Snow-capped peaks, shimmering lakes, and endless meadows -- these are the memories from my last visit to Pakistan's northern areas fifteen years ago. The stories now emanating from Pakistan bear little resemblance to these memories. They are the stories of villages submerged underwater and schools washed away, of livestock destroyed and farmlands wiped out. "The world has never seen such a disaster," UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said of the floods that have ravaged one-fifth of Pakistan. "It's much beyond anybody's imagination."
Pakistan needs our help. Twenty million people are affected, a number that surpasses the number affected by the Haiti earthquake, Asian tsunami, and Kashmir earthquake combined. Ten million people are homeless. Three million children are threatened by cholera. Seven thousand schools need to be rebuilt, five thousand miles of roads repaved, and an entire agricultural sector revived.
The national security argument for a robust American response to this crisis is compelling. Pakistan's help is vital for success in Afghanistan and in curbing nuclear proliferation.
This is about more than national security though. It is about how our country treats its allies. It is about the message of solidarity that we as Americans ought to convey to the Pakistani people. This message is that we value our relationship, and we want it to transcend the fight against extremists or nuclear proliferation. We want it to be based on mutual respect and trust. Only such a relationship can sustain cooperation on the difficult issues that our countries will inevitability continue to face.
Our response has been far from robust, however. Americans have given $25 million in private donations to Pakistan compared to the $900 million that we gave for the Haiti earthquake. The Red Cross has received $10,000 for Pakistan compared to $32 million it received for Haiti. The media coverage for Pakistan has been one tenth of what Haiti received. While our government has done better with a $200 million commitment, it is only a fraction of the estimated $7 billion that Pakistan needs to rebuild.
This tepid response is sending the wrong message. It confirms the widely held notion among Pakistanis that our relationship with them is merely transactional -- that our commitment is limited to paying for their cooperation in fighting extremists. This perception is supported by the patterns of U.S. aid to Pakistan. Billions of dollars were given in the 1980s to help Pakistani-backed militants fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Once the Soviets were ousted, however, virtually all of the aid dried up. Since 2001, the same pattern has been repeated with billions in military aid to fight Al-Qaeda. This aid has had little effect on the lives of ordinary Pakistanis.
What Pakistanis have felt, however, is the fallout from our war on terror. The same people who suffer from Taliban bombings in their marketplaces have had to flee their homes when the Pakistani military retaliates. The U.S.-backed military operation in the Swat valley, for example, forced two million Pakistanis to flee their homes, the largest such migration in recent history.
These same people are now facing another tragedy, one that dwarfs others in recent memory. This is our opportunity to show that we actually care about them. To succeed, however, we must act decisively.
First, we should all donate now to any of the organizations working on the ground. A ten dollar contribution can also be made to the UN operation by texting "SWAT" to 50555 and the State Department relief fund by texting "FLOOD" to 27722 from our cellphones.
Second, we must urge those with influence to step up. Now is the time for the celebrities and media personalities that have been conspicuously silent to speak up. Now is the time for our corporations to match employee donations. Now is the time for our politicians to press for a larger relief operation.
Finally, we can build bridges at home by reaching out to Pakistanis in our own communities, whether a taxi driver, physician, or co-worker. We should ask how the floods have affected their families and if we can help.Last month, Secretary of State Clinton said:
I want the people of Pakistan to know that the United States will stand with you during this crisis. We will be with you as rivers rise and fall. We will be with you as you replant your fields and repair your roads. We will be with you as you meet the long-term challenges to build a stronger nation and a better future.
My hope is that the stories that Pakistanis tell one day will actually resemble the words of our secretary of state. Only then will we have finally achieved the relationship with Pakistan that both of our countries need.
Only then will the towering peaks and shimmering lakes of my childhood memories regain their true place in our world -- not as venues of strife but as monuments to human resilience and solidarity.
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