Aid workers rushed to provide food and shelter to 3 million people in Pakistan on Wednesday, as flood waters continued to ravage hundreds of villages in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province. With anger rising over the widely criticized Pakistani government's response, the Obama administration quickly dispatched six military helicopters to airlift victims and ferry in relief supplies — including hundreds of thousands of ready-made halal meals that abide by Islamic dietary rules. Will the U.S. relief effort boost our image among the Pakistani people, and improve our chances of defeating Taliban insurgents hiding in their midst? (Watch a report on Pakistan's flooding)
The U.S. should turn this crisis into an opportunity: So far, the Obama administration has offered $10 million in humanitarian aid, says Howard LaFranchi in The Christian Science Monitor. But far more will be needed as the death toll, already at more than 1,300, rises. The U.S. has a chronic image problem with Pakistan's Muslim population — this is the perfect chance to show our humanitarian side, and start "winning the hearts and minds of Pakistanis."
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Sorry, America, but the Taliban are way ahead of you: The floods have left thousands of people "displaced, their homes washed away, their lands inundated," says Huma Yusuf in Pakistan's Dawn. If just a small percentage of them blame "their government's seeming indifference" for their suffering, the flooded areas will become a fertile recruiting ground for insurgents. Extremists have an excellent track record of exploiting the public's grievances, and this time is unlikely to be any different.
This is a make or break moment: After a disaster such as this, say the editors of CNN.com, the Pakistani government is in a race with Islamic charities, some with suspected ties to insurgents, to show the people who's really out to protect their interests. If the government, "already plagued by mistrust among its people," fails to prevent widespread disease and famine, Pakistan will become more unstable, and a less effective ally in the fight against the Taliban and al Quaida. That's why a "quick infusion" of U.S. aid is an absolute necessity.
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