Flood-ravaged Pakistan faces economic, political and security fall-out

Flood-ravaged Pakistan faces economic, political and security fall-out. Deadly attacks rock Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Afghan’s protest ‘civilian’ deaths. IDF accused of systematic abuse by rights groups. Blast in the Caucasuses. All this and more in today’s security briefing.
Rukeyya Khan
18 August 2010

The UN has stepped up relief efforts in flood-ravaged Pakistan despite “huge logistical challenges.” The agency says distributions in Punjab and Sindh have “been gathering pace”, while deliveries in Balochistan started on Monday.

So far, the international community has committed $184 million in aid but the UN has appealed for an additional $459 million for emergency relief. Separately, the World Bank has offered Pakistan a $900 million loan to deal with the impact of the floods.

To date, officials estimate 1,600 people have died as a result of the floods. An estimated twenty million people have been affected and and more than six million people face imminent starvation.

Analysts say the crisis in Pakistan has the potential to herald a regional catastrophe with implications beyond Pakistan.

The openSecurity verdict: The scale of the flooding in Pakistan and continued monsoon rains have led to the army reorienting its focus, shifting away from counterinsurgency to relief and recovery missions. The floods have come on the back of rising fuel and food prices as well as growing violence and extremism throughout the country. Coupled with anger at the civilian government’s failings and President Asif Ali Zardari’s admission that the response could have been better, the acclaimed Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid claims the floods “could lead to the gravest security crisis the country - and the region - has faced.”

Rashid points out that the floods have caused the worst damage in the “poorest and least literate areas of the country where extremists and separatists thrive.” Efforts to re-house the internally displaced from the restive Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and begin reconstruction in Swat Valley, the scene of last year’s anti-Taliban offensive, have been severely hampered by the loss of bridges, schools, hospitals, communication and energy towers swept away by the flooding. The grave damage to infrastructure could allow combatants to re-group and launch a PR drive to discredit an already floundering government.

So far, the Pakistani government"s response to the crisis has been slow and lacklustre. President Zardari refused to cut short his visit to Europe and only toured the flood-affected areas two weeks after the crisis hit the country in late July. The failure to exercise responsible leadership in a time of national crisis has been described by Zardari"s critics as both disappointing and insensitive. Analysts say that people in Pakistan have lost a tremendous amount of confidence in the government, and that the bitterness simmering among those affected by floods stems from a broad failure that is “reflected in a litany of woes, from a power crisis to economic stagnation, that has provided fertile ground for militancy.”

The response since has also been criticised. Yesterday the Pakistani media reported that a “camp” visited by the prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was erected only hours before Gilani’s arrival and was “wound up soon after the departure of the prime minister.” According to DAWN, the prime minister “visited the camp for a few minutes, asked an old man a few questions about the estimated cost of construction of a two-room house and left without distributing any cheque or announcing any package for the affected people.” Yesterday, the Pakistan news channel, ARY, also aired footage of areas where "camps" had been haphazardly erected for photo-ops.

For its part, the US has focused its relief efforts on the Swat Valley and the strategic region of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. But airlifting supplies into areas is, as analysts point out, no match for presence on the ground and the rapid response of “Islamist” charities who have risen to the challenge by stepping up their welfare activities.

The regions of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and FATA along with Pakistan’s western border have dominated the world’s attention following the floods crisis. The Pakistani Taliban have announced a temporary suspension in attacks in Pakistan’s flood-hit areas but the lull in fighting will be a cause for concern for NATO and ISAF forces in neighbouring Afghanistan who are heavily reliant on Pakistani cooperation. A potential offensive on North Waziristan has been placed on hold by Islamabad. This could affect US plans in eastern Afghanistan, where NATO forces had been contemplating launching an offensive across the border from North and South Waziristan.

Pakistani officials say the re-construction costs in the flood-affected areas are likely to run in to billions, and the re-building process could take years. Poverty is set to increase given the immense devastation to crops, agriculture and farming which has already led to inflation in prices for food, raising the prospect of social tensions and food riots in the coming months. How the international community, the Pakistani government and Islamist groups manoeuvre in this crisis will determine who wins the battle for hearts and minds in the Afpak region.

Crucially, the economic catastrophe Pakistan now faces not only requires international assistance but close cooperation with neighbouring India where a record harvest has produced surpluses. But, as Rashid points out, relations between the two neighbours have been strained as India blamed this summer’s intensification in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir on Pakistan.

Deadly attacks rock Iraqi capital, Baghdad

Scores of civilians died in two separate attacks in the city of Baghdad yesterday. The first attack, involving a suicide bomber, killed at least sixty people at an army recruitment centre. The attacker is thought to have sat in a queue of 1,000 army applicants before detonating his explosives. The attack came only two weeks ahead of a formal handover of security by the US to the Iraqi security forces and has been described as “the most lethal single attack in the country this year.”

A second attack took place in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood in the Iraqi capital. A bomb attached to an oil tanker exploded, killing at least eight people and wounding over forty.

Violence in Iraq has seen a sharp rise in recent months, particularly after the inconclusive 7 March national elections which has left a power vacuum at the top of the country"s political structure.

Afghans protest casualties

Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets on Wednesday to protest a NATO raid in eastern Afghanistan last night. The protestors blocked a highway out of the city of Jalalabad and carried the bodies of two dead men, a father and son. Locals say the men were civilians, contradicting a statement issued by ISAF forces which said foreign forces had killed two Taliban insurgents who had been involved in roadside bomb attacks.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has issued a decree ordering private security companies operating in Afghanistan to leave the country by the end of this year. The move has escalated tensions with the US, whose forces are heavily reliant on private security contractors. In a speech delivered over the weekend, Karzai said that the administration of security by "two different sets of people” who are accountable to “two different sources” is “destroying the national sovereignty of Afghanistan and we will not allow it.” There are a total of 52 registered private security firms in Afghanistan though the real number is thought to be much higher.

IDF accused of systematic abuse by rights groups

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been accused of “routinely taking degrading photographs of dead and captured Palestinians and posting them on the Internet.” The accusations follow the posting of photographs on Facebook by Eden Abergil, an ex-soldier, in which she poses alongside Palestinian captives who are handcuffed and blindfolded. The Israeli military described the pictures as “disgraceful” but rights groups say they are a “norm” among IDF soldiers. Yesterday, an Israeli rights group, Breaking the Silence, posted further pictures on the internet which show Israeli soldiers posing with prisoners and the bodies of dead Palestinians. Activists contend that taking “souvenir pictures” is a widespread practice within the Israeli military.

Blast in the Caucasus

A car bomb exploded outside a cafe in the restive Caucasus city of Pyatigorsk, injuring 23 people, according to police. Reuters reported that Moscow is increasingly alarmed by continued violence in the region, especially given the proximity of the restive regions to Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Earlier, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a checkpoint in North Ossetia, killing one police officer.

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