Aid flooded Pak by withdrawing Army

Pakistan is suffering its greatest human tragedy since Partition. The floodwaters of the Indus are an incredible 20 miles wide, sweeping away entire towns, villages and farms. Over 20 million people have been displaced, far more than the nine million displaced by Partition in 1947.  The immediate death count of 1,500 will soon increase hugely through disease and deprivation. Rehabilitation could cost $100 billion.

Some Indians might be perverse enough to rejoice that an enemy has been hit by a natural disaster — an act of God, as it were — and will be crippled economically for years. But most Indians will surely want to help their neighbours. In these traumatic times, we need to think of Pakistanis as humans in distress, not foes.

Even those who cannot think beyond realpolitik should see that the floods are potentially a strategic disaster for India too. Flood damage will create a fertile breeding ground for Islamist militancy. Islamist NGOs with links to terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are at the very forefront of flood relief efforts and hence are gaining popularity. Meanwhile, the civil administration is seen as corrupt and ineffective. President Asif Zardari has further ruined his low reputation by going on foreign junkets.

The Pakistani army has in the last year battled some, though by no means all, militant groups in Swat and FATA (federally administered tribal areas). But much of the infrastructure built to reach the remote tribal areas has been destroyed by the floods. Besides, the Pakistani army is redirecting its efforts in the region, from combating militants to combating flood damage. The militants are re-occupying the resultant political vacuum.

The ISI recently came out with a study suggesting that Islamist militants had become a greater threat to the country than India. Flood damage can only deepen that perception. True, the army wants to back the Afghan Taliban even while battling the Pakistani Taliban, and this results in muddled thinking and sabotage of peace initiatives. The resolution of these contradictions is not in sight.

One day, the Pakistani army and the ISI will have no choice but to confront the reality that Islamist militants are Frankensteins that threaten their own creator. The ISI’s assessment should bring that day somewhat closer.

In the light of both human and strategic considerations, how can India help Pakistan? Individual contributions from Indian citizens must be encouraged, and red tape thwarting contributions in cash and kind must be cut. But the Indian government should not offer more than a modest amount of food and financial aid. Pakistan requires billions of dollars for relief and rehabilitation, so anything India offers will be a drop in the ocean.

Besides, recipients are rarely grateful for alms: they resent being supplicants, and suspect the motives of the donors. The US saved India from mass starvation after the twin droughts of 1965 and 1966 by giving record food aid. But this won the US very few friends and stoked resentment from many who felt India’s independence was being compromised. The US will once again be the chief donor to Pakistan, but will gain virtually no popularity or gratitude.

If food and financial aid will not help much, how can India best help Pakistan? The best way will be for the Indian Army to unilaterally withdraw from the border in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. This will pose no military risk whatsoever: flood-stricken Pakistan cannot possibly embark on military adventures against India. But the withdrawal of Indian troops will mean that the Pakistan army loses all excuses to avoid diverting manpower and financial resources from the border to flood relief and rehabilitation. This will cost India nothing, yet will release very large resources within Pakistan. Its impact on the Pakistani psyche will be significant. Even analysts who distrust Pakistan agree widely that India has no alternative to diplomatic engagement: cutting off ties will not win any minds and hearts there. Unilateral withdrawal will itself be a form of engagement, and will encourage other forms.

The wrong strategy will be to try to negotiate a mutual withdrawal of troops. Withdrawal must be unilateral and immediate. Defence hawks will express dismay that India is so soft on an enemy that encourages terrorism. But unilateral withdrawal will be a flood relief measure, not a military surrender. In the bargain, it will oblige Pakistan to withdraw its own troops and redeploy them for flood relief: its public opinion will be outraged otherwise.

Dr Manmohan Singh, you say we must be proactive in the peace process with Pakistan. The tragic floods there have given you an opportunity to be proactive in a way that will not come again. Go for it.

7 thoughts on “Aid flooded Pak by withdrawing Army

  • 2010.Sep.21 at 12:33
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    Dear Sir,
    Given all the history, how can we even think of such an idea ? The most recent example where the troops were withdrawn (only for a few months in winter) was Kargil the result was there for everyone to be seen. Hundreds of our brave soldiers had to pay the price with their livies. Can we justify the loss of even a single Indian life (soldier or civilian) for this? Everyone knows the people we are guarding against will not get subdued because of floods. Floods or no floods their recruitments will go on. These people might not represent Pakistan’s civil society in general but ignoring them would be inviting many more 26/11s across India. Should we take this chance ?
    And shouldn’t we first get our house in order before helping our neighbour in doing so. We have our own citizens battling floods and other problems that need immediate attention (both monetary and otherwise) first.

    -Abhishek

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  • 2010.Sep.01 at 23:26
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    Dear Sir,
    Just as I wrote in earlier comment, it is indeed a more friendly gesture to send our troops to help the displaced people settle down. People in distress can really feel and appreciate hands on help better than money held by Govt authorities.

    I greatly admire your contributions and writing. Wish I had you for a mentor to guide me pursue greater goals in life.
    Best Rgds,
    Chetana

    Reply
  • 2010.Sep.01 at 23:15
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    You are presenting a rosy solution by suggesting unilateral withdrawal of troops. Such withdrawal can even help not just militants but even civilian population displaced by the flood to infiltrate. It should be the Pakistan Prime minister who should be reading your article, not Dr.Singh. Why don’t you suggest we send our troops across to help in flood rehabilitation! That is even magnanimous. Financial aid is all that India should and must do. Whether it reaches the needy is altogether a topic for another blog.

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  • 2010.Aug.26 at 20:41
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    Sir,
    Over the years, I’ve been ardent follower your articles and views expressed therein. However, for the first time I feel that your opinion may not find many takers. Based upon the psyche and past record of Pak army it will be difficult to predict whether they’ll be redirected to provide relief or encourage infiltration. Given the apathy that state and army has for its own people there, I suspect of any change in attitude.
    Regds, HS

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  • 2010.Aug.26 at 14:01
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    Yes, I do agree with the point driven out here but the problem is can we trust a country which has been an ardent follower of terrorism??I think its quiet hazardous because we can’t put the defence of our nation at some sort of stake.

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  • 2010.Aug.25 at 21:32
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    hate on india in minds of pakis is too big to be erased by any philanthrophic moves, same applies to some indians as well…………..

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  • 2010.Aug.23 at 15:52
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    Respected Sir,

    Another insightful article ..
    The idea makes sense .. But the main question is whether Pakistani Army’s priority is with its people or promoting terror in India ?

    Following link is dated July 2010 .. Which makes the question even more valid that in the scenario India withdraws its forces .. What is the guarantee that Pakistan will not help terrorists infiltrate ?

    http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/j-k-ceasefire-violation-in-rs-pura-sector-one-bsf-jawan-injured-38694

    An ardent reader

    Reply

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