Thursday, October 13, 2005

An "Indonesia Bounce"


Glen Kessler and Robin Wright say in the Post today that "Earthquake Aid for Pakistan Might Help U.S. Image." Following the recent 7.6 earthquake, which has killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis with the death toll still climbing, the U.S. is making a big push to help out.

The quake mainly affected northern Pakistan, a hotbed of resistance to both Islamabad and U.S. interests in Afghanistan, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an "unscheduled" stop in the Pakistani capital to show support and offer help.

It's a great opening for U.S., both in the short-term business of saving lives and for long-term public diplomacy. The U.S. is widely distrusted in the disaster zone—and Osama bin Laden and a host of al-Qa'ida baddies are thought to be hiding there. It behooves the U.S. to be friendly with as many Pakistanis as possible and hope that someone drops a dime on bin Laden down the road.

Of course, unnamed high administration officials deny any motivation but the humanitarian, while at the same time welcoming any silver linings:

"[Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf is a friend and hero in our eyes," said one senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue more freely. "There is a clear and unmistakable signal being sent that we help our friends."


The official, noting that U.S. aid is also flowing to Central America after the devastating floods there, said that the administration is not acting to "curry favor with hostile Muslim populations." But, he added, "if there is a positive impact for the United States, so much the better."

As another U.S. official put it: "If this helps us show that Abu Ghraib is not reflective of the American character, that would be good."

Will quake aid help? Look at the bounce that the U.S. reputation got in Indonesia following aggressive U.S. help after the tsunami:

... The U.S. government has now committed nearly $1 billion [to Indonesia], with private donations topping that.

Polling has indicated that the U.S. tsunami effort -- which included sending a fleet of ships and providing round-the-clock helicopter rescues -- has paid dividends to the United States' image in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.

A survey of 1,200 Indonesians one month after the tsunami, sponsored by Terror Free Tomorrow and conducted by a leading Indonesian pollster, found that, for the first time, more Indonesians (40 percent) supported the U.S. terrorism fight than opposed it (36 percent). Sixty-five percent of those surveyed had a more favorable impression of the United States, with support strongest among those younger than 30, while support for Osama bin Laden dropped from 58 percent before the tsunami to 23 percent. Terror Free Tomorrow is a nonpartisan group that studies popular support for global terrorism.

Husain Haqqani, director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University and an adviser to Terror Free Tomorrow, said the experience in Indonesia could easily be replicated in Pakistan. Haqqani, a former adviser to several Pakistani political leaders, said that anti-American Islamic groups have begun to realize this and have opposed the U.S. aid because "this may take the wind out of their sails."

I read somewhere yesterday that Pakistani militant groups were in disarray following the quake. Hopefully the U.S. can help fill any vacuum they leave.

1 comment:

mark said...

"I read somewhere yesterday that Pakistani militant groups were in disarray following the quake"

With any luck that disarray included landslides that buried training camps and Deobandi seminaries.

But in any event, your post is spot on. Nice work!

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