- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Obama administration on Thursday pledged an additional $60 million in aid to Pakistan as the South Asian nation grapples with the devastation caused by its worst floods in 80 years.

About $92 million of a total $150 million provided by the U.S. will go to the United Nation’s appeal for $460 million in global flood aid, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a special session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The U.N. fund aims to provide food, shelter and clean water to more than 6 million flood victims over the next three months.

Speaking at the Asia Society in New York on Thursday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi expressed gratitude for U.S. assistance, while imploring the international community to help his country.

“Thank you, America. … There is a recognition in Pakistan of what the U.S. government has done,” Mr. Qureshi said. “You have shown the world that you are a caring nation.”

U.S. officials and analysts say the floods have provided an opportunity to improve the U.S.‘ image in Pakistan, which a recent Pew survey found to be among the worst in the world.

“Our goal … is to be the first with the most help,” Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said at the Asia Society.

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, described the U.S. commitment as “immediate and intense … and enduring.”

The Pakistani government has been criticized by Pakistanis for its slow response to the floods.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari himself has been under fire for refusing to cancel visits to London and Paris earlier this month as floods submerged one-fifth of his country and affected 20 million people.

Mr. Qureshi said his government had been paralyzed by shock, but added that it has the political will to deal with the challenge.

Mr. Qureshi said the government would reprioritize its budgetary allocations. A significant portion of Pakistan’s budget is set aside for defense procurements to counter the perceived threat posed by its eastern neighbor, India, with which it has fought three wars since achieving independence in 1947.

The international response to the floods has been tepid compared to recent disasters such as January’s earthquake in Haiti. Mr. Qureshi attributed this to a “trust gap.”

He assured international donors that Islamabad is willing to put into place mechanisms to ensure accountability and transparency so they can have the confidence that their money is being well spent.

Officials expressed worry about the flood’s toll on Pakistan’s economy and a possible outbreak of waterborne diseases.

The floods have affected many parts of the country, such as the Swat Valley, that as recently as last year were battlefields in the war against the Taliban.

Moreover, the fact that Pakistan borders Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are fighting extremists, also is weighing on the minds of U.S. officials.

Mr. Zardari on Thursday said militants could exploit the chaos created by the flooding, adding that they might even take children orphaned by the floods and train them to be terrorists, according to an Associated Press report.

Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, says the flood raises the prospect for social upheaval, growing lawlessness and general instability that extremist groups will almost certainly seek to exploit.

“The concern is that as people become increasingly desperate from lack of food, water, and shelter, their faith in the Pakistani government’s ability to govern and protect them will decline precipitously, and they will be increasingly vulnerable to the extremists’ ideology and agenda, which ultimately involves overthrowing the government,” Ms. Curtis said.

Robert M. Hathaway, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says that scenario poses a serious policy challenge for both Islamabad and Washington.

“It’s also an argument, one of many, for speeding up the delivery of essential emergency supplies to those who have found their lives turned upside down,” Mr. Hathaway said.

Mr. Holbrooke said he was not oblivious to the strategic and political implications of the situation.

“Even if Pakistan was located anywhere in the world we would be responding that way … but Pakistan is uniquely important to our own interests,” Mr. Holbrooke said.

He said the Obama administration is, for now, focused on helping Pakistanis and will “sort out all the other implications later.”

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