Foreign Policy Blogs

It is time for regional powers to take charge!

The world is watching in shock as Pakistan grapples with one of the worst floods in history. This week the UN estimated that the floods in southern Pakistan have displaced about a million people in a matter of two days. The massive floods began almost a month ago and have since displaced about 20 million people in Pakistan, and killed over 1600.

It is time for regional powers to take charge!

As expected in such large-scale natural disasters, the world has responded with relief aid in cash and kind. Millions of dollars and relief workers from foreign governments, organizations and private individuals are pouring into Pakistan. And yet the efforts seem to fall short. The U.S. has been quick to respond and donated generously as it has traditionally done in crisis situations across the globe. As the global leader the U.S. has always been seen to take charge in such situations and help ease the burden on the affected country/region.

However, with its own economy in doldrums and recovery still far away, how long can the world expect the U.S. to take care and be one of the largest donors in crisis situations? Add to it the concerns about the aid money potentially reaching militant outfits instead of the millions displaced by the floods. Given the chaotic situation the country is in, and the penetration of militant/terrorist outfits in the inner reaches of Pakistan, it is not a far-fetched possibility. It would be necessary to ensure that the terrorist/militant organizations do not capitalize on the situation in Pakistan and cause further devastation in Pakistan and across the globe.

Textbook logic will tell us that all stakeholders in a crisis situation should be responsible for crisis management. But in this case some of the most important stakeholders seem to have restricted themselves to sending aid, or bickering about if and how much aid to send. It is necessary that the two regional powers, China and India, proactively take charge of the situation and play the part of the responsible global powers they wish to be. China has so far sent some $ 8 million in aid and other relief materials such as tents, blankets. Compare this to the more $60 million that the US has already provided in either cash or kind, and another pledge of $7.5 billion over the next five years for rehabilitations purposes. India on its part has given, which was accepted by Pakistan after considerable deliberation, a sum of $ 5 million.

The story over the last one month shows that there is high probability of the country falling into chaos once the water recedes and the floods are over. The US has asked the Pakistani government to display transparency in spending relief money and undertaking rehabilitation projects. But there is no clear word about what China and India plan to do in the long-run. As the immediate neighbor and arch enemy, a chaotic situation in Pakistan, conducive for the growth of militant/extremist organizations, could pose a serious risk to Indian security. There is also the possibility of illegal immigrants and refugees trying to enter the country, creating a internal security issue. Keeping aside the political enmity, it is necessary for India to take an active part in the relief and rehabilitation work, at least out of sheer self-interest.
China claims to be Pakistan’s ‘all-weather’ friends. However, its relief efforts leave a lot to ask for. Though they might be friends, and China may have some control over the military activities of Pakistan, and does not face an immediate militant threat from Pakistan, the possibility cannot be ruled out. On the western border, Afghanistan needs to be particularly vigil about the situation as it has the greatest risk of receiving a huge rush of refugees that cross over through the porous borders. Not only would that be a serious security and economic issue for Afghanistan, it could also pose a big risk to US efforts and plans for exit from the country.

Pakistan’s neighbors, the stakeholders – India, China, Afghanistan, Iran – need to really step up their game. It is high time that India and China, in particular, take charge of crisis situations in their region and play the role of a ‘superpower’, just as the U.S. has consistently been doing through the years. Status quos of diplomatic relations should not dictate what the response will be. National interest and regional security should. Being a regional/global power is not just about economic growth rates and size of the economies, it is also about understanding one’s regional/global responsibilities and fulfilling them efficiently. It is about being emphatic and generous to the enemy in need, while taking control of the situation; understanding one’s humanitarian responsibilities without losing sight of the opportunities that the situation presents. It is high time for regional powers to take charge and not expect the US to be the never-depleting relief bank.



Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni

Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni graduated from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. She received her degree in International Security and Economic Policy and interned with the Arms Control Association, Washington, D.C. She is particularly interested in matters of international arms control, nuclear non-proliferation and India’s relations with its neighbors across Asia. She currently works with the US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC).