Flood Aid Seen as Potential Tool to Boost US Image in Pakistan

A member of the U.S. National Guard hands out boxes of Halal meals to Pakistani flood victims. Photo by: U.S. National Guard / CC BY U.S. National GuardCC BY

Could scaled-up American aid for relief efforts in flood-ravaged Pakistan help the U.S. win hearts and minds in the Asian nation?

According to U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, the U.S. commitment to Pakistan is a “long-term, enduring” one. Apart from committing USD10 million, sending basic supplies and deploying humanitarian experts, the U.S. will set up an early warning system to monitor potential disease outbreaks in Pakistan. It will also support field hopsitals, as well as just a broad restocking of health clinics and assistance, Shah said.

A former State Department official said increased aid to Pakistan would be beneficial to the U.S.

“Given the important benefits this would have for the Pakistani people, as well as for the US-Pakistani relationship, stepping forward with critical aid right now would be a win-win for both,” The Christian Science Monitor quotes Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs.

He added: “If we want to be able to pursue our common security interests, we need to undertake the kind of practical assistance than can help turn those numbers around.”

A two year-study at Tufts University by Andrew Wilder on the relationship between aid and security in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa found a doubling of the percentage of Pakistanis with a favorable opinion of the U.S. after the donor nation quickly pledged USD50 million in the aftermath of a 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. But the figure dropped back down to near pre-quake levels after six months.

Despite an effective U.S. humanitarian relief efforts, there was “little evidence of any significant ‘hearts and minds’ or security benefit,” according to the study.

Such findings beg for much more research on two possible hypotheses, Laura Freschi of the Development Research Institute says.

One, aid may help promote stability in areas that are already relatively stable, but is “not much use” in stabilizing war-torn areas.

Two, aid could help shift public opinion in a nation, which is already favorably disposed toward the U.S., but is less useful in areas where attitudes are hostile to begin with.

“It is hard enough to demonstrate that development assistance effectively promotes development. Especially in conflict zones like Afghanistan, the smart aid programs that can show lasting impact are sadly few and far between,” Freschi writes in the “Aid Watch” blog. “The additional, unproven assumption that aid can tamp down terrorism and change the way people think about Americans in the midst of a conflict fought by Americans is almost certainly too much for it to bear.”

A poll by the Pew Foundation released last week indicated that nearly six in 10 Pakistanis see the U.S. as an enemy, and only one in 10 call it a partner. About two-thirds said they want the U.S. to pull out its troops in Afghanistan, The Associate Press reports.

About the author

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    Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.