- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | The influx of foreign aid after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake significantly increased survivors’ trust in the West, according to new research that also suggests hard-line Islamist charities did little to help despite the publicity they generated.

The research is one of the first empirical studies of the effect of foreign emergency relief in Pakistan. It also raises questions about whether the ongoing U.S. relief mission for the victims of this summer’s devastating floods in the country could also alter Pakistani perceptions about America.

In short: Does helping out people in a crisis make them like you?

Some experts doubt that foreign aid does much to help perceptions of America, much less make a lasting change. They often argue that anti-American sentiment is simply too entrenched in Pakistan and Afghanistan to be eroded by charity alone.

“There was skepticism and that is why we wanted to test it,” said Tahir Andrabi, professor of economics at Pomona College in California and the co-author of the research.

“We came up with a conclusion that aid did affect hearts and minds in Kashmir, and significantly. I don’t think these people will forget,” said Mr. Andrabi, who shared the study with the Associated Press before it was made public.

The paper will be presented at the University of California and the Center for Global Development in Washington this month. It was funded by grants from the World Bank, the National Academy of Sciences and the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.

The magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck Oct. 8, 2005, killed more than 70,000 people and destroyed more than 600,000 homes, 6,500 schools, 800 clinics and hospitals, and more than 3,700 miles of road.

Pledges of aid from abroad totaled $6.7 billion, with at least $200 million coming from the United States, which gave one of the largest and quickest responses. As it is doing in the floods, the U.S. military provided heavy-lift helicopters to ferry supplies and rescue stranded people. It also established a fully staffed army field hospital.

Mr. Andrabi spent two weeks training a team of 70 researchers before dispatching them to Kashmir last year. They surveyed 28,000 households in 126 randomly selected villages in four rural districts of Kashmir affected by the quake. They were asked what aid groups they remember coming and other general questions.

Around 2,800 of them were chosen for a much more detailed questionnaire on trust in foreigners, ability of different races to work together and other topics. Polls by the respected Pew Research Center typically question about 2,000 people in Pakistan for a national survey.

Mr. Andrabi linked his data to where people lived in relation to the fault line, where there was more destruction and hence more international aid groups helping out. The research clearly shows that people’s trust in foreigners increases the closer they lived to the fault.

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