Floods in Pakistan: Where is the ‘International Community’ for the imperialized zones of the world-system?

The world’s brief concern for the plight of more than 35 million Pakistanis deprived of their homes, livelihoods and dignity by this summer’s unprecedented monsoon-related floods was summed up in late August by a suitably passionate video appeal by Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Gutierrez. He implored the ‘international community’ to step up and take responsibility; as he rightly noted, Pakistan has contributed a pittance to the global emissions that drive climate change, and it is not ‘just’ for the country’s long suffering people to be left isolated.

Of course the UN does not deploy terms like empire and reparations, which a truly meaningful message would have contained. Mr. Gutierrez subsequently travelled to Pakistan on September 8, presumably to try and sustain what little media and donor attention the floods had garnered. As it turned out, Queen Elizabeth II passed away on the same day. Unsurprisingly, the imperial monarch’s death became a global concern overnight, while Pakistan’s colonial peripheries faded even further from the public eye. Let alone other bilateral and multilateral donors, the UN itself has to date disbursed only a small fraction of the US$160 million that it promised to raise for flood relief in late August.

A spade, as the proverbial saying goes, ought to be called a spade. Over the past two decades, at least some of the underlying structural causes of global warming and climate change have been identified and articulated, time and again, most notably at gatherings of the world’s richest and most powerful people. But even where emissions targets are agreed, the biggest polluters – western imperialist powers – are simply not doing enough. There is now very little chance that we will contain warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and as the Pakistan example demonstrates, there will be more and more hell to pay for the historically imperialized zones of the world-system.

Of course, there is much that is not even acknowledged, nay, spoken of, within the so-called ‘international community’. Like the fact that our political-economic system, the global regime of capital accumulation, is based on the deliberate expropriation of working people and the natural resources that sustain them. In Pakistan, the rest of South Asia and much of postcolonial Africa/Latin America, there is no forest, water body, landed plain or mountainous highland that is safe from violent grabs by a nexus that comprises local big men, state functionaries, ‘development’ practitioners, powerful states (western and increasingly non-western powers like China) and multinational corporations.

That more than half of Pakistan is inundated certainly has to do with unprecedented monsoon rains, particularly in the ethnic peripheries of Sindh and Balochistan. But the fallouts of mega infrastructure like dams, canals and drains, made through WB and ADB monies, and imbued with British-era colonial engineering logics motivated by the desire to conquer nature, are plain to see. As is the fact that real estate moguls and big construction lobbies are running riot across the country, thereby further eroding already fragile eco-systems upon which millions of people rely for their livelihoods. As Rosa Luxemburg said: ‘A natural economy… confronts the requirements of capitalism at every turn with rigid barriers. Capitalism must therefore always and everywhere fight a battle of annihilation against every historical form of natural economy that it encounters’.

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COVID in Pakistan, the Role of Middle-Classes and the Unprecedented Demand for a New Social Contract

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A conversation with and Dr. Juvaria Jafri and Dr. Aasim Sajjad.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is Professor of Political Economy at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University and a founder of the Awami Workers Party (AWP).  His research has focused on state theory, informality, colonial history, rise of the middle classes and social movements in Pakistan. His latest book is ‘The Politics of Common Sense: State, Society and Culture in Pakistan’.

 Juvaria Jafri is a Lecturer in International Political Economy at City University. Her research is on financial development in Pakistan, including inclusive finance, fintech, and impact investing strategies. Her latest co-edited book is ‘Geofinance between Political and Financial Geographies: A Focus on the Semi-Periphery of the Global Financial System.’

Introduction

The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing countries is still unfolding. While many countries have managed to achieve some stability in eliminating the spread of the crisis, others are struggling on various fronts. In South Asia, India has received much global attention owing to the violence of a hasty lockdown which was imposed without warning and an accompanying social safety net. Other countries in the region including Bangladesh, Srilanka and Nepal also continue to grapple with the existential question of how to ensure that contagion control does not come at the expense of destroying livelihoods. 

In this interview we focus on the situation in Pakistan. We invited Aasim Sajjad and Juvaria Jafri to address some questions related to the current situation in Pakistan. The following four questions were designed to provide a glimpse of how the pandemic is impacting the existing socio-economic structure of the Pakistani economy particularly focusing on class inequality, fin-tech as a potential solution and the activist and citizen-led first historic demand for a long-term welfare package. 

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