`Pak floods have potential to affect strategic dynamics`

The devastating floods in Pakistan have affected nearly 20 million people.

Updated: Sep 24, 2010, 12:13 PM IST

Washington: The devastating flood, which had affected nearly 20 million people and engulfed over one-fifth of Pakistan, has the potential to affect the broad political and strategic dynamics in the country and the region, a Congressional report has informed US lawmakers.

"The floods have the potential to affect broad political and strategic dynamics in Pakistan and the region in a number of ways," said the latest report on Pakistan by the Congressional Research Service.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the independent and bi-partisan research wing of the US Congress that prepares periodic internal report for the lawmakers on their issue of interest.

Pakistan is at the centre of several crucial US interests, including fighting terrorism and religious militancy, seeking stability in neighbouring Afghanistan, promoting nuclear non-proliferation, among others, the 30-page report dated September 21 noted.

"The crisis may undermine the already waning legitimacy of the civilian government by demonstrating its ineffectiveness to large numbers of Pakistanis in need of public services, while improving the status of Pakistan`s powerful military by the more visible role it has played in providing disaster relief," the report said.

"It may also provide militants an opportunity to garner favour with affected communities by giving them an opportunity to demonstrate that they can provide assistance in areas where the government is absent.”

“The crisis will also likely divert attention and resources from other priorities, at a time when Pakistan remains financially strapped," the report said.

Observing that the US interests are served by a stable Pakistan that can effectively rule all its territory, the CRS said any crisis on a scale of the present floods that undermines the Pakistani state`s ability to control its territory has the potential to undermine US interests.

"The inability of Pakistan to fully extend its authority into areas along its northwest frontier with Afghanistan has allowed Islamist militants hostile to the US to find refuge," it said.

Asserting that the current floods have already diverted Pakistani resources and focus away from its struggle with Islamist militants, the CRS said this has the potential to indirectly affect US military involvement in Afghanistan by taking pressure off militants on the Pakistani side of the international frontier.

"On a more positive note, the crisis presents the United States with an opportunity to improve its poor image among Pakistanis through provision of humanitarian assistance. Congress will play an important role in overseeing such assistance in the near term, and broad foreign assistance strategies for rebuilding infrastructure and other development goals in the medium and long run," it said.

While ongoing US and NATO military operations in neighbouring Afghanistan are relatively unaffected, the circumstances inside Pakistan appear to be providing time and space for both Afghan and Pakistani Taliban militants, as well as numerous other assorted indigenous Islamist extremist groups to regroup, it said.

Moreover, by undertaking disaster relief efforts in areas poorly served by the government, Islamist charities linked to such groups could boost recruitment and improve their standing with affected residents, the report said.

The CRS said Pakistan`s particular circumstances - poor government capacity, struggling economy, sagging infrastructure, multiple armed insurgencies, and all manner of regional, sectarian, and class divisions - leave it ripe for potentially major upheaval as a result of the floods.

"In the view of some analysts, the aggregated pressures are so great that the current national government is seen as unlikely to survive and complete its five-year term set to end in the spring of 2013. Some more alarmist observers have even suggested that the Pakistani state itself could collapse, although most believe this is a remote possibility," it said.