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US Strategic Opportunity in Pakistan Flooding Relief

e_picture-2_lahore-pakistan-flooding_ed.jpgGeorge Soros is working hard behind the scenes to help the Obama administration realize that a billion dollars spent now, carefully, and in a structure that could create a systemic improvement in Indus River water management helping India and Pakistan would be greatly welcomed by the currently besieged victims in Pakistan of historic-level flooding and help preempt a greater tilt towards instability in South Asia than already exists.

I won't go into the detail of the Soros plan as it would be best if it became the Richard Holbrooke plan, or the Hillary Clinton plan, the Kerry-Lugar plan, or the Singh-Zardari plan, but I am satisfied that in contrast to so many schemes I hear in which people advocate a billion being thrown here or there -- the critical need 'now' combined with a unique opportunity for the United States to constructively improve the lot over the near and long term of people who don't think well of America makes great sense.

Now that we are spending monthly figures in Afghanistan that surpass $100 billion per year, it seems to me that a well-managed $1 billion investment in Pakistan would do much to improve the political environment in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- large portions of the peoples of which respectively mistrust the U.S.

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, South Asia expert and New America Foundation president Steve Coll writes:

Pakistan's floods--like the tsunami that swept across Indonesia's northern provinces in 2004--threaten to set the country's economic growth back by years. For the United States, preventing such an outcome should be recognized as a strategic as well as a humanitarian imperative. So far, the Obama Administration has displayed all the right instincts, by rushing relief to civilians, affirming the primacy of the country's elected leaders, and galvanizing other governments to pitch in. As the waters recede, and the immediate crisis passes, however, the challenge will be to muster international investment to repair Pakistan's infrastructure and catalyze its economic recovery.

The agricultural market towns in the flood zone--Ghotki, Jacobabad, Shahdadkot--are not notable breeding grounds for international terrorism. They are home instead to the marginal lives of another Pakistan, one poised for many years between aspiration and collapse--that of landless laborers, tenant farmers, bus drivers, and shopkeepers. These Pakistanis belong to no war party and live in peaceful indifference to the United States. To help reimagine their future, and that of their country, the place to begin is to come unconditionally to their aid.

Coll is right to identify this crisis as one with significant strategic consequence -- and the U.S. would be smart to pivot quickly on this, which it has not yet done despite credible efforts by Richard Holbrooke to try and generate attention among his colleagues in the administration.

Lt. General John Allen, Deputy CENTCOM Commander, led the effort to provide relief after the December 2004 devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia.

John Allen might be the right Department of Defense point person to work with Holbrooke to help secure something along the lines George Soros is trying to stand up to both help current flood victims and create a preventive system for managing such crises in the future.

An added benefit along the way is that this effort could help build some much needed trust between Pakistan and India.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons