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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pakistan: Obama, Again, Slow to React

Catastrophic flooding has struck Pakistan, and given that the monsoon season is not over, we have yet to witness the full magnitude of this disaster. Meanwhile, however, Ken Ballen, president of Terror Free Tomorrow, in an online column for CNN entitled "In Pakistan floods, U.S. must step into breach" (http://edition.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/08/17/ballen.flood.pakistan.aid/index.html?hpt=C2#fbid=C1TOvJySMhf&wom=false), describes this tragedy and the lack of U.S. involvement:

"One in nine Pakistanis -- some 20 million people -- are already homeless, lacking food or medicine. Health officials warn that a cholera epidemic is likely, with 3½ million children now at risk.

Despite the cataclysmic scale of this disaster, the Obama administration is not responding with the same direct, comprehensive and large-scale effort that the Bush administration undertook in response to the 2005 Pakistani earthquake and the 2004 Asian tsunami."

Mr. Ballen warns that if the U.S. fails to provide timely aid to nuclear-armed Pakistan, which is now home to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, these radical Islamic organizations could well use the opportunity to make inroads among Pakistanis:

"American aid to the flood victims is a clear humanitarian imperative. Some have argued that it is also in the national security interest of the United States to win friends and stabilize the country. This is of particular concern since, according to my contacts in Pakistan and reports in South Asia media, radical Islamist groups allied to al Qaeda are on the front lines in providing direct aid to the flood victims.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa, linked to the terrorists who carried out the 2008 attack in Mumbai, India, has already reportedly established 13 relief camps, with some 2,000 members providing help."

Ballen's report is partially corroborated by Mark Lander in an article entitled "U.S. Strategy in Pakistan Is Upended by Floods" in today's online New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/world/asia/19diplo.html?hp):

"The floods in Pakistan have upended the Obama administration’s carefully honed strategy there, confronting the United States with a vast humanitarian crisis and militant groups determined to exploit the misery, in a country that was already one of its thorniest problems.

While the administration has kept its public emphasis on the relief effort, senior officials are busy assessing the longer-term strategic impact. One official said the disaster would affect virtually every aspect of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, and could have ripple effects on the war in Afghanistan and the broader American battle against Al Qaeda.

. . . .

'If the flood proves to tilt the balance of power in Pakistan, it’s more likely to tilt toward the militants than toward the government,' said Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence official who helped the administration formulate its initial policy for Pakistan and Afghanistan."

However, unlike the Ballen column in CNN, the Lander's New York Times article conveys the impression that U.S. relief efforts are appreciated by Pakistanis:

"In recent days, the United States has sent 15 helicopters, rescuing nearly 6,000 people. On Wednesday, military cargo planes delivered 60,000 pounds of food and other relief supplies, bringing total deliveries to 717,000 pounds. The speed and scale of the effort, officials in both countries said, have helped bolster the checkered American image in Pakistan."

So which of these contradictory accounts is correct? My suggestion: Divide 717,000 pounds of relief supplies among 20 million people and reach your own conclusion.

I would further note that the U.S. has thus far donated $76 million in assistance to Pakistan, which is still less than the cost of the proposed Ground Zero Mosque. In response to yesterday's blog entry, a commenter labeled me a "hatemongerer" (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/08/why-not-give-100-million-for-ground.html); nevertheless, I ask again, shouldn't the $100 million from an "anonymous" donor for the Ground Zero Mosque be used instead to assist Pakistani flood victims?

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