The World from Berlin: 'Taliban Has Benefited from West's Response in Pakistan'

The floods in Pakistan are devastating and 6 million people need emergency assistance. But donations from the international community have been slow and insufficient. German commentators wonder why that is and express concern that the Taliban may benefit.

Thousands of villages are under water as is a large portion of Pakistan's farmland. Zoom
Getty Images

Thousands of villages are under water as is a large portion of Pakistan's farmland.

The good news is that, following the United Nations appeal for $460 million (€359 million) to help victims of the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, $90 million (€70.2 million) worth of pledges rolled in on Thursday. Furthermore, international assistance has begun gaining traction with the arrival of a US ship full of Marines and helicopters having arrived in Karachi. The helicopters immediately began delivering food and water to those still stranded in the worst-hit areas of the country a week after the disaster began.

Beyond that, though, the bad news is overwhelming. Officially, some 1,200 people have died in the flooding, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), but with as many as 6,000 villages under water and hunger and disease looming, the ultimate toll is likely to be much higher. In addition, 14 million people have been directly affected with 6 million of those requiring emergency aid.

"Make no mistake, this is a major catastrophe," OCHA head John Holmes said this week. "We have a huge task in front of us. The death toll has so far been relatively low compared to other major natural disasters, but the numbers affected are extraordinarily high."

And there is more bad news. Even as aid pledges from governments around the world have begun pouring in, private donations, often a substantial portion of disaster aid, has been little more than a trickle. Charities in Germany have complained about a lack of response so far while groups in the United Kingdom have also said that donations have lagged far behind other, similar catastrophes in the recent past.

'Didn't Act Quickly Enough'

"It's perplexing why the international community has been so slow on this," Oxfam spokesman Ian Bray told the London-based Independent. "I think they took their eye off the ball and didn't realize how big it was and didn't act quickly enough."

Maria Rüther from Aktion Deutschland Hilft, which is coordinating the response of numerous German charities to the Pakistan disaster, told public television station ARD on Thursday that the money is simply not flowing. "The readiness to donate is, it unfortunately must be said, relatively marginal at the moment." She said that, a week after the January earthquake in Haiti, her group had collected €10 million. But one week into the Pakistan flooding disaster, only €200,000 has found its way into the group's coffers.

Many have voiced concerns that the unwillingness to donate has to do with the image of Pakistan in the West as a country of Islamist extremists working against NATO interests in Afghanistan. Abdullah Hussain, Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations, has said that comments by UK Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month, in which he accused Pakistan of exporting terrorism, have hurt the aid effort. In Germany, some have said that the country's largely negative image of Pakistan has likewise resulted in an unwillingness to donate.

German commentators on Friday take a closer look.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Following natural disasters, it is seldom that the necessary aid reaches victims speedily and in sufficient quantities. Following the flooding in Pakistan, however, the discrepency between the help needed and the help available is larger than it ever has been. The number of those needing assistance is greater than it ever has been in the 65 year history of the United Nations. But the UN's humanitarian organizations still haven't received the sums they need to react effectively."

"Hardly any other country on Earth is seen as negatively -- at least in the West -- as Pakistan: corruption, the Taliban, atomic weapons. In addition, Pakistan's president has so far shown a cynical disinterest in the fate of his own people. Furthermore, Western tourists, who might otherwise gain a more positive image of Pakistan, are a rarity in the country, in contrast to those areas affected by the tsunami four years ago. It has become clear that donations and the willingness to help victims of natural catastrophes has more to do with empathy than it does with the severity of the disaster."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"In principal, it is not a problem to hope that the image of one's country might be improved by providing emergency aid.... But especially in the case of Pakistan, one should be wary of too much politicizing. Just as it is correct to provide massive aid to Pakistan, it is hopeless to think that such aid will take the wind out of the sails of extremists -- who are also providing assistance to flood victims. Goodwill, as aid workers know, can only seldom be bought."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The Taliban is a major beneficiary from the West's response to the Pakistan floods. The country really should be getting generous support and it should be coming quickly, but so far, the accounts of charities are largely empty due to the country's poor image in the West. The emergency aid supplied by Western governments, the UN and other large organizations has been too paltry for the number of those needing help. Only five countries have pledged more than $5 million."

"The Taliban cannot be defeated by military means. The international community has learned this lesson in many years of suffering in Afghanistan -- and that lesson now informs NATO's new strategy in Afghanistan. But the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan has now revealed the new approach to be empty. Pakistan in particular should be lavished with money and aid -- now and in the coming weeks to help the victims; over the next months and years to rebuild the country's infrastructure."

"The fact that money can make a difference can be seen in the example of the Swat Valley. Government neglect turned the valley into a stronghold of extremism, but then, last summer, the radicals were dispelled by the military and the government instituted several development projects in the region. The first hotels opened, tourists arrived and a festival took place. But then came the monsoon rains, and the Taliban is no doubt pleased. Residents of the Swat Valley are among the victims of the severe flooding. And, if Western aid doesn't arrive quick enough, they will once again find themselves allied with the Taliban."

-- Charles Hawley

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