Pakistan, as we all know, is located in an area from where many unsavory characters antithetical to American interests seem to emerge constantly and relentlessly. But as if extremism and terrorism were not enough, natural disasters have also been added to the mix of man-made problems to hit that country today like a ton of bricks. The 2005 Kashmir earthquake was a devastating first in which over 70,000 people perished. The world came to the aid of millions of suffering people in that region, with Americans taking the lead. Chinook helicopters played their part as angels of mercy by dropping food supplies and picking up the injured. Today, Pakistan is faced with another disaster, the worst flooding since its post-1971 history.
Millions in Pakistan are faced with the grim prospect of disease, hunger, and homelessness. What is already a poor country has just become poorer. Predicted crop losses are greater than a billion dollars and worse still, food storage facilities and livestock have been heavily impacted. Areas that receive less than 20 inches of rain annually (or less) have had to deal with 12 inches of rain in less than three days and more is expected. Road networks have been heavily damaged and bridges have disappeared along with livelihoods for a large number of people, as farmlands stand waterlogged and covered with silt.
The natural environment of the areas affected was already under stress due to local population pressures and the influx of refugees from Afghanistan during the 1980s. From that time on, the Af-Pak border region has seen continuous war, which now includes the Pakistani border province of the North-West Frontier, recently renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Under the umbrella of the Taliban brand name, extremist groups are fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan and the Pakistan Army in Pakistan, both wars making the lives of local populations quite miserable. And now this disastrous flood has been added to an already volatile situation.
Nobody will argue that Pakistan does not have an image problem in the United States. A small group of extremists have made sure of that and they are also determined to make America look bad in Pakistan. But in this disaster there has appeared an opportunity for ordinary Pakistanis to witness America at its best. The Marines have landed and American helicopters are already flying mercy missions, much to the chagrin of fanatics who cannot be happy to see such people to people friendships revived again.
One cannot ignore the fact that the American taxpayer is already burdened with enough worries about the economy, unemployment, and national security. An appeal for help for people in Pakistan today may just not seem all that important. We have just had the Gulf oil disaster to worry about. But if we want to cap the out-of-control well of extremism in the Af-Pak region which today includes flooded parts of Pakistan, coming to the aid of people in this crisis by donating a few of our precious dollars cannot hurt. The Pakistani-American community can only do so much though it will rise to the occasion once again. And Washington needs to be thanked for what it has already done and is doing. But the request being made here is to the American people, immigrants included. Please assist if you can. Your inaction may just help the wrong people.
Donations can be made to:
• UNICEF: http://www.unicefusa.org/
• THE RED CROSS: http://redcross.org/
• OXFAM: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
• THE HIDAYA FOUNDATION: http://hidaya.org/
Ras Siddiqui is a South Asian writer and journalist based in Sacramento.