President Asif Ali Zardari’s son Bilawal has withdrawn from a Pakistan People’s party rally in the UK in an apparent attempt to defuse criticism that the family was neglecting the flood crisis at home in order to launch Bilawal’s political career.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari – who has joined his father on a visit to the UK this week – said in a statement that he would “not even be attending” the PPP rally in Birmingham on Saturday and would instead begin a collection to help repair the damage caused by floods that have ravaged the north of the country and are spreading south.
Dismissing suggestions that he would enter politics in the near future, Mr Bhutto Zardari said he was looking into studying law.
President Zardari has come under fire this week for visiting France and the UK as his countrymen faced the worst floods in 80 years.
Pakistan scrambled to evacuate hundreds of thousands of residents from the path of floods on Thursday as swelling rivers pushed the number of people hit by the disaster above 4m.
Towns and villages in Sindh, Pakistan’s southernmost province, are braced for the arrival of a vast body of water that wreaked havoc in the north-west before deluging Punjab, the country’s breadbasket.
Emergency officials believe at least half a million people could be at risk of flooding this weekend as waters surging from the bloated Indus river sweep across Sindh’s floodplains.
Families fleeing Punjab waded waist-deep through brown water on Thursday, or piled belongings into cars and donkey carts as they trudged through the rain.
“My father is still trapped in his house. My whole village has been inundated,” Abid Hussain, a labourer, told Reuters.
In Sindh, some residents refused to leave their homes, preferring to brave the encroaching water than join the exodus.
Aid workers estimate that at least 1,500 people have been killed, scores of roads and bridges destroyed and countless harvests lost, visiting fresh misery on a country battling a protracted Taliban insurgency.
“There is the risk that many of the dams could break, in which case hundreds of thousands more people would be affected,” said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the United Nations in Islamabad.
Pakistan’s military says it has evacuated more than 75,000 stranded victims, but many survivors complain that they have yet to receive help from the state. Flood water has soaked food stocks in many areas.
The US, which is seeking to overcome widespread anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and to win greater support for its campaign in Afghanistan, has been at the forefront of the international response.