Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Remember those floods in Pakistan last summer?

Probably not. Pakistan is far away and the U.S. media wasn't much interested. For whatever reason, this natural disaster didn't get the full sensational media treatment given to the Asian tsunami or, perhaps more understandably because of its proximity, the Haitian earthquake.

UNICEF's director of emergency operations, Louis-George Arsenault, in August called the rich countries' lack of response "quite extraordinary."

Since we didn't rush to help in this emergency, other forces were all too ready to take advantage. According to Haider Ali Hussein Mullick of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, those floods were "a godsend for al Qaeda."

To overstretch armies, smart insurgents always pray for the opening of multiple fronts. The damage from the floods couldn't be worse -- 1/5th of Pakistan (size of New England) inundated, seven million people lost their homes, and $30 billion in total damages. The timing was equally terrible: The Pakistani surge was finally working, and troops were holding Swat and South Waziristan since 2009.

Today, the nuclear-armed Pakistani army is under great stress, and reluctant to go into North Waziristan, home to al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and the Pakistani Taliban. The army is the police, National Guard, relief organization, reconstruction agency, and governing body in critical areas in the north and south, while the weak civilian government is perceived to be corrupt, inept, and aloof as it wrestles with the Supreme Court. Half of 180 million Pakistanis are under the age of 25 and facing high prices, unemployment and little opportunity. They watch the rich pay virtually no taxes and they find solace in U.S. and India bashing, and blissful ignorance about their actual enemies, which are the al Qaeda syndicate, corruption and poverty. Al Qaeda couldn't ask for a better home.

The United States has a budget-devouring, muscle-bound military that has been shooting up hostile countries for a decade while failing to succeed at pacifying them -- but can't or won't perform the elementary functions that could make friends. Assisting Pakistanis in their need was an opportunity for graceful amends for our imperial overstretch, but apparently the powers that be couldn't imagine such a thing.

H/t Thomas Ricks for the reference. Photo by way of Sajid's fund appeal.

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