September 8, 2010

Pakistan Floods Weaken Government and Hurt Peace Talks, Panelists Say

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The recent severe flooding in Pakistan that sent the country into a state of emergency has further destabilized peace talks with India. Wednesday night, a forum held by the Cornell International Affairs Review discussed these issues and how the two countries might start to move forward.

Prof. Durba Ghosh, history, acting director of the South Asia program, gave the opening lecture and focused mainly on the flooding that started in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan in late July. The flooding affected two-thirds of the country and washed out 5,000 miles of roads and railways. One point three million people in Pakistan have been given aid due to the damage caused by flood waters.

“One of the biggest problems Pakistan faces in the near future is famine because all of the seed stock is gone and cash crops have been washed away,” Ghosh said.

Issues with food source are only one of the country’s problems. According to Ghosh, schools, hospitals and power stations have all been knocked out.

Aid has been coming into the country from a variety of sources. Ghosh said the biggest presence has been from Pakistan’s government, the United Nations and foreign donors. However, unprecedented support has been given by Islamic charities within the country.

“Islamic charities have been successful in providing shelter and collecting thousands in donations. They are able to do what the government cannot because they work on a smaller scale,” Ghosh said.

Some major western media outlets, like The Seattle Times, have noted that large portions of charities may actually be fronts for terrorist organizations; the Taliban moved into the Swat Valley region of northwestern Pakistan some years ago. Ghosh, however, says that regardless of affiliation, without the existence of these charity groups there could have been much worse human disasters.

In addition to problems with terrorists and militant groups, the flooding in Pakistan has stalled peace talks with India once again.

The two countries have a history of conflict. After fighting four wars and countless skirmishes, no peace agreement has ever held. The region of Kashmir, controlled in parts by both Pakistan and India, has long been a point of dispute. According to Ghosh, neither country is willing to relinquish its grip on the region and, thus, many of the wars have stemmed from mistrust and disagreement over land rights.

Representatives from MECA, Society for India, Cornell India Association, Pakistani Students Association and Islamic Alliance for Justice made up the panel moderated by Ghosh to further discuss tensions between the countries.

The point most often brought up by all panel members was a lack of trust between India and Pakistan.

Krishna Jayant ’13 of the Cornell India Association said, “The main problem is that there has been an enormous lack of trust,” he said. “It takes two hands to plant. We need to build our relations from the ground up.”

While panel members argued on the finer points of regaining trust and starting peace talks again, all agreed that the United States has been at the heart of relational problems between India and Pakistan.

“There is no doubt the U.S. has been a big cause of instability in the region,” Ghosh said.

Other panel members highlighted the fact that it takes a strong government to sustain power during peace talks and not get overthrown by opposing politics.

“Pakistani civilian government is very weak at this point. If any government goes forward with a rational peace process there are many hounds ready to pounce on their weaknesses,” said Sohom Datta ’12 of the Society for India.

Some panel members, however, stepped away from trying to remedy the looming issues and focused instead on making minute, collective efforts. Basit Riaz Sheikh, a Pakistani Ph.D. candidate at Cornell, believes strongly in the power of small steps.

“Let’s make headway with little things. Indian movies used to be banned in my country, now we are showing them,” Sheikh said. “Right now we could use India’s electricity — there are so many things we could do on a small scale to promote understanding. When peace talks break down, it is because there is nothing to lose.”

Original Author: Erika Hooker