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Pakistan Flood Disaster Strategic Ramifications Expected

Politics / Pakistan Oct 04, 2010 - 12:44 PM GMT

By: Global_Intel_Report

Politics Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleFlooding along the Indus River Valley in Pakistan, beginning in July 2010, seems set to be a pivotal strategic factor in the Northern Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf region. It should be expected to significantly affect the conduct and outcome of the US-led Coalition military operations in Afghanistan.

Despite this, the US and international response has been minimal, and just more than half the $460-million requested by the United Nations for disaster relief had been disbursed by mid-September 2010.

In terms of impact, the flooding is far more significant than the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the Haitians still have almost $2-billion in disaster relief funding awaiting spending decisions. The human, economic, and strategic ramifications of the July to September 2010 flooding of the Indus River Valley have yet to be seen.

The immediate loss of life and property has been the smallest part of the equation in Pakistan, but long-term loss of life, social dislocation, and political ramifications will be far greater as the loss of crops, planting cycles, livestock, infrastructure, and food stocks begins to take a toll on the populations of the affected areas, adding distinct pressures to the Pakistani domestic political and electoral processes. This, and the surge expected of malaria, malnutrition, and other health concerns as a result of the flooding, will impact negatively on the viability (and even the ability) of the Government of Pakistan to play the role which the international community demands with regard to the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s 2010 floods began in July as a result of the heavy monsoonal rains in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier), Sindh, Punhab, and Baluchistan provinces. By mid-September 2010, the death toll from the flooding was at least 1,800, but estimates show that the direct toll could rise to 40,000. The secondary-effects death toll is expected to be dramatically more than that, however, and the long-term political and social consequences even more profound.

It is significant that this defining natural disaster, with major ramifications for the global community, has been met with virtual indifference from the same international community which responded so comprehensively to the January 13, 2010, earthquake which struck Haiti, leaving some 223,000 dead and 1.5-million homeless. Equally significant is that India, geographically remote from Haiti, immediately dispatched physical aid to Haiti as part of the relief efforts, but made only a token response of some $5-million in cash to its immediate neighbor, Pakistan, when the crisis struck there.

Of equal significance to the international crisis response community is the fact that the Pakistani public at large itself did not respond to the disaster in its own borders with the same generosity with which they responded to the Pakistani earthquake of October 8, 2005, which was disastrous, but nothing like the long-term scale of the flooding of August-September 2010. The rationale, according to colleagues on the ground in Pakistan, was the growing distrust of the Pakistani people in the reliability and integrity of the civilian agencies - including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) - which played a role in the earthquake disaster of 2005. Partly in response to this concern from its own citizens, the Government of Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani has created the National Oversight Disaster Management Council to ensure transparency and efficiency in the handling of disaster relief funds.

The 2005 earthquake, which struck what was then called the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and parts of Kashmir, caused massive short-term death and destruction - like the Haiti earthquake - but had fewer long-term ramifications than the flooding. Some 73,000 people lost their lives and approximately 128,000 were injured in the earthquake, and more than 3.5 million people were left homeless. However, the burden of the current flooding disaster is of a greater magnitude than anything seen in the past six decades in Pakistan, and yet the international and domestic response is, in many respects, dramatically less than could have been expected. Certainly, it is far less than is necessary to stave off a humanitarian disaster which will have strategic ramifications.

What, then, are the ramifications of the Pakistani floods for Pakistan, the conflict in Afghanistan, the Indo-Pakistan situation, and the longer-term stability of the Northern Indian Ocean region?

Diversion of Defense Assets and National Priorities: The cost and protracted timescale of infrastructure replacement will drain funds from Pakistan’s growth, and certainly will inhibit growth (or even sustenance) of its defense budget levels. This will compound the military differentials between Pakistan and India, will constrain Pakistani efforts to contain the radicalism which has spread into its territories abutting Afghanistan, and will change the way in which the Pakistan Armed Forces can address threats. In other words, budgetary constraints and an impoverished and unhappy domestic population will have an impact on defense priorities and on the kinds of military doctrines which Pakistan can afford to adopt.

Transformation of Population Patterns: The floods will affect population dispersal patterns. Unlike the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which forced some 511,000 people to flee the capital, Port-au-Prince, after the devastation of the city, the Pakistan floods have devastated rural towns and the viability of farms. This will lead to a compounding of the most serious problem which has been facing Pakistan over the past decade: the growth of city populations caused by the drift of rural populations to urban centers. Pakistan has, in recent years, been the country which has had the highest level of overall population growth, coupled with the highest level of urban population growth. At the same time, it had enjoyed one of the most impressive growths in agricultural output in the world, albeit a level of growth which had not been able to match the growth in population numbers. Thus the short-term outlook: a major decline in domestic agricultural output, coupled with a further acceleration in the growth in urban population numbers. This will have major ramifications for political trends, and for the possible rise in urban unrest at a time when much of Karachi, for example, is - for security reasons - a no-go area even for Pakistani security forces.

Diversion of Coalition Assets and Logistics: The US-led Coalition’s operations in Afghanistan critically depend on logistics through Pakistan. These have clearly been jeopardized, or impacted, by the disaster relief efforts utilizing Pakistani infrastructure. As well, some Coalition military assets have been diverted to assist Pakistani forces in dealing with the disaster across such a broad swathe of the country. At the same time, Coalition logistical efforts to support the Afghanistan military operations are dependent on tenuous access through Central Asia. Should the Government of Pakistan decide that the Coalition operations are inhibiting rescue and revival operations for Pakistanis affected by the floods, Islamabad could decide to either request substantially more support from the Coalition, or request a restriction of Coalition access to Pakistani assets.

It is significant that key officials in the US Government, and even the US military, have increasingly made clear that they “do not trust” the civilian leadership of Pakistan, and discussion at a US Army conference as recently as September 17, 2010, indicated that some US analysts anticipated a military coup in Pakistan within six to 10 months. The reality is that despite the enormous dependence by the US military and Government on the Government and military of Pakistan, the actual dialog between official Washington and official Islamabad is stilted, mistrustful, and lacking understanding.

Even so, the US, and allies such as Australia, have been at the forefront of financial and material assistance to the Pakistani flood relief efforts (the US providing some $269-million as of September 18, 2010, plus military assets; and Australia providing some $75-million, plus Australian Defence Force personnel to help conduct relief operations), whereas India - the most consequential neighbor of Pakistan - has been less than forthcoming ($20-million as of September 18, 2010, and that via the UN, at Pakistan’s request) in support for Pakistani flood victims. This is in stark contrast to the disaster response which Greece and Turkey routinely afford each other, despite grave strategic differences, when the need arises. Pakistan had initially reacted coolly to Indian offers of assistance, and had insisted it go via the UN. At that point, the Indian Government more or less lost interest in helping in the disaster relief. And then, in recent weeks, Indo-Pakistani relations slumped further with the revival of anti-Indian protests - believed to have been supported by Islamabad - in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.

Opportunity to Create a New Infrastructure: The disaster has given Pakistani planners the opportunity to create an entirely new infrastructure and planning approach for much of the country. Either it will rebuild piecemeal, or it will develop a master plan which will take the opportunity to create new efficiencies in the rural sector. A Conference held in Alexandria, Virginia, on September 15-16, 2010, by the US National Defence University’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS) and the Inter-American Defense College (IADC) dwelt heavily on the Haiti earthquake response and recovery operations and planning and showed that creative approaches to “re-thinking” Haiti’s population dispersal and infrastructure could now occur, including, for example, the creation of a second major port (apart from Port-au-Prince), to kick-start post-earthquake Haiti into viability. Whether the Haitians would grasp this opportunity was by no means clear, but the opportunity for Pakistan to make the post-flood nation more viable is there. However, there was no indication as of mid-September that official Islamabad had begun to think beyond emergency response relief efforts, and into reshaping the national infrastructure.

Moving Toward a Pakistan-Afghanistan Modus Vivendi: The installation by the US of the Afghanistan Government of President Hamid Karzai had led to an increase in distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan, despite the reliance of the Karzai Government on Pakistan during recent years for food aid. Clearly, food aid from Pakistan to Afghanistan will not be possible for some time. However, there are indications that Afghanistan and Pakistan have sufficient concerns on their respective plates at present, and this may contribute to Pakistan helping to facilitate a dialog between the US, the Afghan Government, and the Afghan Taliban movement to create a modus vivendi in the country to enable the US and Coalition military withdrawal from Afghanistan within the next two years. This would certainly suit the domestic political agenda of US President Barack Obama, which wants US military withdrawal from Afghanistan before the next US presidential elections. In this respect, the floods may have provided a catalyst which would permit a re-focusing of efforts in the region, not only by the US, but by Pakistan and the Afghanistani factions. In its basic form, this is one of the most likely outcomes of the flooding, enabling the US to “withdraw” and focus on merely providing financial aid for Pakistan’s recovery. But the end result will be a region without major US involvement, in which the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and Iran, will remain and be permitted a surge of influence.

[Within this framework, the flood relief operations have seen Pakistan tribal and Islamist groups participating in flood relief efforts, throwing the Pakistan Armed Forces into tacit cooperation with those who had been recently the target of military operations. This, to say the least, has raised US and Indian criticism of the Pakistan Armed Forces and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for apparently cooperating with the radical and “Pakistani Taliban” elements. This has created a no-win situation for the Pakistanis, and may ultimately be a factor in what will almost certainly be, in a year or two, a growing distance between Pakistan and the US.]

In this scenario, India may well begin to miss the US regional engagement as a balancing force against the PRC’s unchallenged presence in Pakistan and the Arabian Sea.


Analysis by Gregory R. Copley for the Global Intelligence Report

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