U.S. Must Match Tsunami Relief Effort in Pakistan

November 10, 2005
By Morton M. Kondracke,
Roll Call Executive Editor

The United States reaped huge political benefits from its generous response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. But it’s in danger of falling short now in strategically vital Pakistan.

...Terror Free Tomorrow, found that 71 percent of Americans believe they’ve heard less about the Pakistan quake than about the tsunami. When informed about the disaster, a majority favors more U.S. aid.

A widely publicized poll by TFT, whose advisory board includes Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Reps. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and Tom Foley (D-Wash.), found that tsunami relief cut Indonesian popular opposition to the U.S. war on terror from 72 percent to 36 percent and confidence in Osama bin Laden from 58 percent to 23 percent.

TFT’s executive director, Ken Ballen, a former aide to Hamilton, told me “The United States is indeed helping Pakistan, but much more needs to be done, given the scale of the disaster and the strategic importance of the world’s second-largest and only nuclear-armed Muslim nation.”

Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharaf, has been a staunch U.S. ally in the war on terror and has been targeted repeatedly by Islamic radicals.

Ballen wrote in a paper on Pakistan that “the U.S. must now do nothing less than spearhead a response similar to the one that followed the tsunami — for self-evident and overwhelming humanitarian reasons and for the long-term national security of the United States itself.”

According to Ballen, “the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan is deepening, yet the world’s response is not. For the tsunami, there were about 4,000 helicopters donated to ferry life-saving aid, and in Pakistan there are only 70 — even though there are almost three times as many people who need food and shelter to survive.

“Similarly,” Ballen said, “80 percent of the [worldwide] aid that was pledged for the tsunami was given within the first two weeks, while Pakistan so far has received only about 12 percent of the aid pledged, or some $17 million.”

To the extent that the United States and the rest of the world fall short in providing aid to Pakistan, Ballen said, the void will be filled by Muslim groups tied to al Qaeda.

Even Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao had to acknowledge that the radicals are now “the lifeline of our rescue and relief work,” Ballen wrote.

Despite budgetary pressures and domestic disaster reconstruction expenses, he urged Congress to authorize Bush to spend “whatever sums are needed” for Pakistan relief and for the United States to “take the lead.”

“If we are serious about truly confronting what President Bush rightly called ‘the murderous ideology’ of radical Islamicists,” he wrote, “then we must also take the concrete steps required to weaken support for the radicals among the people themselves.”

The post-tsunami effort shows that we know how to do what’s right. Now, we need to do it again.

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