Baba Banaras

Editor’s Note: A moving account of those torn apart by floods. May Allah shower his choicest blessings on those who hold out a lending hand today to Pakistan.

By: Dr Ghayur Ayub

An old man was desperately walking fast in the rubble of a demolished house, which once was his home. His torn dirty vest hardly covered his emaciated body exposing his brown skin to the burning sun. His weak hands were holding his curved back as if it was going to give way. There was dust on his wrinkled face, dirt in his bushy white beard and clay on his bare feet. There were signs of despair and pain in his lustreless eyes. Now and again, he would take off his dirty white cap, rub his head with his mucky hands and wipe his face of pouring sweat. It was difficult to guess how old he was as the hard life he lived had disguised his actual age. He looked old; a Baba. Someone introduced him to the visiting TV team as Baba Banaras.

A well known media personality was assessing post-flood devastation near Nowshera in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Let us call him Mr. ’H’. Coming closer, the pain in Baba’s eyes changed into confusion and a faint ill-defined smile appeared on his face which failed to take away the obvious misery haunting him. He was short of breath from the hard work he had been doing rebuilding his home with his bare hands. Mr.‘ H’ started asking questions in Urdu; the poor man hardly understood the language. He started answering in typical half baked lingo mixing Pakhtu with Urdu. Now and again, he would lose a thread and looked for help from a youngster standing opposite him. An interesting conversation revealed he was a retired Chaukidar and getting a pension of Rs 1500/ per month. At the time of retirement, he received Rs 2 Lacs lump sum on which he built the home which the floods turned into ruins. In his broken language he said that he sold part of his house and donated the money to the village mosque in the name of Allah. There was pronounced innocence and sincerity in his utterance.

Further questioning revealed he had one daughter, three granddaughters and no son. In Pakhtun culture, a man without a son is called ‘Meeraath’ meaning by; such person is doomed as he has no one to look after him when he is old. That seemed to be the case. There was no one except his womenfolk to give Baba Banaras a hand to rebuild his home. He said he bought dowry worth Rs 90,000/ for his granddaughter’s marriage which was due if floods had not washed away everything. When asked what would he do? His blank face showed traces of ache and a few tears appeared in his eyes. All he could utter was, ‘what can I do?’ He turned his face to look the other way trying to control his emotions. Then he looked up to the sky leaving everything to Allah; so strong was his Faith. After a while a boy came to him and told him something in Pakhtu.  A touch of anger appeared in his tone, slapped his own forehead and cursed his luck.

Then, without saying anything, he left the place in hurry and disappeared behind the heap of rubbles. On enquiry Mr. ‘H’ was told that Baba had asked the boy to get soft drinks for the guests and the boy told him the shopkeeper wanted Baba to go there himself. Powerful emotions appeared on the face of Mr. ‘H’. He was witnessing an illustration of Pakhtun hospitality called ‘Mailmantob’. On his return, Baba told him in simplistic but honourable pitch that he couldn’t let his guest go without serving him. Despite all the misery he was in, he couldn’t lose his Pakhtunwalay. Mr ‘H’ squatted on the ground next to Baba with bottle of cold drink by his side and continued to ask him question upon question. Like always Allah’s name was visible in his replies.

Then suddenly, Mr ‘H’ surprised everyone by offering him his help. Initially Baba didn’t understand and asked the interpreter what he was talking about. He was told that he was offering help to rebuild his home and to help with his granddaughter’s marriage. He turned his face toward Mr. ‘H with astonishment and took off his cap, held it in his outstretched hands and burst into tears. It was his way of thanking him. Then he looked up yet again into the sky praising Allah for sending an angel to help him. Mr. ‘H’ told his partner to tell him in Pakhtu that it was not his money he was offering; it belonged to decent donors who wanted to help people like him. The translator tried to make Baba understand, but his actions showed that it was Divine help reaching him through Mr ‘H’ at this time of need. In his husky voice he tried to argue that Mr. ‘H’ could be sitting somewhere in a cosy place doing something else; instead, he was going from place to place helping needy people. His simple argument carried weight. He kept his cap in his hands for a long time and kept praying for Mr H and his family. Not once did he mention the government in his praises or prayers. One could sense an emotional tempo developing in the scene and feel a spiritual beat in the environment.

This was a typical picture of misery spread all over the country in the flood-hit areas. There are millions of Baba Banarases working with their bare hands to build what they lost in the floods. And there are many TV personalities, independent entrepreneurs, NGOs, religious groups, Pak army and even foreigners reaching to them and helping them. Unfortunately, the help is uncoordinated and ill planned because of sheer mismanagement on behalf of the government resulting in unnecessary loss of resources. It is make or break point for the government. If the slackness of the government continued, it will add to the miseries of the deprived ones increasing their resentment. Their anger is multiplied when the independent media report that the dishonest high ups give irregular extensions or fresh appointments to their corrupt cronies and buy expensive properties in posh areas abroad during these appalling times. With exception of a few, most of the political figures especially from the power corridors have failed to act like their saviours. All they seem to do is to visit the affected areas for photo sessions and disappear without interacting with the affected people like Mr. ‘H’ did in the case of Baba Banaras. As a result, they are fast losing faith in the government. Our society is full of good, decent and talented people; why can’t the political elite and the government officials follow their example and show the world community that we are capable of turning flood-hit Pakistan into a new modern country as Germany or Japan did after devastations of WWII with added technical and monetary support of the world.

(Dr Ghayyur is a writer of long standing on current affairs).

NOTE: This is a cross post.Please also note the picture of an old man is NOT Baba Banaras but a random picture.

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Comments

  • Laila  On September 26, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Most beautiful & heart wrenching recount.
    Ahhhh the Pakhtunwali.
    Who can understand better than a Pathan!

  • SAMEEH  On September 26, 2010 at 11:02 am

    I would LOVE to know the name of H.
    Dr Ghayyur?

  • Parveen  On September 26, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Very touching recount.
    Waterborne illnesses are making the flooding victims in Pakistan increasingly desperate for medical help. Health and social workers warn that if aid does not come soon, the outbreak of potentially fatal diseases is imminent. Prevention costs very little. But if these diseases do break out, cramped conditions make it possible for them to spread very quickly.

    As the flood waters recede in Pakistan, the danger of infection among the flood victims rises. Experts say the camps where people have taken shelter are potential breeding grounds for malaria, cholera, and other gastrointestinal diseases.

    Most people in these camps are already complaining of infections caused by contaminated water. Amanullah Khan worries about his children.

    Amanullah Khan
    “The skin of [the] children’s feet is getting infected,” Khan said. “They also have upset stomachs and gastric problems. All sorts of ailments are affecting them. They are also getting eye infections.”
    When people with diarrhea and upset stomachs feel dehydrated, they will drink dirty water, if it’s the only water available – and expose themselves to still more disease.
    Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [NIAID] says contaminated water can lead to not just one, but many infections.

    “You could get hepatitis, you could get e-coli, you could get salmonella, and you can get dysentery,” he said. “So the possibilities of diarrheal-born diseases are enormous when you have such a catastrophe of this magnitude where you have tens of millions of people displaced in conditions where you don’t have clean water.”
    AND of course people have NOTHING to go back to-like Baba Banaras!

  • Raheel Dogar  On September 26, 2010 at 11:08 am

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who visited Pakistan a week after the unprecedented monsoon rains that started in July 2010 described the scenes that he saw as far worse than the havoc unleashed by the recent Haiti earthquake and the infamous tsunami of 2004 that hit Southeast and South Asia. To some casual listeners that may sound strange because in terms of loss of life the floods in Pakistan claimed much fewer lives: some 2000 as against the hundreds of thousands of deaths that took place at the time of the Haiti earthquake and the Asian tsunami.

    Evaluation of the harm wrought by natural disasters can be controversial, but the UN Secretary General was probably thinking in terms of the hugely greater number of people and area affected by the floods. Some one-fifth of the Pakistan population of 170 million and an area greater than Italy submerged under flood waters. Some eight million people are in need of food, water and shelter. Waterborne diseases can cause considerable loss of life. The Pakistan meteorological office has warned that more rain is on the way. So, the worst is not over. Some people think that the worst is still to come as the gigantic problems of rehabilitating the millions of displaced people will have to be tackled. For a country seriously wanting in natural and educated human resources and notoriously mismanaged by a ruthless and corrupt power elite the future does not augur well at all.

    Beginning in the north and expanding southwards the floods have followed the course and direction of the Indus River as it flows into the Arabian Sea. Not unsurprisingly the response of the government was slow, inefficient and incompetent. In particular the conduct of the president, Asif Ali Zardari husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, shocked many Pakistanis as he stayed away in Europe allegedly taking care of his-ill begotten wealth and investments. The Pakistan military distinguished itself much better. Television channels showed officers and soldiers along with personnel of the UN and other international agencies organizing relief work under very difficult circumstances. The US Air Force provided a fleet of helicopters which have been helping the Pakistan Air Force with dropping of food parcels to people marooned on high spots, roof tops of houses and in water. They also airlifted people in the thousands.

    India offered $ 5 million to which it added another $ 20 million. Pakistan initially hesitated in accepting such help from its arch rival but then sense prevailed or as some say, US pressure compelled Pakistan to respond positively to the Indian gesture. Rabidly anti-Indian circles in Pakistan denounced such a decision. The Taliban came out strongly against accepting US and western aid in general. There is no evidence that people in general backed any such political manoeuvre.

    On the other hand, Islamist organizations known for their extremist agendas and involvement in terrorist activities stepped in with their networks and have been delivering help to the people. Their activities constitute a nightmare scenario for the left-of-centre government of the Pakistan People’s Party, the United States and other western nations who dread that it will strengthen the Taliban movement. The situation currently remains too critical for any involved party to draw full political capital out of the natural calamity which has hit Pakistan. However, as soon as the floods recede and some sort of normality is restored the implications and ramifications of the politics of flood relief will begin to unfold.

    Western media has been reporting that scepticism at both the level of states and among the general public exists as to how to help Pakistan. The notoriety that the Pakistani governments have gained over the years for corruption is proverbial – irrespective of whether elected governments were in power or the military. The distrust is not only about the money of taxpayers in the West ending up in some illicit accounts in Switzerland, France and so on but also about some of it ending up with the Taliban or forces sympathetic to them. A great deal has been recently written by Western analysts and governments about Pakistan playing a double game with regard to the ‘war on terror’. Pakistan has refuted such charges by pointing out that the military has been fighting the Taliban head on since at least May 2009 and has inflicted defeat on them in many theatres: in return suffered thousands of casualties. Notwithstanding such arguments the fact remains that the Pakistani power elite and establishment enjoy the unenviable reputation of being untrustworthy.

    It is to be noted that the UN has continued to raise the level of disaster relief. Beginning with $ 460 million it is now increased it to $ 1 billion. The World Bank has also pledged to increase its loan to Pakistan by a significant proportion. The Pakistan government estimates that the economy has suffered a loss of $ 3 billion in terms of destruction of infrastructure, livestock and crops. For the next three years, Pakistan would be in need of huge amounts of economic help and assistance. Inflation is expected to rise by 20% and the growth rate will go down from 4.5% to 2.5%.

    Some voices have been raised in Pakistan imploring international financial institutions and powerful nations such as the United States, EU and Japan to write off Pakistan’s foreign debt. Pakistan will not be in a position to pay back its accumulated debt of $ 54 billion for a long time. Under international law a state can in situations of economic collapse or bankruptcy suspend its debt obligations. This was done by Argentina in 2001. However, the Pakistani trade union and leftist leaders are demanding a cancellation of the debt by the lenders. It remains to be seen how the world will respond to such a plea.

    In terms of politics, it would be a tragedy if in the aftermath of the flood disaster nothing is done to weed out corruption rampant in the corridors of power. Pakistan has been written off as a failed state by many analysts but the violent conflict with Taliban-Al Qa’eda duo has meant that the western powers have continued to provide military and economic aid to Pakistan. That may continue even afterwards but it cannot be taken for granted forever. Pakistan’s power elite will have to reconsider its policy of confrontation with India which has resulted in three wars and a mini-war in 1999 at Kargil. It could have escalated into a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan.

    It is therefore imperative that under no circumstance the Pakistan military and intelligence services continue to help and protect the Taliban and a host of other extremist Islamist organizations. Some were created to challenge the Indian hold over Kashmir. In November 2008 cadres of one of them, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, were involved in terrorists attacks on India’s financial capital, Mumbai. It nearly led to war between India and Pakistan. International diplomacy plus the fact that both states have nuclear weapons meant that better sense prevailed and all out war could be prevented. Pakistan has to ensure that such an outrage will not be repeated.

    With the economy now badly shattered and millions of Pakistani rendered homeless, hungry and vulnerable to disease and epidemics any continuation of the politics of Islamism and militarism will only result in the total collapse of whatever modicum of law and order remains in tact. From an objective point of view the objective basis for war mongering and patronage of militant Islam has now been completely undermined. Therefore the Pakistani power elite has to radically alter its political agenda and list of priorities.

    The most positive outcome can be the elite realizing that it and the Pakistani nation stand to gain more from economic development than from military adventurism. Investments have to be made in enlightened education instead of indoctrination into Islamism and militarism. The state must also do away with draconian Islamist laws that serve no purpose but to generate an obscurantist and anti-intellectual milieu in which religious and sectarian minorities and women become easy targets for discrimination and persecution. The population explosion in Pakistan has to be brought under control. In 1947 when Pakistan was founded the population of West Pakistan (that is current Pakistan) was only 33.7 million. It is now estimated in the vicinity of 178 million. The best way to achieve birth control is to empower women by providing them with micro-finance and other facilities to start earning an income. Once women begin to work and earn an income independently they also become less readily available to produce children against their will. In Bangladesh such a strategy has been extremely successful and the birth rate has declined dramatically. Pakistan can benefit from such an experiment and with the whole social order now in turmoil the scope for such policy interventions has improved. Pakistan must also evolve a federal structure of government with substantive power devolving to the provinces and to local government. In short, Pakistan must change course drastically before it is too late.

    The writer is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore: Ishtiaq Ahmed

  • Raheel Dogar  On September 26, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    A fine piece G Ayub!

  • Rahim Gul  On September 26, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    The story of Banaras Baba is a true picture of Pukhtoonwali and despite his shattered home he was managing something for his guest in surrounding to serve hi in accordance with the pukhtoon traditions. Story is very impressive especially when a Banaras Baba got required help from Mr H who;s greatness is also beyond any doubts that he did not take credit for his person for this great contribution and named original donors in the West with flood hit areas. However for me beside the story the story teller is very important. Dr Ghayur is the proud son of Pakistan, born in a beautiful valley of Kurram Agency. For us all in Kurram Agency he is the beacon and a symbol that we can claim, in most backward tribal society, our sons have made their way and today participate in world forums. In entire FATA we in Kurram Agency are lucky enough to have highest ratio of education and our sons and daughters have given astonishing results. This mean that our soil is rich and we can have all fruits and foods at our soil which we can utilize for our welfare. But unfortunately this heaven on earth is today a hill for us and for the last three years it is purely a death Vally where pure pukhtoons have been divided on religious grounds and have been put in bloody war against each other. Both waring sides are hostage of few militants with external supports while vast majority of the both sects ask Govt to intervene mercilessly and clear whole Agency of warlords and in murree agreement Govt has committed to support this majority opinion and clear the area. But despite this warlords continue their bloodshed which is further adding to the hates against each other. The only ray of hope if I see is that a person like Dr Ghayur if came forward and asked all in Kurram Agency in the name of Pukhtoonwali to come forward and resolve all outstanding issues in accordance with pukhtoon jirga traditions it will surely add to his credit as a true son of the Vally and will save these nearly a million human beings from a catastrophic future. I, personally, as one of the son of the Vally, a Bangash from village Bushehra, in tehsil Parachinar, upper Kurram Agency, assure you of our support in this sacred cause. I personally most of the time think over these miserable situation but our mouths are too small to talk of such big issues. So you are one of our big mouth, with international recognition therefore it is a time to come forward and call spade a spade. No one else can solve all our issues, only we have to come forward, and make the change, and put our people on the right track. No doubt, Dr Ghayur, you have once tested and with great sincerity you had left the comforts of London to serve your people in Parachinar Hospital but you had a bitter experience and had then left. Even today you might not be finding it easy to change for the best but one thing is clear that these three years sufferings give us a lot of point to prove that this sectarian approach was wrong and is wrong from every angle and Pukhtoonwali is the only solution and respectable way to live. I, personally, once in 1986, had the opportunity to tour entire upper Kurram and our last stop was at your beautiful village Alamsher, when we were talking to people about the menace of sectarianism and its catastrophic effects on our future. Believe me we had encouraging response and all were very much ready to revive the gold old days when despite division on religious grounds, no one was feeling the difference and were participating in mutual religious congregations. So, Sir, no doubt it is quite difficult job but if there is will there is way and I think this is the proper time to pay which we being the true sons of the Vally are bound to pay.

  • Bilawer Khan Jadoon  On August 4, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    nice

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