Pakistan Prez returns home to flood crisis
Islamabad: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari returned home on Tuesday from official foreign visits to a chorus of criticism over his government`s response to the country`s worst flooding in 80 years.
The floods, triggered by unusually heavy monsoon rain over the upper Indus river basin over the past 10 days, have plowed a swathe of destruction more than 1,000 km (600 miles) long from northern Pakistan to the south, killing more than 1,600 people.
Two million people are homeless and the lives of about 13 million people, or about 8 percent of the population of the nuclear-armed U.S. ally, have been disrupted.
Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and whose rule has been mired in controversy, enraged his critics by going ahead with state visits to Britain and France as the catastrophe was unfolding.
His record on issues critical to his country`s security and economic health have also failed to impress Pakistanis used to turning to the powerful army, not civilian governments perceived as corrupt and inept, in times of trouble.
Taliban insurgents are still a big threat despite crackdowns, keeping away foreign investors. Chronic power cuts have crippled industry and triggered street protests.
The military has taken the lead in relief efforts while the government is under fire for perceived dithering. Analysts say there is no chance the military, which has vowed to stay out of politics and is fighting militants, will try to seize power.
U.S. officials are concerned about the damage caused by the weak government response to the floods and mounting hostility toward Zardari. Pakistan is a key U.S. ally whose help Washington needs to end a nine-year insurgency by Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
Zardari has been a ceremonial president since parliament adopted constitutional changes stripping him of his powers this year, and the government, led by his political party, said it was dealing with the floods and the issue should not be politicized.
The floods will cause "major harm to the economy," the International Monetary Fund said on Monday as donors` and investors` concerns grew over the disaster`s impact on an already fragile economy.
The president was in the southern city of Karachi and was due in the capital later in the day. He expected to visit flood-hit areas, government officials said.
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