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Critics: International Groups Slow to Help Pakistan

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Critics: International Groups Slow to Help Pakistan

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Critics: International Groups Slow to Help Pakistan

Critics: International Groups Slow to Help Pakistan

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The floods in Pakistan have been nothing short of devastating. Images of whole villages washed away, people waiting to be rescued and the number of dead is beyond counting at this point. And yet the international community is not reacting in the same way it did after disasters in Haiti or the Indian Ocean tsunami several years ago. Moeed Yusuf, who works on South Asian issues for the U.S. Institute of Peace, talks to Linda Wertheimer about why the relief effort seems so slow.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Werthheimer.

Floods in Pakistan have been nothing short of devastating. Images of whole villages washed away, people driven from their homes by the relentless water, awaiting any sort of rescue on high ground. Tens of millions of people displaced. The number of dead is beyond counting at this point.

And yet, the international community is not reacting in the same way it did after disasters in Haiti or the Indian Ocean tsunami a few years back. Moeed Yusuf works on South Asian issues for the U.S. Institute of Peace, and he joins us here in our studio.

Thank you very much for coming in.

Mr. MOEED YUSUF (U.S. Institute of Peace): It's a pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: Before we get into the aid issues, you're just back from Pakistan, what did you see?

Mr. YUSUF: The devastation is just colossal. You know, I mean, normally you would see the media sort of hype things in Pakistan, but this time round, I think the reality is much worse than what is being portrayed. And part of the reason is you simply can't get to most of the places which are worst hit.

Roads have been washed away. Bridges have just disappeared completely, so traffic can't move. You're doing everything by helicopters. There are no words to really describe how devastating this has been.

WERTHEIMER: Is the government just totally helpless to do anything about the displaced people? Are Islamic groups pitching in?

Mr. YUSUF: I think the government has really put its hands up. I mean, they are doing whatever can be done, but quite frankly this would've been a challenge even for a developed country.

As far as the Islamic sort of militants are concerned, look, I mean, these kind of episodes - the misery of the people - is always an opportunity for them to prey on.

WERTHEIMER: Is there, do you think, a hesitation for international groups and other nations to send money and aid?

Mr. YUSUF: Yes. That's what one has seen. And quite frankly, it's very, very sad. For a country that's so important - and we talk about, you know, the stability of Pakistan being in everybody's interest, you saw a much larger reaction out of the earthquake that hit Haiti, the tsunami, even though the number of affected - to about 14 million - is much more than what was the case there.

You know, one is at a loss. When we talk about this country so much so that, you know, this seems to be the center of our stability in the U.S., one fails to understand why there hasn't been the kind of response.

WERTHEIMER: Well, it is true, though, that the country is perceived to be deeply corrupt, no sense that if you give money it will go where you wanted it to go. A lot of donors are worried about extremism in Pakistan. It's a difficult country to be sympathetic to in many ways.

Mr. YUSUF: Well, yes and no. I think sympathy is in order, simply because the Pakistani losses have been bigger than any other country in the war on terror. But I do agree. I mean, there's pervasive corruption. There's an issue of leakage. You know, that all is true.

WERTHEIMER: Leakage of money.

Mr. YUSUF: Absolutely. I think the point here, really, is that this was an opportunity for the international community to prove to the people of Pakistan, who are as suspect of their alliances with the West, that they're really there to help them, apart from the terrorism issue, as well. And I think I see that opportunity failing, frankly.

WERTHEIMER: What about the United States? How is this country's reaction been perceived?

Mr. YUSUF: This time around, I think the U.S. has realized that there was an opportunity. And out of all the countries, I think the U.S. has been the most visible. There've been about 18 to 22 military aircraft, helicopters that are out there helping in the relief. So I think we've done fairly well this time around.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think there is a danger, if the international community does not respond as people perceived the international community did respond to Haiti?

Mr. YUSUF: Absolutely. I think there's an image problem that's going to come out of it. The symbolism is very wrong. There's going to be a serious political problem for the civilian government in Pakistan. And the less the international community does the greater the chances of the vacuum being filled by social organizations. And some of them, unfortunately, may even be those militants that we are so wary of.

WERTHEIMER: Moeed Yusuf, thank you very much.

Mr. YUSUF: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: Moeed Yusuf is the South Asian Advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

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