U.S. Strategy in Pakistan Is Upended by Floods

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by SHASH2K2, Aug 19, 2010.

  1. SHASH2K2

    SHASH2K2 New Member

    May 10, 2010
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    Bihar, BanGalore , India

    WASHINGTON — 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.

    With Pakistan’s economy suffering a grievous blow, the administration could be forced to redirect parts of its $7.5 billion economic aid package for Pakistan to urgent needs like rebuilding bridges, rather than more ambitious goals like upgrading the rickety electricity grid.

    Beyond that, the United States will be dealing with a crippled Pakistani government and a military that, for now, has switched its focus from rooting out insurgents to plucking people from the floodwaters. The Pakistani authorities, a senior American official said, have been “stretched to the breaking point” by the crisis. Their ragged response has fueled fears that the Taliban will make gains by stepping in to provide emergency meals and shelter.

    “It certainly has security implications,” said another official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal policy deliberations. “An army that is consumed by flood relief is not conducting counterinsurgency operations.”

    On Thursday, the United Nations will convene a special meeting devoted to the floods, hoping to galvanize what has been a lackluster global response. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to announce that American public aid has surpassed $100 million, an official said.

    “We’re obviously not oblivious to the political and strategic implications of this catastrophe, but right now, we are fully focused on the emergency relief effort and trying to get a good assessment of the needs,” said the administration’s special representative to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke.

    Noting that several weeks remain in the monsoon season, Mr. Holbrooke said, “Worse may be yet to come.”

    The disaster comes after a period in which the administration seemed to have made strides in repairing the American relationship with Pakistan. Mrs. Clinton visited Islamabad in July with a long list of pledges, including the upgrading of several power plants and a plan to promote Pakistani mangoes. Now, these projects seem almost beside the point.

    “Before, there were power plants in need of refurbishment,” said Daniel S. Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Now there are power plants underwater.”

    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.

    In another hopeful sign, officials said Pakistan and India had been in close touch about the floodwaters, some of which are flowing into Pakistan from India. Such communication, between historic archenemies, could augur reduced tension in other areas, one of the officials said.

    Against that, however, are the staggering dimensions of the disaster. A senior Pakistani official told the administration on Tuesday that the next flood surge was likely to inundate much of Punjab, the densely populated region that borders India and produces much of Pakistan’s food.

    So far, this official said, the greatest damage has been in regions that are also hotbeds for Islamic insurgents, which has set back the army’s fight against extremist groups. Local governments in those places have largely collapsed, leaving the army as the only source of authority.

    With 20 million people displaced from their homes, the Pakistani authorities are girding themselves for an immense migration to the major cities, which they fear could sow further instability.

    “Americans have not yet registered the enormity of the crisis,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said in a telephone interview from Islamabad, the capital.

    Pakistani and American officials said reports of hard-line Islamic charities providing relief were exaggerated. One pointed out that the floods had hurt the insurgents as well: there was a report of small arms and ammunition belonging to a militant group floating in the water.

    Still, people in both countries warned that if rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts bogged down, the Taliban and other militant groups would try to take advantage of it. “The real test is, can their government provide the most fundamental services?” said an administration official.

    Parallels to this crisis are hard to find. One official cited the example of the Indonesian province of Aceh, which had been racked by a three-decade insurgency fought by the separatist Free Aceh Movement. After the tsunami swept through in 2004, killing 170,000 people, the separatists and the Indonesian government quickly signed a peace treaty, in August 2005.

    There are, however, big differences between a localized separatist group and an international jihadist movement.

    “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.

    Already, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been exposed to withering criticism at home for going on a trip to Europe during the early days of the flood. American officials said they were determined not to get drawn into the dispute, noting that in any event, Mr. Zardari had been stripped of many of his powers in a recent constitutional change.

    Decisions on how the flood will affect American economic aid may be influenced by a trip to Pakistan by Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who co-sponsored the five-year nonmilitary assistance package with Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana.

    Senator Kerry, accompanied by Dan Feldman, a deputy to Mr. Holbrooke, is scheduled to tour the flooded areas on Thursday. Mr. Kerry has said he is open to redirecting aid money, though some analysts said they were skeptical that Congress would approve additional financing. Military aid may also come under scrutiny, according to administration officials.

    “Every dimension of our relationship — politics, economics, security — is going to see major shifts as a result of this historic disaster,” said Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “All the tools of diplomacy have to be examined in light of this new reality.”

    Last edited: Aug 19, 2010
  3. SHASH2K2

    SHASH2K2 New Member

    May 10, 2010
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    Bihar, BanGalore , India
    Pakistan Floods Raise Cost for U.S. Against Militants

    Aug. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan’s destructive floods will raise the cost of the U.S. effort to keep the country from sliding further under the influence of Islamic militants allied to al-Qaeda who oppose America’s presence in the region.

    A year after Congress passed $7.5 billion in aid to undercut the insurgents by strengthening Pakistan’s governance and economy, the worst floods in decades have destroyed more than $13 billion worth of crops, farms, railroads and towns along the country’s economic spine, Pakistani economists and officials say. Militant groups, including the banned Jamaat ud- Dawa, are giving food and tents to uprooted villagers in districts where guerrillas allied to them have battled police and soldiers.

    “If the Pakistan government cannot repair roads and bridges to reconnect its cities, if it cannot put people back into homes and offer them some chance of a livelihood, the government will face its biggest political problem” in renewed radicalization, said Zafar Moin Nasser, director of research at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, in the capital, Islamabad.

    The 1,600-kilometer-long (1,000-mile) swath of destruction along the Indus River may cut Pakistan’s economic growth by 2.5 percentage points this year, Finance Secretary Salman Siddique said in a phone interview Aug. 13. The U.S. has rushed about $90 million in emergency relief to Pakistan, according to the State Department.

    Guerrilla Havens

    With the devastation outstripping the government’s ability to meet flood victims’ needs, “the deterioration of social and economic circumstances creates the perfect atmosphere for jihadists to realize their goals of undermining the state,” said the Austin, Texas, risk analysis firm Stratfor in an e-mail yesterday.

    Militant-controlled zones in northwest Pakistan are havens for guerrillas fighting North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, and for al-Qaeda, the U.S. says.

    Residents uprooted in four weeks of floods have criticized the government for what they call slow relief work, even as President Asif Ali Zardari was shown on television visiting Paris and London. Zardari toured the flood zone on Aug. 14. Visiting the northwest Swat Valley today, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the government will rebuild bridges and stockpile food in affected areas.

    ‘Bigger, Better’

    The government won’t be able to prevent militants from providing aid and winning public support, said Talat Masood, a political and security consultant in Islamabad.

    Its best hope of winning support is to build a bigger, better assistance network to outweigh what the militants may achieve, said Masood, a former army lieutenant general. “That is where the international community can help,” he said. The EU today proposed raising its assistance to 70 million euros.

    Pakistan has suffered more than $10 billion in infrastructure damage, Nasser said in a telephone interview last week. A survey of four provinces, showed nearly a fifth of medical facilities have been damaged, the World Health Organization said today. Floods have damaged crops valued at up to $3.3 billion, Farm Minister Nazar Muhammed Gondal said Aug. 16.

    Borrowing May Rise

    The government may have to increase borrowing, while crop shortages may fuel an inflation rate running at 12 percent. Pakistan hasn’t said what it may ask of foreign donors. “Reconstruction will be a huge budget, and that we will talk about after we are through the rescue and relief phase,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, told Bloomberg Television on Aug. 10.

    Jamaat ud-Dawa is providing food and shelter for 10,000 people in four districts of northwest Pakistan, where the floods began more than a fortnight ago, said Muhammad Hamza, director of a Jamaat relief camp.

    “Those who call us terrorists have only seen us from a distance and if they come to see our work directly, they will see that we are only trying to do good work for the people,” said Hamza, 40, in an interview Aug. 14 at his camp in Risalpur, 100 kilometers west of Islamabad.

    Pakistan has banned Jamaat ud-Dawa, and the United Nations has called it a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba guerrilla group, whose members face trial for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack.

    Obama Strategy

    The U.S. is devoting “substantial resources to support Pakistan’s democracy and development,” President Barack Obama said as he announced his strategy against al-Qaeda and the Taliban on Dec. 1.

    The act he signed six weeks earlier included projects to improve inefficient irrigation systems and power grids in the Indus valley, and the rebuilding of homes in the war-damaged Malakand region. All those problems have now been magnified by the flood damage.

    According to polls by the Washington-based Pew Research Center, Pakistanis’ approval of the U.S. peaked in the past decade at 27 percent in 2006, after its military helicopters became public icons of U.S. help following the 2005 earthquake in the Kashmir region. Militant groups also won public support after moving faster than the government to get tents and medics into the quake zone, the Associated Press reported.

    Masood and other analysts of Pakistani militants say groups such as the Taliban and Lashkar have fused with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda to conduct attacks outside Pakistan.

    Standing Damaged

    While “the Taliban and their sympathizers” reportedly have conducted relief operations “where the government have not been able to reach the people,” the guerrillas are unlikely to rebuild popularity after having increasingly killed civilians with suicide bombings and other attacks, said Kamran Bokhari, an analyst with Stratfor. Still, it will let them gain enough support to complicate government efforts to fight them later, he said in a video statement on the company’s website.

    “Pakistan needs the help of the international community very badly and if that fails to arise, it will destabilize Pakistan,” said Nasser, the economist. “This time, Pakistan is in real trouble.”

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