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Pakistan in 2010: Blood, Flood and Drones

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It's that time of the year again, when a revisiting of past events and happenings unveils a compact picture of a person, place, or a country. The year 2010 will be remembered as one of the deadliest in the Pakistani history. Impoverished and terror-stricken Pakistanis found no respite and nary a sigh of relief as they braved one disaster after another. The unprecedented Monsoon floods grabbed international headlines given their enormity but thousands of Pakistanis lost their lives, limbs, and livelihoods in totally unrelated happenings. It was suicide bombings, drone attacks, epidemics, and poverty that dealt a severe blow to Pakistan this year.

Blood

Suicide bombings rang in the year when 115 people lost their lives to seven suicide bombings in January. July was the deadliest with 165 deaths; 151 people have died in suicide attacks this month. This brings the number of total casualties to 1,275.

Drones

Predator drone attacks more than doubled this year with a total of 116 attacks. According to research by the New America Foundation, the lower estimate of deaths was 558 as of Dec. 17. There has been three more attacks ever since with dozens of more deaths. The same report puts the total number of civilian deaths in these attacks to be as high as 10%. Brookings Institution, however, estimated in 2009 that up to 90% of those killed by drones were civilians; it has yet to release data about 2010. There is a tacit approval of drone attacks by the Pakistani government and military if one believes the leaked cables. Common Pakistanis, however, have grown wary of this strategy especially when they hear reports of women and children being killed.

Floods

The worst tragedy in 2010 was the massive flooding that inundated nearly one-fifth of the country and displaced millions of people. Nearly 2,000 people lost their lives while the material damage ran into billions of dollars. Flood waters have since receded and people have returned to their homes but they are facing a new disaster. With everything washed away and with little financial support, millions are contemplating on whether to remain in villages and face hunger or migrate to cities where chances of sustenance are greater. There has already been a massive growth in slums in cities like Karachi that is posing greater challenges for the resources-strapped civic authorities.

Epidemics

Mass migrations to cities and stagnating flood waters proved breeding grounds for the spread of diseases. Pakistan faced one of the worst epidemic of dengue fever in late October and November when thousands fell victim to Aedes aegypti. Death toll remained in the low 30s but infestation spread to all parts of Pakistan, triggering fears that the epidemic might be worse next year.

Pakistan reported the highest number of polio infections in a decade with 126 new cases; 64 of these were from the lawless tribal areas where accessibility remains a major hurdle.

Economy

With inflation at 15% and unemployment rate in the vicinity, there was not a chance for common Pakistanis to gain financial stability. Nearly one-fourth of the population lives below poverty line while just as many sustain a little above. Massive wealth disparities and perennial corruption have further aggravated the situation.

Power cuts grew worse in 2010 and the onset of winters was heralded by significant reduction in natural gas supplies. Entire industrial units have been shut down due to lack of power and gas and thousands of workers have been laid off. Pakistani economic managers are hoping to secure a $11.3 billion SBA with the IMF though they are clueless on whether they will be able to meet the demands of imposing new taxes.

Politics

Pakistan remained a democratic country in 2010 though the powerful military still rules supreme albeit in a clandestine demeanor. The present regime remains deeply unpopular with allegations of corruption but opposition parties have stayed away from launching any offensives. There has been increased political activity of late but it does not appear to threaten the present setup, at least for the time being.

Sports

Pakistani women cricket team won gold at the Asian Games and there was significant celebration over this rare feat. Their male counterparts, however, failed to bring any laurels but were embroiled in one controversy after another. Charges of match fixing loomed large over the national cricket team and three apex players might face bans from the ICC. The cricket team is currently in New Zealand where they have lost two consecutive 20/20 matches to their hosts.

A gold in men's field hockey at the Asian Games ended the year on a high. In tennis, Pakistan's Aisam-ul-Haq teamed up with Indian Rohan Bopanna and they made it to the finals of US Open men's doubles. Victory remained elusive but they created a new history especially when taken in context of decades old rivalry between the neighbor states.

Media

Fourteen Pakistani journalists lost their lives in the line of duty in 2010, which, tied with Mexico, is the highest number in the world. There are dozens of TV channels working in Pakistan with a significant number of them dealing exclusively with news. Except for reporting on matters related to the powerful military establishment, Pakistani media is largely considered to be free. The quality of programming, however, leaves much to be desired. Prime time news shows, whether of liberal or conservative channels, look more like a circus and a football game than hard-hitting journalism.

Pakistanis have few new year hopes and many do not expect their fortunes to rise in 2011. All they want is peace and a little financial stability. Here's hoping that they will see some light at the end of the tunnel.