In an interview with Indian news channel NDTV, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi described the offer of aid, made last week, as a “very welcome initiative” which the government of Pakistan has agreed to accept, after taking some time to decide.
But it would have been better to say “thanks, but no thanks,” according to Liaqat Baloch, secretary general of Pakistan’s second-largest religious party, the Jamaat-e-Islami.
“Pakistan has many disputes with India, with reference to Kashmir, and the Indian Army engaging in brutality in occupied Kashmir,” he says. “In the past, when Pakistan tried to support India after their natural disasters, India never accepted. Therefore it would be better if [our government] refused the aid with a big thank you.”
Al Khidmet foundation, Jamaat-e-Islami’s charitable wing, has been one of the most visible aid organizations in the flood-affected areas.
The two countries have made efforts in recent months to repair bilateral relations, which took a plunge following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. India blames those attacks on Pakistan-backed militants. The two countries have fought three full-scale wars, most recently in 1999.
The United States had urged Pakistan to accept India’s offer of aid earlier this week. When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his Pakistani counterpart to offer his condolences following the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history, it was an event widely reported in the Pakistan media.
“In such times of natural disasters, all of South Asia should rise to the occasion and extend every possible help to the people of Pakistan affected by the tragedy,” Mr. Singh said, according to a statement released by his office.
According to Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s Herald magazine, the amount of aid pledged is “symbolic, but its effect is immense. It’s a good confidence building measure between the two countries.”
But, he warns, Pakistan’s religious parties will try to spin the move “as a sign of weakness.”
“They will see it as a capitulation to India, that our own government is so weak we have been forced to accept help from the historic enemy,” says Mr. Alam.
Mosharraf Zaidi, a columnist for Pakistan’s The News, termed the decision brave: “It’s a tremendous gesture, very mature. India should be commended for donating it and Pakistan should be commended for accepting it.”
“The whole idea in an emergency is you’ll have the Jamat ud Dawas [the charitable wing of banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba] and you’ll have competing powers working almost in tandem to support people. It shows that no matter what our value systems, we have to work together right now,” he adds.
Some 20 million people are affected by Pakistan’s worst flooding in recent memory; Pakistan’s government estimates around 1,600 deaths and millions homeless or displaced. The United Nations appealed to the international community to donate $460 million in emergency assistance last week, and has met half of that goal. Yesterday the US increased its flood aid to Pakistan from $80 million to $150 million.