- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pakistan’s worst flash floods in decades, which have left more than 1,500 people dead, have provided an opportunity for the Obama administration to repair the tattered image of the U.S. with a crucial ally.

U.S. officials on Wednesday spelled out the administration’s efforts to help those affected by the natural disaster.

“We’ve been working hard over the past year to build a partnership with the people of Pakistan, and this is an essential element of that partnership: reaching out and helping each other in times of need,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The U.S. has committed $10 million in aid and sent humanitarian relief workers to Pakistan.

Six Army aircraft — four CH-47 Chinook helicopters and two UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters — arrived at Ghazi air base in Pakistan on Wednesday. The aircraft are lifting hundreds of people out of danger and providing critical supplies.

The helicopters were sent at Pakistan’s request and will be operated in partnership with the government in Islamabad.

A Pew Global Attitudes Project survey released last week found that President Obama received the lowest ratings in Pakistan than in any other nation polled this year. Only 17 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable opinion of the U.S. and 61 percent had a negative view of Americans.

In a sign of respect to Muslim sentiments, the Obama administration is providing hundreds of thousands of halal meals to those affected by the floods.

The U.S. also has provided boats to help with search-and-rescue missions, water purification units and temporary bridges to replace those damaged by the floods.

“This represents just the start of our efforts,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We will continue to help Pakistan in the days and weeks ahead.”

In providing relief for flood victims, U.S. officials are mindful that if they fail, they will create a space to be filled by militant groups.

The charitable arms of militant groups in Pakistan often outpaced the Islamabad government in relief efforts after a 7.6. magnitude earthquake in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir in 2005. As a consequence, the militants’ popularity soared.

Some relief workers privately express concerns that such groups could try once again to exploit the situation if it is not properly managed by Pakistan’s government.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari earned the ire of some in his country by going ahead with trips to Paris and London this week despite the tragedy unfolding in his homeland.

Meanwhile, a Taliban suicide bomber struck in Peshawar on Wednesday near the center of the flooding. The chief of a paramilitary police force and his three bodyguards were killed in the attack.

Mrs. Clinton condemned the attack, saying such violence “is abhorrent at any time, but especially at this time of crisis for the Pakistani people.”

More than 3 million people have been affected by the floods, which struck last week.

According to relief and rescue workers on the ground, thousands of people are trapped and an unknown number are missing.

Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the floods provide “another opportunity to demonstrate our concern for the Pakistani people, as in the earthquake” in 2005 that killed nearly 80,000 people.

Chinooks that carried aid to quake victims were fondly dubbed “Angels of Mercy” by Pakistanis.

Mr. Cohen said Pakistanis’ opinion of the U.S. improved as a result of that assistance.

The U.S. has a history of working with the Pakistani government to respond to natural disasters.

“In the aftermath of the earthquake in 2005, the United States provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to help millions of survivors. Today, we’re continuing that tradition,” Mrs. Clinton said.