Pakistan's floods are wrecking havoc over the beleaguered country.
Over 1,600 are dead and more than 2 million are homeless. The UN says that 20 million people have been affected by waters that have covered 1/5th of Pakistan's landmass, more than the Asian Tsunami.
The government in Islamabad stands at a crossroads.
Effective Pakistani civilian-military cooperation backed by international support could use the occasion of this disaster to fundamentally alter the dynamics of the tribal areas and the increasingly Talibanised Balochistan.
How would this happen? Firstly such a policy could be heavily financed by the Americans. This would reinforce the paucity of present funding that has seen only the 20% of a $450 million dollar UN appeal. A US Marshall Plan for the region supports their strategy by exploiting the chaos of the flooding to (re)connect the state to its lawless periphery - a space that continues to provide strategic depth to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
By contrast the dangerous alternative is that the incompetency of the civilian government, characterised by the actions of the hapless President Zardari, combines with the military and the ISI's hunger for political power. This could lead to Islamabad's sovereignty further shrinking and Pakistan's ability to bring peace and stability to its borders becoming virtually impossible.
As a resident of Sindh told Democracy Now:
"There seems to be no government here since the floods. We lost our children, our livestock. We could hardly save ourselves. Though we've come here, we are getting nothing. Where is the government? What do we do? Where do we go? We have to tell the government, and it's the responsibility of the government to do whatever is possible".
Former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan highlighted the government's inadequate response by setting up his own flood relief organisation. Khan is perhaps all too aware of how natural disasters have challenged the core of the identity and capabilities of the Pakistani state in the past. As Bangladeshi analyst Delwar Hussein wrote:
"Few would disagree that the mishandling of the cyclone relief operation precipitated the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, although secession was not solely due to the devastation of Cyclone Bhola. With the flooding, loss and suffering we are currently witnessing in the subcontinent, we must keep in mind that Pakistan is as volatile and precarious now as it was 40 years ago".
These are highly uncertain times in Pakistan. Obama recognised the key role the country plays in central Asia by expanding the US arena of war with the creation of the 'AfPak' term. With rain predicted to continue throughout August all eyes will be on the government in Islamabad to see which direction it will choose at this crucial crossroad.