From last weekend’s New York Times:
As the Obama administration continues to add to the aid package for flood-stricken Pakistan — already the largest humanitarian response from any single country — officials acknowledge that they are seeking to use the efforts to burnish the United States’ dismal image there.…
American officials say they are trying to rekindle the same good will generated five years ago when the United States military played a major role in responding to an earthquake in Kashmir in 2005 that killed 75,000 people.
…But American officials warn that the glow from the earthquake assistance faded quickly without more enduring development programs.
“LeFever [the senior US officer in Pakistan] clearly understands the P.R. value of flood assistance, but he also knows that absent other high-profile public diplomacy efforts, the half-life of any improvement to Pakistani impressions of the U.S. will be short,” said John K. Wood, a retired Army colonel….
This article raises several questions related to recent Aid Watch blog posts. First, has anyone quoted in the article examined the evidence for or against the hypothesis that giving disaster relief will improve the US’s image in Pakistan? As we blogged recently, there is startlingly little evidence at all on whether aid can “win hearts and minds,” but one of the few studies that exists looked specifically at the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. It found that even though US relief efforts were effective from a humanitarian perspective, they had no lasting impact on Pakistani perceptions.
Second, the Army official quoted above warns that flood assistance from the US may not be enough to create lasting change. Maybe he read the studies (or our blog)? But from which studies did he get his evidence that “high-profile public diplomacy efforts” have a huge payoff for making Pakistanis love us?
Third, could the love affair between US aid and Pakistan be suffering because Pakistan remembers that US aid jilted them several previous times? (See great graph from CGD.) And because the aid to Pakistan was driven by our own strategic interests?
Now this may sound hopelessly naïve, but here are some reasons the American government should be providing humanitarian assistance to Pakistan: This is an unprecedented disaster causing tremendous suffering and disruption for millions of Pakistani people. The ongoing floods that have submerged one-fifth of Pakistan under water have killed 1,500 people, destroyed crops and livestock, and have put as many as 6 million people at risk of dying from water-borne diseases in “a second wave of deaths” now predicted by UN officials.
If ever there was a time for US aid to demonstrate that it is NOT always and everywhere ONLY about US strategic interests, this would be a good time. And because it’s the right thing to do.