US uses crisis to show commitment

Experts say disastrous floods in Pakistan have given the US a rare chance to help reverse the negative opinion.

Reuters August 06, 2010

WASHINGTON: Experts say disastrous floods in Pakistan have given the US a rare chance to help reverse the negative opinion of America’s role in the region. Observers have also added that US relief given to Pakistan may also be an effort to counter extremist attempts to take advantage of the chaos caused by the floods.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Islamabad could count on US help following floods that have displaced millions.

After the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan when Washington was quick to respond, opinion polls showed an improvement in attitudes toward the US despite disapproval for the war in Iraq and other policies.

Brian Katulis, a Pakistan expert at the Center for American Progress, said the disaster was an opportunity for Washington to use its assistance to show the Pakistani people that it had “more than a transactional relationship” that dealt largely with security issues.

“Given all the baggage it is a very hard message to communicate verbally but this presents an opportunity to actually demonstrate that support to the Pakistani people,” he said.

South Asia expert Christine Fair, who has just returned from Pakistan, also urged Washington to be unlimited in its response to the floods.

“But we should just be doing it to help people and not spin it. When aid is seen as being instrumentalised, it undercuts the whole value of the assistance,” said Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University.

The military has taken the lead in dealing with relief efforts but religious charities, some allegedly tied to militant groups allied with the Taliban and al Qaeda, are also competing with the government to give aid, possibly boosting their credibility.

Asked whether Washington was concerned about the role of religious charities, the head of the US government’s lead development agency said he saw Washington as a key player.

“We believe we are fuelling the major part of this response at a critical time,” said Rajiv Shah, head of the US Agency for International Development.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2010.


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