Serious Problems with Misused Aid Funds Report

Aug 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Foreign Media

Saturday’s edition of The Nation included an article that claims that President Zardari has been misusing foreign aid from the 2005 Earthquake. The story has now been picked up by Express Tribune, Dawn, and others. But where did this story come from, and is it reliable?

New Delshi based British reporter Dean Nelson

New Delhi based British reporter Dean Nelson

The story originated with Dean Nelson, the Telegraph‘s South Asia Editor based in New Delhi, when he wrote for the British newspaper on Friday that Zardari ‘misused’ over £300 million in foreign aid for victims of the 2005 earthquake.

The first observation that must be made is that the Telegraph‘s headline is so misleading that one must wonder if the newspaper is being deliberately untruthful for the sake of sensationalism. The idea that Asif Ali Zardari misused any earthquake relief funds is supported by absolutely nothing in Dean Nelson’s article.

Actually, what Dean Nelson writes is problematic on its own right.

First, Mr Nelson’s claim is based on statements by “senior Pakistani officials”. As if taking a cue from our own media, Mr Nelson does not reveal who these supposed officials are – not even what office they allegedly hold.

Second, nowhere in Mr Nelson’s article is there any evidence presented for misuse of funds. What the reporter writes is that some anonymous “officials” (and we’ve seen how reliable anonymous officials can be) have told him that their office suffered budget cuts.

But even Mr Nelson’s own article contradicts this fact when the only named official, Finance Secretary Salman Siddique explained that the issue is not foreign aid money being diverted, but that ERRA had requested extra funds that were not available due to the country’s fiscal deficit. As for foreign aid funds, “No cuts were imposed last year,” the Finance Secretary stated.

Mr Dean Nelson, who goes by the name, ‘DelhiDean’ on Twitter, is a curious fellow. His recent Twitter feed takes swipes at Pakistani politicians, saying Salmaan Taseer is “sucking up” and calling Zardari “toast”. Reading his off-the-cuff statements and the sensational headline that is not supported by his reporting, one one cannot help but think that Mr Dean Nelson has a political angle.

In fact, reading past articles by Mr Dean Nelson leaves one with the distinct impression that he cannot write objectively about Pakistan – certainly not about Zardari. Mr Nelson’s article of 5 August is titled, “Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Born to rule Pakistan, but destined to fail” that repeats a string of anti-PPP talking points including the old story that Zardari “purged” Benazir supporters from the party leadership. Much like his Pakistani colleague Shaheen Sehbai, Mr Dean Nelson seems to have traded his press pass for a political badge and a crystal ball.

DelhiDean, as he calls himself, has a much different attitude towards India, though, writing that

To succeed, Britain will need to be reminded how much we already owe India, the part it played in making us what we are, and why the “shared history” we have is much more equally shared than those who obsess about immigration realise.

It is sad to see a reporter of Dean Nelson’s stature resort to blatantly political posturing in a nation which he does not live and has no connection. While he writes that the UK ‘owes’ India, he discourages people from helping flood victims in Pakistan because of a personal dislike of the nation’s president. He let his own political feelings cloud his judgment, and he called attention to unsubstantiated rumours with sensational headlines to ensure that he got more attention than those who are suffering.

But there is one thing more sad than this, which is that our own media has picked up this story and repeated it without asking the obvious questions. Who are these “officials” that claimed funds have not been released? Where are these funds that were supposedly misused? And why is a British reporter based in New Delhi writing sensational political articles to discourage humanitarian relief in Pakistan?

That’s the real story.

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