Pakistan: The Desperation Cards

The Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer distributes Watan cards to flood victims. Image by Flickr user Salmaan Taseer. CC BY-NC-SA

The story of mismanagement of the donations collected for flood relief in Pakistan has been widely reported. Not only that, the methods of distribution of reliefs and utilizing those funds for other purposes have also been questioned. One such controversial campaign is the “Watan Cards” (literally National Cards or Country Cards) program, under which VISA powered electronic debit cards are to be issued and distributed among the flood victims. The solution may sound very simple, but there are a lot of complications and difficulties involved.

Not just the usability, the issuance of the cards has been troublesome too. Taha Kehar at Pak Tea House writes:

In the month of October, there have been various controversies surrounding the issuance of Watan Cards. It has become exceedingly difficult to acquire a Watan Card. Mob tendencies have intensified as a result of which the constabularies have been forced to take extreme action. The events that led to the death of one man when police personnel issued a baton-charge in the Shehr Sultan region of South Punjab, exemplifies the extremities of such a reaction.

And then to worsen the situation, there had been the reports of sale of Watan Cards as Tazeen informs at The Pak Spectator blog:

Sources in Nadra said a careful examination of the ATM transaction through Watan Cards showed that in several cases, cash was withdrawn from ATM machines in big cities which were far away from the districts of persons to whom the cards were issued.

The sources said a large number of Watan Cards were sold and the government had started a high-level probe into the matter. There were reports that many people sold their Watan Cards for Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 in Rahimyar Khan, Muzaffargarh, Jacobabad and other interior Sindh districts.

Also, there have been reports and buzz in the social media about the provincial governments blocking the Watan Cards to use for their own purpose. Marvi Sirmed, a writer, urges for a proper investigation:

I invite some of the holy anchors/reporters to investigate why Punjab MNAs are trying to block Watan Cards, like they did with BISP forms?

It seems that most of the projects that have been initiated for the flood victims are somehow benefiting the stakeholders involved. If we even consider that issuing VISA powered, ATM enabled Watan cards to the flood affected people, who hardly have access to ATM machines, is a good idea, we have to admit that its management was disastrous.

The worse thing is that the desperation among the flood victims is so huge that it's making them do just anything for the food and relief goods.

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