A Pakistani girl displaced by floods wearing bangles and sunglasses poses outside a tent as she celebrates Eid Al Fitr during the first day of the religious festival at a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Karachi on Saturday. Muslims in Pakistan were celebrating Eid with simplicity and sobriety as millions continued to suffer from misery unfolded by worst-ever floods. The devastating floods have left 10 million people without shelter nationwide, according to UN figures, with UN spokesman Maurizio Giuliano describing it as "one of the worst humanitarian disasters in UN history". Image Credit: AFP

At every turn, countries, charitable foundations, wealthy individuals and even schoolchildren are refusing to give the Pakistani government money to deal with the floods that have ruined as many as 20 million lives.

The European Union has angered Islamabad by giving its aid money to western and Pakistani non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Leading international agencies and other countries have followed suit or sent relief goods rather than cash. Pakistanis are scandalised and embarrassed that their politicians, bureaucrats and generals have fostered so much corruption for so long that nobody trusts them to deal fairly with the victims of the floods.

Yet early actions indicate the sceptics are right. Feudal landlords and politicians have been accused, according to news reports, of breaching levees to save their lands or diverting relief goods to their constituents.

Since the flooding began five weeks ago, neither President Asif Ali Zardari nor Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has sought to assemble a truly transparent mechanism that would receive and spend aid money.

In contrast, Pakistan's army, central government, four provincial governments and National Assembly have each set up separate flood relief funds — to which few Pakistanis are contributing because nobody trusts them.

With international financial institutions and the US government assembling at least $3 billion (Dh11 billion) to help rebuild Pakistan's devastated infrastructure, it is time for Pakistan's rulers to get their act together and make efforts to restore withering public trust.

Pakistan's civilian government needs a trust fund along the lines of the one funding the Afghan government, army and police.

Such a fund would not only monitor donated cash but help the government put together a non-political reconstruction effort. It could give a voice to the competent Pakistani technocrats, NGO workers and economists that the government has so far ignored.

Such a reconstruction trust fund could be run by the World Bank and other international agencies. It should be overseen on the ground by independent Pakistani economists and social welfare figures. Pakistan's bureaucracy and army, who would be implementing the plans, can have seats at the table, but they should not have veto power over how the money comes in or is spent.

The fund could also help plan long-term economic reforms such as expanding the tax base (only 2.3 million of the 170 million Pakistanis pay tax) and insisting that landlords pay income tax — this revenue is desperately needed, but no government has had the political will to implement such reforms.

Political bickering

No doubt, the ruling elite will cry that this would be intolerable for an independent nation and nuclear power. But the truth is that Pakistan lost its sovereignty a long time ago, when the ruling elite abandoned the poor and lost interest in economic development in favour of foreign loans.

Further, the dismal response to the flood damage has eroded the people's trust in government on a scale nearly matching 1971, when a typhoon in the eastern half of Pakistan drew no response from the western Pakistani elite, and the ruling elite lost East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh.

It is urgent that steps be taken immediately; already, a major fight has erupted between Islamabad and the four provinces over how to spend relief money.

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif claims that Islamabad is not providing funds to his province, Punjab; the poorest province, Balochistan, which was racked by insurgency even before it suffered enormous flood damage, is not receiving relief goods on a scale going to the other provinces. The northern-most province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has perhaps suffered the most infrastructure damage, but its calls for long-term aid have gone unanswered, according to reports.

Meanwhile, the longtime politician Altaf Hussain, an acolyte of the military whose party controls Karachi, has called for a "French Revolution" styled uprising and a military-led government. And amid all the destruction, the Pakistani Taliban is on the move. Separatists in Balochistan are taking advantage of the chaos to mount an assassination campaign against non-Balochs.

The political infighting and threats will worsen as the waters recede and haphazard reconstruction starts. Reconstruction left to the government will be dominated by the interests of local politicians and feudal lords. A rational, fair plan is needed to cope with the massive scale of destruction. The threat of epidemics among flood victims looms.

The Obama administration has done sterling work in its contributions and in prompting the international community to do more. Now, it should help Pakistan plan for the future.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, is the author of Descent Into Chaos: The US and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.