For a month now I have had a growing pile of articles on the security implications (both good and bad) of the flood aid in Pakistan. To help clear my desk, here is some of the best articles in the last month on the topic:
Will providing more humanitarian aid help reduce extremist influences in Pakistan? Is it changing public opinion toward the U.S.? Or is it more likely that groups like the Taliban will be able to capitalize on the chaos created by the disaster?
Farmers in Layyah and Muzaffargarh, impoverished districts of Punjab, are being targeted by the militant and religious charities with interest-free loans in an attempt to broaden their constituency.
The Pakistani interior minister, Rehman Malik, said in August that militant activists found to be involved in flood relief would be arrested under anti-terrorism laws.
Militants have ignored the threat, however. Layyah-based activists of the Jama’at-i-Islami, which won the district in a 2002 local election, are offering cash loans to buy tractor fuel.
Similar offers have been made by the Khidmat-i-Khalq Foundation, a charity of the Jama’at, a religious political party inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The sheer magnitude of the disaster would have tested any government. However, the Pakistani government’s failures — as well as the absence of President Asif Ali Zardari, who was in Britain and France as the catastrophe unfolded — have contrasted with the military’s ability to deliver assistance, with the army rescuing more than 100,000 people.
Preventing humanitarian diplomacy by neutral agencies with groups to whom the US is politically opposed has drawbacks for the US as well. Under such circumstances, the aid organizations most likely to get access to civilians in those areas will be those funded by non-Western sources. In terms of public diplomacy, or what the US calls “hearts and minds work,” this risks wasting the opportunity for Western-backed aid groups to provide secular assistance and protection to the Pakistani people. This role is likely to be picked up instead by those elements of the (admittedly diverse) Islamic humanitarian sector who are least dependent on Western funding sources… including elements in Pakistan that may be using humanitarian “soft power” for very different ends.
But while international relief agencies are only beginning to arrive in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, Jamaat ul-Dawa has had boots — or, more accurately, sandals — on the ground for over a week.
Walkie-talkie in hand, spokesman Salman Shahid gave a tour Sunday of the group’s bustling field hospital overlooking the Neelum River. First he stopped by the operating theater, where surgeons worked in a makeshift room fashioned from blue plastic sheets.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.