Pakistan flood victims slam Zardari 'joy ride' in Europe
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zadari came under renewed fire Tuesday for visiting France and Britain while up to 3.2 million of his people suffer from the worst floods in decades.
Devastating monsoon rains have killed up to 1,500 people and washed away entire villages in the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, submerging farmland, drowning livestock and now spreading across much of the country.
Zardari, who is widely unpopular at home and whose public engagements are often limited, came under flak for failing to scrap summits in Britain and Paris to confront the miseries at home.
"Why did Zardari embark on a visit to France and Britain when his own people are in great distress and shock?" asked Murad Khan in Majuky Faqirabad, one of the worst affected villages in the northwest.
"We are facing an awful situation and the president should not have left the country," said Murad.
Government assistance has yet to materialise in Murad's village, where witnesses said most of the homes had been destroyed and at least 100 people were missing.
Survivors are living in desperate conditions under open skies or sheltering from heavy rains in mosques without clean drinking water and food, as fears grow of a public health disaster.
"Two young girls in my immediate neighbourhood drowned in the flood waters," hit out 40-year-old Sher Khan, also in Majuky.
"Zardari should visit the flood-hit areas and take steps for welfare of the stranded people instead of taking joy rides to France and UK."
Zardari is not all-powerful in Pakistan, where the military still retains massive political influence and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has taken on more day-to-day authority over government affairs.
But initial opposition to his visit, over remarks from British Prime Minister David Cameron that elements within Pakistan export terrorism, has given way to outrage among flood victims as the crisis worsened.
"How can a man who wasn't even sincere to his wife think of our welfare?" said Maryam Jan, referring to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Rawalpindi in 2007.
Zardari, who is frequently referred to by his nickname "Mr 10 Percent," a reference to the corruption allegations that have dogged his career, became president in 2008 after Bhutto's murder.
Zardari met French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday and on Tuesday was scheduled to visit a 16th century chateau owned by Zardari's family in Normandy before travelling to Britain for the more sensitive leg of his tour.
Relations between London and Islamabad soured last week when Cameron said Pakistan must not "look both ways" in secretly promoting violent extremism while pretending to seek regional stability.
Pakistan's foreign office summoned Britain's high commissioner to Islamabad for a dressing down over Cameron's remarks in arch-rival India, which aroused considerable criticism in the local media and among the public.
Aid officials said clean drinking water and sanitation were urgently needed in northwestern Pakistan to stop disease spreading after the country's worst floods in 80 years.
Pakistan's meteorological service forecast rain of up to 200 millimetres (eight inches) in the next weeks across the northwest, Pakistani-administered Kashmir, the central province of Punjab and Sindh in the south.
© 2010 AFP