Pakistan’s time of need

PAKISTAN’S TIME OF NEED…. Devastating flooding has left a fifth of Pakistan underwater, affecting 14 million people, many of whom are now dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, and killing 1,600. Public health officials fear water-borne diseases may make matters even worse with “hazards from dirty floodwater warming in the daytime summer heat.”

And while this story is obviously about a humanitarian crisis, there are geo-political considerations, given security concerns in Pakistan and its role in the region. The Pakistani Taliban, for example, has said it’s prepared to help flood victims — but only if the Pakistani government agrees not to accept assistance from the United States.

Fortunately, Pakistani officials have done the opposite, and the U.S. is responding in a country where America isn’t especially popular. The Washington Post noted, “While the ultimate impact on Pakistani public opinion is unknown, the United States has earned rare and almost universal praise here for acting quickly to speed aid to those hit hardest.”

The Pakistanis rescued Wednesday were among more than 2,700 picked up over the past week by six U.S. choppers that have also delivered bags of flour and biscuits to stranded residents of the flood-ravaged Swat Valley, in the country’s northwest. Nineteen larger helicopters will take over that effort, the U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday night.

“The American assistance has been considerable, it has been prompt, and it has been effective,” said Tanvir Ahmad Khan, a former Pakistani foreign secretary and now chairman of the Islamabad-based Institute of Strategic Studies. “The sheer visibility of American personnel and helicopters working in the field gives a feeling of very welcome assistance from the United States.”

The point of international aid in a crisis is to relieve suffering; generating goodwill can’t be the top concern. That said, this is an opportunity for the U.S. to make a difference in saving lives in the short term, while improving our standing in Pakistan for the future.

There was an initial delay in deploying U.S. helicopters at use in Afghanistan, but American personnel and equipment have been arriving quickly since. The USS Peleliu is off the Pakistani coast, carrying 19 new heavy-lift helicopters to aid in the response. “Pakistan is our friend, an ally, and in their time of need, we are committed to partnering with their government and military to support their efforts to bring relief to the millions of Pakistanis impacted by these floods,” Gen. James N. Mattis, the new Centcom commander, said as he announced the additional helicopters.

Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, added, “Rapid U.S. action to support Pakistan’s relief efforts may help improve America’s image among a population that generally resents the United States. Washington’s $55 million aid pledge makes it the largest donor among the international community. U.S. Chinooks — seen as angels of mercy after the 2005 earthquake — are helping Pakistanis over flood-ravaged mountains and plains, and represent both U.S. ability to help Pakistanis and the Pakistani military’s willingness to work with its U.S. counterparts.”