Another Wake-Up Call
The New York Times | August 23, 2010
By Parag Khanna
The scenes of tens of thousands of Pakistanis lining narrow channels carrying only plastic bags seeking refuge from the floodwaters is a horrific reminder of the power of both natural and man-made disasters. The floods may prove as devastating as other cataclysmic events in recent years, from the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 to the Haiti earthquake earlier this year; worse, they have occurred in a country that cannot afford another setback in its quest for stability.
In the present situation, and more broadly, Pakistan does not have the government it needs, nor is it getting the help its people deserve, despite an increase in international aid in recent days. The moral arguments for aid are compelling, and there are many precedents for how providing humanitarian assistance can improve public opinion, not least in Pakistan after the devastating Kashmir earthquake in 2005.
But these gains have been short-lived: Today, the U.S. may be less popular among Pakistanis than India, mostly due to perceptions of excessive meddling in Pakistan’s internal affairs.The lesson is clear: only sustained engagement and support can build long-lasting positive ties. And only such efforts can help reduce the influence of radical groups that capitalize on such disasters.
Concerned Pakistanis and Pakistan watchers are perennially waiting for the “wake-up call” that will help galvanize the secular elite and moderate mainstream to stand up and secure their country against the increased incursions of the Taliban and other extremist groups that have infiltrated the Punjabi heartland and major cities such as Lahore and Karachi. But the Red Mosque siege in 2007, assassination of Benazir Bhutto the same year, bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in 2008, capture of Swat Valley by the Taliban in 2009, and numerous attacks since have not fundamentally changed the complacency that has allowed Pakistan’s political, economic, and social institutions to erode. Perhaps these floods can be that wake-up call. But for that to happen it will take more than increased aid from the international community.