Archive for August 10th, 2010

Time to Win Hearts in the Deluged Pakistan

By Saad Khan for The Huffington Post

There has been a great deluge in northern and western Pakistan that has now spread to the southern parts, uprooting more than 14 million people and killing at least 1,600 . No one can remember a time when there has been such extensive flooding in the northwestern province of Pakistan, now renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The last major flooding was in 1929 and that too cannot hold a candle in front of the inundation that the present flooding has unfurled. Whole villages and even major cities and towns have been inundated with not a dry space in sight, water flowing as high as 20 feet. Pakistani houses are generally single story, especially in villages, and almost all have caved in due to surging waters.

Help is too little and too late to arrive. KP is the worst hit province and being the hotbed of extremism and suicide bombings, the little infrastructure that was left has been washed away by floods. As the information minister of the province, whose only son also lost his life recently in an extremist attack, aptly said, their province is now a mere shadow of what was once a lush green and relatively developed region.

During the massive flooding, federal government’s response was slow and cautionary at best. Prime Minister Gillani first paid an aerial visit of the submerged areas and did not bother coming down and talking with the people. He has just recently visited some areas and a medical camp that later turned out to be a fake and dummy one. President Zardari has not even done that. A federal relief fund was set up five days after the flooding and donations and contributions are little and far between. People simply don’t trust the government and prefer private organizations for their donations.

There was speculation in the Pakistani media that President Zardari would cancel his foreign trip to Britain and France after the flooding but he didn’t. Opposition leaders lashed out at him for not canceling the Britain trip because Premier Cameron had taken jibes at the ISI and the Pakistan Army. The ISI chief already canceled his trip but Zardari is on the last leg of his trip and has already met Cameron.

Amid this mayhem and chaos, the United States did respond rather quickly. American choppers are participating in the evacuation and have expanded their operations into the southern parts of Punjab besides KP.

Perhaps this is the time for the Americans to interact with the troubled and grief stricken Pakistanis and boost their image. American response after the 2005 earthquake was swift and exemplary and created a positive feeling among many Pakistanis. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is the haven of the Taliban and an extended rescue operation by the US will certainly change some minds, if not all.

There is a fear that the poor and stranded Pashtuns will turn to the Taliban if help does not arrive swiftly; extremist organizations have already started their relief operations. People are wary of the slow response and negligence of Pakistani officials. Taliban have an excellent opportunity to brainwash them and recruit them and they have already embarked on that path. The US can launch a counter strategy of winning hearts and minds. This is the perfect time for it and people are eager to hear the American side of the story. The US relief efforts so far are exceptional and they are apparently ahead of the extremists in the relief and rehabilitation process.

P.S. President Zardari has since returned to Pakistan but has not visited the flooded areas yet.

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