The magnitude of the floods in Pakistan is hard to comprehend, 20 million people displaced,
The UK with it’s cultural ties with Pakistan is uniquely placed to exploit and channel aid from Western nations seeking to demonstrate their is more to our involvement in the region than Reaper strikes.
But the question remains, in a strategic context, why should we bother?
There is of course the humanitarian perspective, we should help because our fellow human being are suffering.
But the flip side is many Pakistani’s hold values that seem alien to the majority of potential UK donors, where Al Qa’ida finds refuge, where Taleban forces in Afghanistan that kill and injure British service personnel are supported from and where the bombers of 7/7 were trained.
We must be careful not to conflate the Taleban with innocent civilians but the question of ‘why should we help’ is a fair one, if hard nosed and maybe this is reflected in the relatively small international response, compared to Haiti or the tsunami.
Positive perceptions of the West are vital if we are to have a credible long term strategy in the area and if we can assist the Pakistani authorities with their relief effort then surely this is a positive, hard versus soft power.
There is no guarantee that a recipient of any aid will see the West as any different whether we give them a tent or not, who can say.
Militarily, any resources diverted to the aid effort means that operations in Afghanistan or elsewhere will go without so it is not a neutral argument. Helicopters and airlifters are in chronically short supply, despite what the politicians and senior officers might say, so every flight delivering food or tents is one less delivering ammunition or personnel and this has consequences.
The US has a number of aircraft supporting the relief effort and the RAF are also assisting but our ability to make a meaningful difference is very limited, it took weeks to get a bridge across a river in Cumbria in the aftermath of the floods there so doing anything practical beyond air dropping is limited, but if we are to compete with the Taleban for local consent then we have to simply overwhelm them with support.
DfiD’s web site lists our contribution so far, the various items of support add up to £31.5million.
The much vaunted National Security Council that combines the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development (UKaid) is supposed to join up the dots and create a coherent strategy that aligns aid, security and politics to the pursuit of strategic goals.
One might think there would be a joined up response but so far there doesn’t seem to be much in the media or public discussion about whether the floods represent an opportunity or a diversion to our path in Afghanistan.
It is interesting to reflect on the size of our aid response, £31million and how it compares to the cost of military operations at about a billion pounds per year.
In less than 2 weeks we burn through a figure equal to the entire budget for our response.