Islamabad: Nearly a month after Pakistan`s
worst ever natural disaster flooded a fifth of the country and
hit 20 million people, the spectres of social unrest and
Islamist extremism are stalking the nation.
Torrential rains have had a catastrophic impact on the
impoverished, nuclear-armed nation, causing economic losses
that could see Pakistan default on an IMF loan and leaving
eight million people dependent on aid for survival.
While the international community has now donated almost
USD 500 million, domestic anger is mounting at the civilian
government, which has staggered from crisis to crisis in the
30 months since its election.
Flood survivors camping out in miserable conditions -- up
to six million of them still without shelter -- have staged
angry, if isolated, protests against the government, shutting
main highways and forcing police to mobilise.
Devastation to farmland and transport links mean that
food prices have rocketed, fanning frustration among the
masses already struggling to make ends meet and discontent
among millions who have lost everything.
Inflation is already a burden for many. Pakistan has
suffered an electricity crisis for years, but now the flood
waters have forced power stations to close, exacerbating
energy cuts and leaving entire communities without power.
"Alienation towards the government has increased and in
the long run it can create internal instability. The
opposition can cash in on that and in the long-term, Islamist
militants can benefit," said analyst Hasan Askari.
"If the opposition joins (in protests), the unrest can be
powerful, nobody knows what can happen," said Askari.
Pakistan`s relatively free media has castigated the
government response in chat shows, scathing editorials and a
series of damaging news reports including allegations that
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited fake relief camps.
An official prime minister`s relief fund has collected
just USD 17.5 million, with many reluctant to donate to an
administration widely painted as corrupt and bogged down in
red tape and infighting.