Sunday, October 09, 2005

Earthquake in South Asia - the U.S. Should Do All It Can to Help

The death toll resulting from the massive earthquake that hit south Asia this week has risen rapidly from initial estimates of 3,000 now to 20,000, and the number may continue to rise. Unlike the reporting during Hurricane Katrina, the press seems to be accurately assessing the damage that this natural disaster has caused. (No claims or racism have yet emerged.)

The country that seems to have sustained the most death and damage is none other than Pakistan, our reluctant ally in the war on terror. President Musharraf of Pakistan is forced to walk a fine line between aiding the U.S. in hunting down Al Qaida terrorists hiding in the Afghan/Pakistan border region, and placating a Pakistani society largely complacent towards the extremists in their midst, if not supportive of them - to put it mildly.

But now, both President Bush and President Musharraf have an unparalleled opportunity to show the Pakistani people the benefits and virtues of having friends in the United States. Despite the deserved criticism of the U.S.' response to Hurricane Katrina, we remain the most capable nation of any to respond to disasters across the globe. Our military air and sealift capabilities are unmatched, as is the skill, training, and aptitude of our men and women in uniform.

U.S. military and civilian aid to eastern Asia after the tsunami last year significantly improved the perception of the United States in the views of the local population, even shifting opinions of the largest Muslim nation on the earth towards greater support for the war on terror.

"In a stunning turnaround of public opinion, support for Bin Laden andterrorism in the world's most populous Muslim nation has droppedsignificantly, while favorable views of the United States have increased,"said Kenneth Ballen, President of Terror Free Tomorrow, which commissioned thepoll. "The poll shows that the reason for this positive change is the Americanresponse to the tsunami," Ballen added. (Terror Free Tomorrow)

There is little reason to believe that, if the U.S. showed unqualified support to Pakistan in its time of greatest need, the Pakistani people might also dampen their angst towards Americans. This would not be a garuantee that they would support U.S. policies in the region, but it is certainly possible, and the payoff would still be worth it regardless.

Some might argue the opposite - that a U.S. presence in Pakistan would only exacerbate tensions there, but there is no more evidence for that than there is for suggesting that it would have a more positive affect. If President Musharraf truly feels that it would do more harm than good, then we should give him ample opportunity to insist so. Given the potential benefits of aiding Pakistan in this crisis, the issue should at least be pressed strongly.

A strong showing of American military support to the Pakistani people holds the potential for creating a more amicable relationship between U.S. forces and the Pakistani people, which in turn holds to potential for fostering a more fertile base of people who might be willing to provide invaluable human intelligence to U.S. forces hunting al Qaida terrorists. Intelligence involves much more than intercepting phone calls and paying sources for information. Placing U.S. forces inside Pakistan in any capacity would be a benefit at this point, if for no other reason to give them a better understanding of the lay of the land and the culture of the society.

President Musharraf will remain reluctant to accept U.S. help in Pakistan, but President Bush should send Condoleeza Rice or another State Department official to the region as soon as possible to pursue the issue. The attainable net gain for both the Pakistani people and U.S. efforts in the war on terror as a result of U.S. aid to the region are simply too great to shrug off. The U.S. should do all it can to help.


At Wednesday, October 12, 2005 6:23:00 PM, Anonymous Megan said...

I totally disagree that the US Military should do all it can to help Pakistan or any other 'stan' nation. Why? What have they done for us? NOTHING. It has come a time where the US is strained for forces. Between fighting wars (and YES it is still a war in both places), our own natural disasters and homeland security; what other forces do we have? NONE! We are a superpower, but that does not make us the Guardians of the Earth. Where should we draw the line and have other countries (who have successful NUCLEAR PROGRAMS) responsible for their own nation?


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