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Snehal Shingavi: US has blamed Pakistan for failed policies in region

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Toronto. Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said of the floods in Pakistan, “… the world has never seen such a disaster. It’s much beyond anybody’s imagination.” At least 20 million people have lost their homes, more than 1,600 have died, and disease and hunger will claim many more lives before this is all over. The UN has asked the international community for $460 million in emergency funds. That’s around $23 per displaced person. As of Friday, the UN had only received $230 million. Pledges of aid to Pakistan are quite spotty. The US raised its pledge on Friday to $150 million. The UK is at $48.5 million, Canada $33 million. At the far low end of the scale is France at $1 million, matching that of Afghanistan. India’s pledged $5 million. This is all a far cry from the multi-billions that will be needed to deal with the immediate humanitarian disaster and the rebuilding of homes, agriculture, and some semblance of normal life. To put this all in some perspective, Canada spent $1 billion just on security for the G-20 held in Toronto. In 2009, BP made more in two weeks than the UN’s trying to raise in emergency aid. The international pledges for aid to Haiti were $9.9 billion. Other than the lack of aid, the other big question about the flood is whether this disaster could have been avoided completely. Now joining us from Austin, Texas, to help us break all of this down is Prof. Snehal Shingavi. He’s an assistant professor. He teaches South Asian literature there and has taken a special interest in the events taking place in Pakistan. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So, Snehal, what do you make of the relative lack of response in terms of the emergency aid needed?

SHINGAVI: Well, it seems to me that the way that the media’s been talking about it, as though it’s some donor fatigue, this idea that natural disasters have hit so many parts of the world in the last several years that people are just tapped out of money, is not only imprecise but, I think, inadequate as an explanation. Over the last several days you’ve seen, I think, a genuine outpouring of generosity, support, attempts of people all over the world to rally together and provide resources for victims of the Pakistani flooding. The more salient reason, it seems to me, that money hasn’t been forthcoming have to do with geopolitical interests in the region and with the ways that America has conducted its war. So in the last five or six years, the primary reason that America uses as an explanation for why it hasn’t been able to deliver a success in Afghanistan is attributed to the Pakistani state, especially the ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence], which, it argues, colludes extensively with the Taliban. This has meant that all negotiations about money [inaudible] Pakistan are thoroughly politicized in the American Congress and in the American news media. The other part has to do, in my opinion, with a general sense of Islamophobia that exists in the West, which is more or less the idea that Pakistan is a breeding ground for terror and that giving any money to that country will end up, inevitably, in the hands of organizations that the US finds unfavorable. Both of those have meant that people have been—major governments, at any rate, have been squeamish about giving money to Pakistan. India’s a good case in example. They were reluctant to give even the $5 million of aid that were offered, because of the kind of tensions that exist between the two countries and because it fears that Pakistan will use that money for purposes that I think India would find unfavorable to it.

JAY: It seems such a waste of a golden opportunity for India particularly, but also the United States, to make a real statement to the Pakistani people that we’re not just interested in the military situation, we actually care something about the people that live there.

SHINGAVI: Well, that’s interesting, because it’s been in the last two days that both countries have attempted to jump on that bandwagon. In fact, it’s been, in my opinion, one of the more cynical things that America has done has been to try to use the relief aid that it is providing as a kind of hearts-and-minds-winning campaign in Pakistan to prove that American soldiers are doing the right thing, to prove that America is not the bad guy. The problem is that if you contrast that with what America has been doing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or in the tribal areas—they’ve conducted a number of drone campaigns in the last couple of weeks while the flooding has been bad. So on the one hand, they have this kind of Hillary Clinton-led plea for aid for Pakistan, and on the other hand, the military is still pounding the mountainous areas of Pakistan. I don’t think anybody is fooled by this in Pakistan, about what America’s intentions are. The primary thing that the American military and government seem to care about is winning the war on terror, and the rest of it is kind of icing on the cake or things to shore up that original project. It’s very clear, I think, to most ordinary Pakistanis that the American government does not actually have as its primary interest delivering aid in an effective way. To give you one example of that, Air Force bases—there are a number of American Air Force bases that exist in Pakistan, and for the last several days, in fact, no aid has been coming from those Air Force bases to the west of Pakistan. They’re in prime position to deliver aid. In fact, the extensive air power that the American military has means that it’s probably one of the few institutions capable of delivering aid effectively, quickly, and in the scale that’s needed to really be effective.

JAY: How do we know they’re not using those bases? And have the Americans responded in any way to this?

SHINGAVI: Well, this is—Dawn newspaper just yesterday published the reports about Air Force bases and what they were and weren’t being used for. So the American military basically spent the last two weeks shoring up the borders of those bases to make sure that flood waters didn’t get into them, and it’s only been in the last few days that they’ve considered, especially after Hillary Clinton’s mission, a limited amount of support coming from those sectors.

JAY: In terms of the anger of the people of Pakistan, most of it, as far as we can understand, is being directed at their own government and their own military. In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about that, the role of the Pakistani authorities, and particularly before the flood what could have been done to avoid this catastrophe, and then what’s being done now by the Pakistani authorities, ’cause whatever the role of the Americans, certainly it’s the Pakistani authorities that bear most of the responsibility here. So please join us for the next segment of this interview on The Real News Network.

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Snehal Shingavi is an assistant professor of South Asian literature at the University of Texas in Austin, where he is also working on a book-length manuscript on contemporary Pakistani fiction in English. Snehal has written extensively about India and Pakistan for such publications as Counter Punch, Z Net, the International Socialist Review, and Left Hoo