Tuesday, August 17, 2010



"It wiped out villages. Destroyed crops. Over 3.6 million people were directly affected. Nearly 85% of the area was destroyed. Three months after the catastrophe some 75% of the population was receiving food from relief workers (more here).

"It happened in Pakistan. Yet few Pakistanis even know of it by name. Fewer still remember that it eventually contributed to Pakistan’s break-up.

"The 1970 Bhola cyclone hit then East Pakistan on November 12, 1970. It brought with it winds of an unbelievable 185 km/hr. It left in its wake a half million Pakistanis dead.

"Meteorologists remember it as being one of the most deadly natural disasters in human history – sources suggest that it left between 300,000 to 1 million Pakistanis dead in its wake; most estimates suggest around 500,000 Pakistanis died.

"Historians tend to agree that although there were many other forces at work, the devastation caused by the cyclone and the widespread view that the government had mis-managed the relief efforts and West Pakistan had generally shown an attitude of neglect, contributed to high levels of anti-West Pakistan feeling, a sweeping victory for the Awami League, and eventually the breakup of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.

"Such, then, are the forces of nature. And such are the forces of history."

--------- A post from a Pakistani website called "pakistaniat" at

"The cost of rebuilding in the flood-hit areas could reach $15 billion and a Marshall Plan will be needed to meet the challenge, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain Wajid Shamsul Hasan said on Monday (August 16).
He said this was a rough estimate because an assessment of the extent of the damage caused by the floods – which have affected 20 million people – had yet to be carried out. But the number gave an indication of the scale of the reconstruction needed after the floods swept away roads, bridges, telecommunication infrastructure and destroyed crops. “It will take at least five years,” Hasan told Reuters in an interview. Asked about the cost of rebuilding, he said, “I think more than $10 to $15 billion”. Pakistan is appealing for international aid to help it cope with one of the worst natural disasters in its history. The United Nations says only a quarter of the estimated $459 million in international aid needed just for immediate relief has arrived so far. “If something happens to Pakistan, the whole region will be plunged into Balkanisation. You can’t stop it there,” Hasan warned, adding, that he was not suggesting Pakistan would collapse, but nonetheless drew a parallel with a cyclone, which hit East Pakistan in 1970, which fuelled resentment against the government, then, as now, it was accused of not doing enough. “In the longer term, when the water subsides, we need reconstruction ... we’ll have to have a long-term plan, something like the Marshall Plan,” Hasan said.

----From the "Daily Times" of Lahore of August 18,2010


On November 12,1970, a cyclone of devastating magnitude struck the then East Pakistan. Over 300,000 people-----the overwhelming majority of them Bengalis----perished. East Pakistan's economy suffered extensive damages.

2. The indifference of the federal Government then ruled by Gen.Yahya Khan to the plight of the Bengalis and its failure to mobilise humanitarian relief for the victims created a permanent wedge between the Bengalis of East Pakistan and the non-Bengalis of the then West Pakistan and set in motion the train of events that ultimately led to the separation of East Pakistan and the birth of independent Bangladesh.

3. It is not without reason that an increasing number of Pakistanis with a sense of history are asking: Can history repeat itself?

4. Those who rule out a repeat of 1971 point out that the devastation caused by the current floods in Pakistan is not comparable to that caused by the cyclone of November,1970, in East Pakistan. Those, who are concerned over the prospects of a repeat of 1971, highlight that the present political class in Pakistan has been as indifferent to the plight of the victims as the political class of 1970 was. The disaster of 1970 took place when the army was in power. The current disaster has struck Pakistan when an elected civilian Government is in power. In the perception of many, the Government has shown itself to be not only incompetent, but uncaring. The international community has cared for the victims more than Pakistan's own political class.

5.The current disaster due to floods has had two dimensions-----the humanitarian and the strategic. The details of the humanitarian dimension have already been covered by me in an earlier article on the floods. While the humanitarian dimensions are important from the immediate and short-term points of view, the strategic dimensions could assume importance from the medium and long-term points of view.

6. The humanitarian dimensions are quantifiable and their consequences predictable. The likely strategic dimensions are as yet not fully visible, unquantifiable and their consequences unpredictable. The strategic dimensions of the disaster would arise from the following factors:

Firstly, nearly 90 per cent of the fatalities have taken place in the areas inhabited by non-Punjabi minorities---- in Khyber-Pakhtunkwa, the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan. Of the ethnic communities which constitute the Pakistani population, the Pashtuns have suffered the worst with nearly 1100 fatalities as against a total of 1400. Many Pashtun families in Khyber-Pakhtunkwa and the FATA have lost their near and dear ones. Among the other sufferers in terms of fatalities are the Balochs, the Punjabis, the Kashmiris and the Sindhis in that order.

Secondly, from the point of view of economic and infrastructural damages, Punjab and Sindh have suffered more than the Pashtun belt and Balochistan. The devastating quake of 2005 in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and some parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa did not have a major impact on the Pakistani economy. Agriculture, the main prop of the Pakistani economy, hardly suffered any damage.The current floods have hit hard the granaries of Pakistan in Punjab and Sindh and its gas-rich areas in Balochistan. The resulting impact on the agricultural and industrial economy will be considerable. Already, the Baloch freedom struggle has affected the flow of gas from Balochistan to the industries of Punjab. The damage caused by the floods will add to their difficulties.

Thirdly, the floods have hit hard the main recruiting grounds of the Pakistan Army---- the rural areas in Punjab,Khyber-Pakhtunkwa and the FATA. What impact will this have on the morale of the soldiers whose minds will be on the sufferings of their families back home due to the floods than on their fight against the various Talibans and Al Qaeda?

Fourthly, the increase in rural unemployment could help the recruitment drive of the army as well as the terrorists. An increase in the flow of suicide volunteers to the terrorist organisations is a possibility to be reckoned with.

Fifthly, the credibility of the political class, which has never been high, has suffered further due to its slow response to the tragedy. Perceptions that the political leadership and the bureaucracy have been more concerned with rapairing the economic and infrastructure damages in Punjab and Sindh than in attending to the human tragedies in the Pashtun belt and Balochistan could aggravate the feelings of alienation in these areas with unpredictable consequences.

Sixthly, from all accounts, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) have been winning the hearts and minds of the affected people by the energetic way they have mobilised the relief and rehabilitation measures. While the image of the mainstream political class has suffered, that of the jihadis and fundamentalists has benefited. While the aid flows from the US and other Western Governments have been to the discredited governmental agencies, the aid flows from individuals and charity organisations of the Islamic world have been to the LET and the JEI. Any serious mismanagement of the relief and rehabilitation measures by the Government could not only further dent the image of the political class, but also damage the image of the Western Governments by association.

Seventhly, what impact will the floods and the resulting damage have on the capacity of Al Qaeda and its associates? It would be difficult to answer this question presently. One can only note that in the FATA the maximum damage seems to have been in North Waziristan, where Al Qaeda and its associates are based.

7.The post-flood situation in Pakistan needs careful monitoring by Indian strategic experts. ( 18-8-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )


neo phyte said...

very apt analysis of the situation sir! is there any truth in the canard being spread by certain sections of the pakistani media that the floods are because of India opening up its dams and the Indian-managed dam in Afghanistan opening up.

王辛江淑萍康 said...