, and if donating it is for politics.Recommend

  • abid

    look who’s talking?

    How do you know about faryal Talpurs meeting and not a single rupee being donated? any sources or do your friends in intelligence give you these reports? Recommend

  • Immy

    faraz for God sake…deduction from Salries do not means Govt contribution its coming out of the indviduals’ poscket..what if take 1000 from your salary…should i say your employer gave me 1000?????? Salute to JAWANsRecommend

  • faraz

    @ Callen, A R Khan, Immy
    I am a student and my dad is a Govt employee, and some money has been deducted from his salary. So whats the big deal about the army paying out of its salary. And when you say that parliamentarians should contribute, you mean they should contribute from their salary? just like the army! Well army ruled directly for 36 years and indirectly for rest of the period, what did it contribute to water management. Yes politicians are corrupt, but what did the army do when it was in power, besides “not being corrupt”. An institution which does not allow Government to conduct an audit is certainly corrupt. It takes away a major portion of the budget with zero performance; it lost all wars including that of 1965, dismembered the country, promoted extremism and sectarianism, prevented growth of democracy and created ethnic and lingual hatred. Who is responsible for the 45 billion dollor that the economy sufferred from the army’s policy of creating strategic depth by using civilians? The miserable condition that we face today is because we have created a pseudo ideological security state and army benifits the most from it. Zardari and Nawaz are corrupt, but what were the crimes of the politicians from 1947 to 1977 that army had to impose martial law?Recommend

  • Immy

    @Faraz, I solute your father and every indvidual contributing even a bit….do you think salary contribution made by your father is a big deal? then be just and acknowledge army’s contribution too.when we talk about the MPs it means they are the big fat cats of the country and they must contribute from their personal wealth else they must not appeal others…Now regarding army rule, i never supported any of the dictators but lets be honest who invites them to rule, its these stupid politicains who do such a silly things when they come in power that army’s intervention become inevitable automatically..and public welcomes the uniform…am still with you that army should be, where it should be,..and let the political system contnue.Now about indirect intervention of army ..well, u will agree with me, since army ruled this country for 36 yrs means politicains are not mature enogh to take tough decisions are to face any tough situation so the army is the automatic choice to come forward and helpout the impotents..CURRPTION IN ARMY yes it is there no doubt abt it and it should be eradicated, regarding army’s policies again its a debateable thing will discuss it some other time am taking too space moderater might get angry with me, moreover am feeling sleepy:)Recommend

  • Babur Chughtai

    As Mr. Quraishi keeps sayig in other columns it is time to replace this failed political system and the only way this is possible is for the military to intervene, disqualify this corrupt political elite, jail half of them, and bring a technocratic govt to power run by patriotic and able technocrats, then this govt should spend the next 5-10 years reforming Pakistani society, economy, culture. No politics during this period, only development, business, economy and education. We want prosperity, not politics. I hope one day Mr. Quraishi’s theory will enact itself at the top. Recommend

  • http://roshnipk.com/blog Ali

    Let me remind the writer that the military not only takes a hefty amount from our budget but also enjoys a major, if not all, of the aid we get from the US and NATO every year for the war-on-terror.

    Lets also not forget the capitalist financial empire the Army has setup in literally every imaginable business in the country. From under-wears to fertilisers, they produce everything. A reading of the Military Inc. might help.

    Before he chews his gibberish attacking the politicians and democracy; if he can have a look at the Khakis who pay him; he might conclude much better. Lets see if the Army can have some shame and forget buying more defense equipment and F16s and what not for a few years and spend instead on the flood relief.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/IAARACCOP I am a responsible and civilized citizen of Pakistan

    @Babur: The army has interfered several times to rescue the nation of political instabilities but once they came to power they did all to prolong their rule and strengthen their position rather than having concern for the country. So that’s an experiment we can’t afford anymore. Now it’s time for a democratic revolution which can come through parliament through our votes. We need to bar all political parties that have shown their failure in running government so far. Now it’s a time that we elect new people; like Imran Khan, Mustaqbil Pakistan or other independent persons. I am not biased towards any of them, however we need to eliminate the other parties from the scene through our vote.Recommend