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Deluged and Drowning: The Pakistan Disaster
by Dr. Binoy Kampmark
2010-08-24 07:42:12
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Much in what happens in political life is often inexplicable.  Events often seem to rhyme to the tune of the absurd, egged on by the inexorable march of folly.  And so, even as Pakistan is drowning, the attempt to deal with the insurgents continues.  The official line is that the campaign against Islamic militancy will take a back seat.  Assistance is being sought to prevent a catastrophe from becoming more calamitous than it already is.  1,600 have already been killed and millions affected.  Twelve percent of the population has been displaced.

Nightmarish scenarios are being circulated.  A potential collapse, providing fodder for the insurgent cause that would result in the ‘wrong people’ taking charge.  Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a Pakistani military spokesman, has detected ‘signs that the people are restive.  If not addressed, it could balloon and will create a security situation in the areas where the government has not taken care of people’s needs’ (Washington Post, Aug 18). 

As things stand, it is hard enough to identify who exactly the ‘right’ people are.  The appalling governance Pakistan seems to specialise in complicates the provision of aid.  Corrupt officials, for one, have a habit of keeping their lingering hands in the till.  The ‘needs’ Abbas identifies have only now become relevant because of a vengeful natural disaster that threatens to provide a boon for militants.  Natural disaster has proven itself to be a potent catalyst in affecting changes in regimes.  People vote with their stomachs and the rest can be damned.

Pundits are putting their thinking caps on, pondering what the flooding disaster could do to, amongst other things, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.  A contribution to The Foundry section of the conservative Heritage Foundation suggested some promise in the disaster for the flagging relationship.  ‘A robust U.S. response to the flood disaster would help shore up U.S.-Pakistan relations and maintain stability in a crisis-prone country vulnerable to the influence of anti-U.S. extremist groups’ (Aug 13).  The U.S. has certainly pledged more than any nation to date, wanting to keep the right people happy. As ever, the security equation is paramount.

American analysts will certainly be concerned by the disaster’s impact on Washington’s efforts in Afghanistan and regional efforts to halt militant insurgency.  An offensive is being contemplated in the fall in North and South Waziristan, something that will require requisite Pakistani cooperation.  Counterinsurgency operations will be sidelined, though it is unlikely they will cease completely.  Indeed, as the country has been drowning, U.S. military forces have been carrying out Predator and Reaper air strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal areas.  A missile launched from one such drone ‘struck a militant compound in the village [of Issori] killing at last twelve rebels,’ a senior Pakistani security official explained to AFP (The Long War Journal, Aug 14).  A particularly vicious war in the shadows continues – not even Mother Nature could quite exact a complete halt to hostilities.

The Taliban may well be rejuvenated by this natural disaster and Washington will, as ever, be worried to fortify its security position in the aftermath of these floods.  But the issue of aid is simply one in a desperate situation that threatens to escalate with the prospects of disease.  Once the deaths mount, the regime in Pakistan might well face collapse.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

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