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New Yorker: Flood Tides

Author: Steve Coll
September 6, 2010

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Steve Coll argues that Pakistan's political leaders have undermined the country's potential for success, and says coming to Pakistan's aid is a strategic and humanitarian necessity for the United States.

Last spring, according to a Pew Research Center poll, eighty-four per cent of Pakistanis were dissatisfied with the way things were going in their country. Inflation, terrorist bombings, and American drone strikes were among the causes of their discontent. Three-quarters disapproved of the job being done by the country's President, Asif Ali Zardari.

Then came the summer's monsoon rains, which engorged the Indus River water system, causing floods that by last week had killed almost two thousand people, left seven million homeless, and ruined 1.4 million acres of cropland. As the disaster unfolded, President Zardari decided to travel to Paris and London, in order, he explained to reporters, to raise relief funds and repair some misunderstandings about Pakistan's vigilance against terrorism. The criticism he came under while abroad only “gives me a reassurance that I'm so wanted,” Zardari said.

Pakistan has, from its birth, in 1947, possessed many of the ingredients of a modestly successful country, but its political leaders have repeatedly sabotaged its potential. Some of the failure can be traced to the long-running conflict between civilian politicians and the Army. President Zardari, in addition to his considerable personal failings, has been constrained by the role of the military in national life. The Army ruled the country for most of its sixty-three years, often abetted by the United States.

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