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The militants may themselves be hindered by the flooding — it’s hard to drive a car bomb somewhere if the bridge is gone. But they are smaller and more decentralized groups than military units, and eased army pressure could give them even more flexibility, analysts said.

“I think the militants can rest assured they won’t be facing any big attacks,” said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Pakistani journalist and noted expert on the northwest. “The priority is the flood, but the army also cannot be unmindful of the threat from the militants. They have to try to strike a balance.”

Yousafzai also noted there have been no U.S. missile strikes in the tribal regions during the flooding. The missile campaign is deeply unpopular among Pakistanis who by and large tend to be anti-American.

The U.S. doesn’t discuss the covert, CIA-led program, so it’s not clear whether the flooding has anything to do with the halt in strikes, which have decreased over the last two months anyway. But if the U.S. were to resume firing missiles at such a sensitive time, it could erase any gains it has made in public opinion because of its aid efforts, Yousafzai said.

The longer-term effect of the floods could be a further weakening of the Pakistani government’s credibility.

Already, many flood victims have complained about the slow pace of aid efforts. The disappointment in the civilian leadership was most evident when Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left for a trip to Europe amid the flood crisis.

In the battle for hearts and minds, Islamist groups — some with alleged ties to armed militants — have stepped up, providing food, shelter and other assistance to flood victims.

Earlier this week in Charsadda district, volunteers with Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation used boats or trudged through mud-filled lanes and deep waters to carry rice meals to far flung villages in the northwest’s Charsadda district. The foundation is alleged to have links to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.

In Shabara village, which stank from the dead carcasses of animals stuck in destroyed sugarcane and cornfields, 25-year-old Imranullah Khan and his fellow volunteers were hailed as heroes.

“This young man his fellows rescued our children and saved us from starvation in this marooned village,” elderly villager Bakht Wali said.


Associated Press writers Ashraf Khan in Sukkur, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, and Zarar Khan in Shabara contributed to this report.