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A Deluge of Woe in Pakistan

Author: Jayshree Bajoria
August 5, 2010

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A spate of recent events in Pakistan has only compounded the country's challenges and is sorely testing a weak government confronted with growing violence and terrorism. This week, the worst floods in the country's history have killed more than 1,400 people and affected up to three million. As the floods raged in the worst-hit province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, its capital, Peshawar, was rocked by a suicide bomb on Wednesday that killed the head of the paramilitary force (WashPost), the Frontier Constabulary. In Karachi, the country's largest city and its financial center, the killing of a local legislator (Reuters) led to violence that has virtually shut down the city. The killing is the latest of more than three hundred assassinations (CSMonitor) this year in Karachi, a city growing increasingly polarized along ethnic and sectarian lines.

The central government, meanwhile, confronts criticism (VOA) from a public angry at what it sees as a slow and inadequate response to the flood disaster. Adding to the government's woes is the ill-timed tour of European capitals by President Asif Ali Zardari. The London part of his trip came amid controversy over British Prime Minister David Cameron's comment on Islamabad exporting terror (BBC) to India and Afghanistan. The comment caused the chief of Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the ISI, to cancel his trip to Britain as part of Zardari's delegation.

The international community has pledged tens of millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan's flood victims. U.S. helicopters and boats are also assisting Pakistan's army in aid efforts. But Nicki Bennet, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, expressed concern (Deutsche Presse-Agentur) that this level of assistance may not be enough. News reports (Guardian) suggest Islamic charities like Falah-i-Insaniat, with ties to militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, have stepped in to provide aid even as the government struggled to reach victims. As this Backgrounder notes, groups such as these have a history of gaining local support in humanitarian emergencies as they move in to fill the vacuum created by the government's inadequate response. Following the floods, Pakistani commentator Huma Yusuf warns extremist groups and militants have previously exploited  (Dawn) the grievances of the Pakistani population and  "will no doubt seize upon them again in future recruitment drives."

Pakistan's mounting challenges follow allegations made in U.S. military documents leaked by WikiLeaks.org last month that point to the Pakistani army and ISI's continued links with militant groups focused on Afghanistan. CFR South Asia expert Daniel Markey says Pakistan is "internally divided in a national debate over what direction the country should take regarding militancy and extremism." The events in the last two weeks further stress the fragility of Pakistan's internal situation. Hilary Synnott, former UK high commissioner to Pakistan, makes the case for greater international investment (FT) in Pakistan, noting a direct bearing on British and U.S. interests. The argument gains strength as floods in the northwest affect NATO supplies to Afghanistan (Nation). The violence in Karachi could cause further damage to supply lines; approximately 70 percent of supplies for U.S. and NATO forces depend on this port city. The United States and the international community, analysts say, should take the latest crises as an opportunity (ForeignPolicy.com) to increase their support and show their commitment to Pakistan.

Additional Analysis:

In this interview with ForeignPolicy.com, Lahore-based environmental lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam discusses Pakistan's natural disasters and infrastructure problems.

In this CFR podcast, experts Shuja Nawaz and Bruce Riedel discuss U.S.-Pakistan relations following the WikiLeaks expose and say the Obama administration should expand assistance to the country, along with increasing the focus on trade.

Background:

This quarterly report looks at U.S. aid disbursements as part of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 that authorizes a total of $7.5 billion over the next five years.

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