U.S. Focuses on Rescue, Flood Relief in Pakistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2010 Beyond the mind-boggling personal toll of Pakistan’s monsoon floods – with 20 million people affected and 4 million made homeless – there’s also a strategic impact, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said today.
“We're not oblivious to the political and security implications of this,” U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke acknowledged during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“Pakistan is not just another country that's been hammered by a tragedy,” Holbrooke said. “It is at the epicenter of global terrorism. It is strategically critical. It lies between Afghanistan and India. What more can you say?”
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in New York to appeal to the United Nations for more international help, noted at a forum today that the floods have come at a particularly critical time.
“At a time when … the democratically elected government in Pakistan had succeeded in building a consensus in Pakistan against extremism and terrorism, [and] when many lives were laid for a cause -- to achieve stability and peace in Afghanistan -- … we’ve been struck by this national calamity,” Qureshi said at the Asia Society-sponsored event.
Qureshi expressed the widely shared belief that 2010 is “the most critical year” in determining the success of the Afghanistan strategy as he appealed to the world community to help his country deal with severe monsoon flooding that have left one-fifth of it under water.
“We will use all our resources” to address Pakistan’s immediate and long-term needs created by the floods, Quereshi said at the session, where Holbrooke, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah and international relief organization leaders discussed the crisis.
“But frankly, it is beyond just national resources,” he said. “We do need international assistance, and we need international assistance now.”
The United States is “focused solely on the emergency rescue and relief mission” in Pakistan, Holbrooke emphasized today. The United States, he added, also is “very visibly leading the international effort” to assist Pakistan
It’s living up to the credo that Holbrooke said he, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Shah share in driving the U.S. “whole of government” response.
“We want to be the first, with the most assistance,” Holbrooke said. “And we have.”
The U.S. government has committed $90 million in relief aid to date, and Clinton is expected to pledge more during a special session of the U.N. General Assembly later today. Clinton also announced today the establishment of the Pakistan Relief Fund, which the State Department will administer for private citizens to contribute to the relief effort.
Meanwhile, Holbrooke noted that the United States has been the only country so far to get helicopters into Pakistan. Fifteen U.S. military helicopters are now in Pakistan – part of the contingent of 19 that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered there last week to rescue stranded people, deliver relief supplies and provide other air transport.
Today alone, U.S. military helicopter crews rescued 330 people and transported 77,560 pounds of relief supplies, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad reported. Since Aug. 5, U.S. military helicopter crews have rescued 4,924 people and transported 636,068 pounds of relief supplies, officials reported.
Also today, three Air Force C-130 cargo aircraft based in Afghanistan supporting the mission transported 75,490 pounds of food and relief supplies, officials said.
“The Pakistani military and [Pakistani Army Chief of Staff] Gen. [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani called us and asked us for help,” Holbrooke told ABC this morning. “We have American helicopter crews flying in an area they previously weren't moving in,” referring to the federally administered tribal areas “where the Taliban and al-Qaida hang out.”
Speaking to Pakistan’s Dawn TV in New York today, Clinton condemned extremists who capitalize on the crisis. “Why are the terrorists targeting for assassination and bombing Pakistanis at a moment of great natural distress? What is wrong with these people? Have they no shame? Have they no conscience?” she asked.
“While the people of Pakistan are literally fighting for their lives against the effects of this flood, the terrorists seem not to care,” Clinton continued.
Clinton called on the Pakistani military to “do everything in its power” to protect their country’s citizens and property. “It's unfortunate that they are fighting an enemy that is so uncaring about the people of your country,” she said.
Some 20 million people have been affected by the floods – more than during the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and this year’s Haiti earthquake combined. An estimated 4 million Pakistanis have been left homeless.