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EDITORIAL: It goes from bad to worse every day in the south, especially Balochistan, as earthquakes now compound the misery of locals devastated by rains, floods, lost homes, swept roads and bridges and, of course, hundreds of near and dear ones dead and/or missing.

The prime minister’s been there twice already to review relief work, but despite his headline-grabbing directives of suspending officials here and there, there will be nothing for the people on the ground unless the shortage of food and money that supposedly keeps him up at night is addressed very, very urgently.

Yet to do some justice to his side of the story, it is indeed unfortunate, rather unforgivable, if the administrators of the few relief outlets that have been setup are found asleep at the wheel; even fiddling with inventories that should already have been dispersed to people who will very likely die with them. Then, the law must come into effect; but nobody should need to be reminded, especially not the prime minister himself, that ensuring justice does not mean in any way that the relief slowdown can be accepted or allowed any further.

There is also a deeper lesson in this disaster; though it’s one that we visit every year and still nothing changes. Provincial and national disaster management agencies are well aware of, and well equipped for, just such disasters every year.

They have the budgets and the training to handle them. Yet every time they fail quite convincingly and often the military has to be called in to do the civilian administration’s job. And since, more often than not, the army is able to solve most problems, at least drain the water out of congested areas, it goes to show that the job can be done and the bureaucratic machinery just cannot do it properly.

Needless to say, of course, that these rains and earthquakes have come at a very difficult time for the federal government. It has a very charged opposition on the streets in the form of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), itching to make it the butt of all jokes whenever there’s the slightest misstep, and it is already putting the spotlight on all mistakes in handling the rains even before the press can.

Then there’s the economy. Stabilising it, which requires immediate resumption of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF), has already taken a lot of the ruling party’s political capital, and made it suffer at the recent Punjab by-elections, with PTI hounding it for incompetence and calling, again and again, for a snap general election.

And anybody who’s had his hear to the ground these past few weeks and months will tell you that there’s a very good chance PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) is aware of the growing perception that an election at this time is very likely to send it to its political grave; at least in Punjab.

All this explains why every drop of water that falls on Balochistan now hits the prime minister like a sledgehammer as well; and every family desperate for compensation, every road and bridge that needs to be rebuilt and every home that must be erected again drags Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif deeper into a hole which he might not be able to climb out of.

And now earthquakes in Pasni are also making the headlines, sending shivers down spines all over the federal government. Ironically, they are also giving more ammunition to an ascendant opposition hunting for an immediate election.

Surely, the prime minister would also believe by now, just like the people of Balochistan and parts of Sindh, that when it rains, it pours.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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