By William Oddie, 16 August
President Asif Ali Zardari is still being heavily criticised in Pakistan for preferring to stay here for over a week after the floods devastated his country, among other things to have a chat with David Cameron at Chequers. I hope their conversations were worthwhile, and that Mr Cameron in particular said what needed to be said. I assume he promised aid for flood relief; and I trust that he stood by his absolutely valid criticism of Pakistan’s ambiguity over Islamist terrorism.
There is, however, one thing a British Prime Minister would at one time have said which I rather doubt that Mr Cameron even mentioned. I cannot imagine Mr Gladstone (if you can perform the considerable feat of the imagination needed to transport the G.O.M. to Chequers in August 2010) failing to protest vigorously at the rampant persecution of Christianity in Pakistan.
He would have gone into some detail. He would undoubtedly have mentioned the failure of the public authorities (a failure amounting to complicity) to protect the burning alive of eight people, including two children, in what Aid to the Church in Need describe as “one of the bloodiest attacks against Christians in the country’s history”. They died in August last year, when nearly 3,000 people rampaged through the Christian quarter of Gojra city in the Punjab province.
President Zardari is not likely to do much for the Christians, however. The 1.6 per cent of Christians are among the poorest in even that poor country: Mr Zardari is thought to be among the five richest men in Pakistan, with an estimated net worth of US$1.8 billion. Furthermore, the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, his late wife’s father, was one of those began the process of transforming Pakistan by the introduction of ever more stringently Islamic laws. The blasphemy laws, in particular, are used to make it almost impossible for Christians to express themselves in public without appearing un-Islamic, a legal offence with the most deadly consequences. Did Mr Cameron, as Prime Minister of a Christian country, say anything (as Mr Gladstone would certainly have done) about the blasphemy laws?
Those “rampaging mobs” who a year ago were burning Catholics alive may well be among the unfortunates who have lost everything in the floods. That will certainly not have stopped Christians from responding generously to their needs now: we are to “love our enemies” even through gritted teeth. What needs to be explained, though, is the generally grossly inadequate reaction of the international community to the vast needs of the flood victims.
One reason has to be what can only be described as the dysfunctional nature of the Pakistani state (of which its failure to protect minorities is one symptom). Quite simply, nobody believes the money will get to those who need it. After the earthquakes five years ago, the chairman of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) was accused of embezzlement, as were many ERRA officials and army officers of demanding bribes for compensation funds to be handed over to survivors.
In this increasingly Islamist society, corruption is unbridled, the public authorities grossly incompetent, and persecution of all religious minorities rampant and vicious. This non-existence of a decent, tolerant and properly functioning state bodes ill for the flood victims. I wonder if Mr Cameron said anything to Mr Zardari about his ideas for a Big Society; on reflection, perhaps he might just have thought it a little tactless.