17 August 2010


Due to ongoing flooding from monsoon rains, one-fifth of the nation of Pakistan is under water. For perspective, that's an area approximately the size of Florida. With thousands of people dead (and more yet to be reported), hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, and twenty million Pakistanis suffering or displaced, the refugee crisis exceeds that of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined.
The humanitarian catastrophe cannot be overstated. With so much land under water, and with intermittent stormy weather preventing aircraft from flying, global relief agencies can reach only a tiny fraction of those most in need of food, water, shelter, and medicine. Already virulent diseases are spreading, the result of malnutrition and tainted drinking water.

Further, Pakistan is politically, militarily and economically the most unstable country on earth. It is sandwiched between two enemy nations. To the east lies India, with whom Pakistan has been at war for decades. Considering that both nations possess nuclear weapons, this is a cultural and military flashpoint with no predictably safe outcome. To the west lies Afghanistan, an ally of India, and of course a nation occupied by the US military in its futile pursuit of terrorist forces under the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. US pressure has forced Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders and fighters to seek sanctuary across the border in -- you guessed it -- Pakistan. The government is so corrupt that the Pakistan Intelligence Service not only assures safe haven and supplies to terrorists, but also provides them with valuable information on the disposition of US military units, while simultaneously receiving US economic and military assistance.
The religious, cultural and ethnic tapestry of the entire region is ancient, complex and frayed. Individual, tribal and regional grudges dating back centuries are never forgotten. With this as background, it is doubly significant that during the current flood crisis, the groups who have been most successful at providing relief to refugees have been Taliban insurgents. Relief from the West, in particular from the US, is viewed with suspicion by Pakistanis. We are seen as infidels and as opportunistic invaders. We may not like it, but that's the reality.

To learn more about the complex, unvarnished history of the region, and about the US presence there, I highly recommend the following books:
Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer
Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton
This natural disaster may do more to direct the course of regional politics and the Afghanistan War than any treaty or any military engagement. If the world isn't holding its breath, it should be. (Note: on the map above, areas in red, orange and yellow are those being flooded. Click image to enlarge.)

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