Why no rush to aid Pakistan?

Toronto Star

August 13, 2010

The images are devastating, as are the numbers. The floods in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, by now reaching as far south as the Punjab, have affected more people than all major natural disasters in the past six years combined. Some 14 million people — 2 million displaced — and 300,000 homes have been hit, with 1,600 fatalities so far.

Billions are needed to deal with the emergency. Pakistan is a poor country and its people need all the help they can get. Six years ago, after the December 2004 tsunami that hit Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand, the response of the international community was swift and generous. The same happened after Haiti’s earthquake last January.

Not today. Sakib Sherani, the Pakistani government’s main economic adviser, says, “If you look at the scale of the damage and compare that to the pledges we have received, so far there is a big asymmetry . . . the international community needs to step up.” The United Nations is seeking $460 million to help out. Will the money be raised?

International disaster relief has become professionalized. Sri Lanka and Aceh province in Indonesia made the most of the aid they received after the 2004 tsunami. The UN and many international NGOs are proficient at dealing with such emergencies that will often affect fragile or failing states.

The big unknown remains what moves the public in donor countries to reach for their wallets. The scale and magnitude of the disaster is one factor. The relative poverty of the country is another. The earthquake that hit southern Chile earlier this year was much stronger than the one to hit Haiti (8.8 versus 7.0 on the Richter scale), and some 500 people were killed. Chile received little aid. It is rich enough to manage on its own.

Do peaceful nations (such as Haiti) trigger greater sympathy than conflict-ridden ones (like Pakistan)? Sri Lanka in 2004 was in the midst of a civil war. Yet, that did not stand in the way of an enormous outpouring of international donations. Arrangements had to be made to share this aid with the insurgents in the LTTE-controlled north.

Pakistan has been described as “the most dangerous country in the world,” and not just because of it being a rogue nuclear power. There is a reason why British Prime Minister David Cameron recently said, “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror.” There is a Pakistani connection in many international terrorist incidents, from the one in the London Undergound in 2005 to the most recent one in New York City’s Times Square. Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani terrorist group long active in Kashmir, was behind the attack on Mumbai in 2008, which left 166 dead.

As the Afghan war enters the endgame, the recently released Wikileaks documents confirmed what we all knew. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan not only sympathizes with the Afghan Taliban, but they meet to plan joint actions. It was the ISI that introduced Mullah Omar to Osama bin Laden in 1996. The rest, as they say, is history. As the Taliban continue their savage attacks on civilians and military targets alike, they count on Pakistani support.

Only last week, 10 health workers, six of them American, three of them women, affiliated with the International Assistance Mission, a Christian charity, were killed in northern Afghanistan, near the Hindu Kush. The team leader, Tom Little, an optometrist from New York, had 35 years of experience in Afghanistan providing eye care to villagers who had never seen a doctor. The Taliban claimed responsibility, denouncing the hapless victims as spies and evangelists, patently false claims. As long as Pakistan backs a movement of this kind, it is unlikely to generate much sympathy. Does Islamabad expect the International Assistance Mission to spearhead fundraising efforts for the flood victims?

Jorge Heine is chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and a distinguished fellow at The Centre for International Governance Innovation. His book (with Andrew Thompson) Fixing Haiti: MINUSTAH and Beyond, is forthcoming from United Nations University Press.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.

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