Pakistan troops evacuate thousands in flood disaster

Pakistani troops, spearheading relief efforts in the worst floods in 80 years, evacuated several thousand people in two provinces overnight after flood waters burst through river embankments, an official said on Sunday.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s civilian government has been overwhelmed by the biggest floods in 80 years which have killed over 1 600 people, disrupted 12-million lives and ruined many crops vital for the agriculture-based economy.

Pakistan’s military, which has maintained a dominant role in foreign and security policy even during civilian rule, is at the forefront of rescue and relief efforts, as it has done in previous crises in Pakistan.

Saleh Farooqui, director general of the National Disaster Management Authority in Sindh province, told Reuters up to 10 000 people were evacuated overnight in Punjab province, and several thousand in Sindh. Rescue efforts are still under way.

Zardari drew heavy criticism for leaving the country for officials visits in Europe during the crisis. He has said the prime minister was handling the crisis and reporting developments to him.

Even though relief efforts may have improved the military’s standing, and widened the perception that Pakistani civilian governments are too weak and inefficient to cope with disasters, analysts say a takeover bid is highly unlikely.

The army is busy fighting Taliban insurgents and does not want to be strapped with Pakistan’s enormous problems — from costly rebuilding after the floods to the struggle to attract foreign investment in a troubled economy to widespread poverty.

“I don’t think they are willing to dump Zardari,” said Kamran Bokhari, Regional Director, Middle East and South Asia at global intelligence firm Stratfor.

“The current army leadership … is very clear that there is a war that needs to be waged.”

Floodwaters have roared down from as far away as Afghanistan and India through the north-west to the agricultural heartland of Punjab and on to southern Sindh along a trail more than 1 000km long.

Heavy rain is expected to lash the country again raising the prospect that more homes and crops will be swept away.

Many people are still stranded. Others have been evacuated from their villages but are living out in the open, with little food or drinking water.

Flooding has also taken a toll over the border in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, where rain was hampering rescue and relief efforts. Flash floods have killed at least 132 people in the Himalayan region of Ladakh.

Mudslides engulfed a town in north-west China on Sunday, killing at least 80 people and leaving 2 000 residents missing as rescue teams dug through crushed homes and readied a blast to dislodge debris blocking a river. – Reuters

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