The Militant Myth By Farhana Ali On Saturday morning, I appeared on Fox News to discuss whether militants in Pakistan could recruit among the millions of flood victims. The story began with a statement made by US Senator John Kerry, the first American official to visit the flood-hit areas, â€œWe donâ€™t want additional jihadists (and) extremists coming out of a crisis.â€ The idea that the human tragedy in Pakistan is a â€œfrightening opening for the Talibanâ€ is not yet substantiated but certainly makes for sensational news. We should remember that the Taliban is and has never been a charitable organization. The Taliban does not have a social services institute, and instead, boasts of enforcing and providing justice and order in the form of Qazi courts (i.e., harsh interpretation of Shariah law). While American security may be linked to Pakistanâ€™s future, the militant myth serves Pakistanâ€™s political elite all too well. The message of militants moving into grief-stricken areas is largely being propagated by the Pakistani Government. This past week, at a United Nations donor meeting, Pakistanâ€™s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi stated â€œThe massive upheaval caused by the floods and the economic losses suffered by the millions of Pakistanis must be addressed urgently. We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists." Pakistanâ€™s President Asif Ali Zardari makes a similar argument. In his visit to flood-hit areas with Kerry, Zardari said at a joint press conference, â€œThe children could be put in camps to be trained as the terrorists of tomorrow.â€ There is little truth to these arguments. So why make them? In reality, Pakistan needs increased aid to rise above its latest crisis of crises. By invoking the rise of the militant mafia, Pakistan can woo America into donating millions more. Pakistan can convince the international aid community that it cannot survive without its support. But more aid to the Pakistani government is met with great skepticism and suspicion. Many ordinary Pakistanis fear that aid will fall into the pockets of corrupt, inept politicians, and are thus expressing rage and resentment against the civilian elite. In a Pakistani blog called Chup! (Hush in Urdu), one blogger harshly states: Dear Pakistani government, your response to the disaster in Pakistan has been atrocious. As a Pakistani citizen, one who is peddling like mad to drum up funds to send back home, I am disgusted with your political pot shots, your disinterest in your own people, and your lip service to something unfolding in front of your eyes. Everyone has pledged aid â€“ even Afghanistan â€“ who barely has anything right now. If every leader who defaulted on their loans or didnâ€™t pay taxes actually dug into their pockets, maybe the rest of the world wouldnâ€™t be calling us selfish beggars. A DAWN newspaper opinion piece on Sunday by Ardeshir Cowasjeeâ€”who invited me into his well-guarded home in Karachiâ€”offers his view: Knowing that much of the aid money channeled through government agencies will be siphoned off to private pockets, international donors, foreign governments and local citizens are extremely reluctant to give to official channels. Voluntary groups like the Edhi Foundation, Citizensâ€™ Foundation (US tax benefits for donations), Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, and many other organizations are faring better as they, along with the military, are mobilizing their networks around the country to get food and other help to the flood-affected. Prime Minister Gilani, honestly admitting that his government is dishonest and totally untrustworthy, agreeing with Mian Nawaz Sharif, proposed a government-sponsored body to be run by non-political figures with credibility who will see that the money that trickles in goes to those it is meant for. It has not been allowed to take off. This incompetent, ill prepared, uninspiring and non-visionary leadership gifted to us through a dubious â€˜dealâ€™ is all we have â€” we have no option but to lump it until someone or something comes to the rescue of this miserable country. If Islamabad is concerned with militant madness, then it should focus on improving and strengthening its civilian capacity. After all, a government deemed unable and unfit to provide basic social services to its population is considered a failed state by the Fund for Peace which manages the Failed States Index 2010. To overcome the human disaster, ordinary Pakistanis are doing what they can to help those in needâ€”as they did in the aftermath of the October 8, 2005 earthquake in Pakistan-held Kashmir. Then, trucks of supplies were collected for the victims trapped in the mountains. But the challenge was twofold: lack of access to victims and accusations of stolen or wasted donor money by the Pakistani government. In recent conversations with senior Pakistani commanders, the military still considers the civilian government to be out-of-touch with reality. So why does an unpopular President continue to hold power? As one commander said to me in private, â€œWe are waiting for the civilians to create a mess inside Pakistan so that the military will look like the better option for governance.â€ As Pakistanâ€™s history has previously shown, in civilian chaos and confusion may come military might. However, neither the military nor civilians in power have proven capable of servicing those in need. The earthquake in Kashmir is a prime example. Over the past two years, I have visited the refugee camps in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Kashmir. The same women greet me. One is now pregnant. Another still complains of wanting a blood transfusion but has no money to afford it. The womenâ€™s greatest need is medical care. â€œWe need a doctor,â€ they say. But most female doctors will not leave their hospitals and clinics in Islamabad, the capital city, to take the dangerous trek to Kashmir to offer once-a-week services to the poor. Other local Pakistani NGOâ€™s seem stretched for resources or have other areas they operate in. While the women of the tents do receive a stipend from the government and have access to a nearby hospital, many argue that it is not enough. â€œCan you feed a family of four with the money we receive? We canâ€™t even afford a decent education for our children or the kind of medical treatment we desperately need.â€ Five years after the earthquake, most women complain of living as refugees when the government promised them low-income housing. â€œI used to have a home,â€ said an older woman, â€œnow I have this tent. How long should I live like this? Itâ€™s inhuman.â€ In the current flood disaster, it will take more than five years to stabilize the country. And that is obviously not the only challenge Pakistan faces, as Aaron Manneâ€™s piece highlights on August 17th. The good news is that the Pakistani government acknowledges the threat by militant groups. An assessment released by the countryâ€™s intelligence agency reveals that domestic militancy poses a greater threat to the country than India. But while the Pakistani elite remains concerned, they also applaud the efforts of religious charities, some of whom are tied to terrorist organizations. So which story are we to believe? Should we be alarmed by the freedom of mobility and safe haven that front charities enjoy in Pakistan? If so, then Pakistan needs to underline its policy against militants and those connected to it. Civilian elites need to stop using the â€œmilitant mythâ€ to garner public sympathy and support for the flood victims. Rather, the government should focus on restoring the publicâ€™s confidence in the countryâ€™s ability to lead and deliver goods at this time of crisis.