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Pakistani Analysts Respond to Indian Flood Aid with Caution

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Sean Maroney

As hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid come pouring into Pakistan to help with the flooding crisis, Islamabad has accepted a pledge from an unlikely source, longtime rival India.

Officials with the United Nations in Pakistan announced Saturday that they have received nearly 70 percent of the $460 million aid appeal for the country's flood disaster.

Nearly a month into the flood crisis, this total includes India's recent offer of $5 million to help with the relief effort.

India's permanent representative to the United Nations Hardeep Singh Puri addressed the organization's General Assembly Friday after Pakistan accepted the pledge.

"We are willing to do all that is in our power to assist Pakistan in facing the consequences of floods," said Puri.  "We extend our wholehearted support to the government of Pakistan in its efforts for relief and rehabilitation of the adversely affected population."

Aside from the fact that the neighboring nuclear powers have fought three wars, Pakistani analysts say this offer of aid comes at a particularly sensitive time in relations between the two countries.

Within the past two months, there have been several border skirmishes between their armies with some casualties reported on either side.

In July, India's Home Secretary G.K. Pillai accused Pakistan's military intelligence agency of playing a significant role in the planning of 2008's Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.  The accusation came a day before Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna visited his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad.  Subsequently, the accusation overshadowed the talks.

International relations expert Ishtiaq Ahmad from Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad says he believes the worldwide focus on Pakistan's flooding might have influenced India to offer aid to its longtime rival.

"The Indians might have been facing a big dilemma because the whole world is out there," said Ahmad.  "So they would have been an odd man out, you know, in a situation when everyone is coming.  Even Afghanistan has offered $1 million."

Riffat Hussain with Quaid-i-Azam University's Department of Peace and Conflict Studies says the issue of exchanging humanitarian aid between the two countries always has been politically sensitive.

He points to the fact Pakistan spurned India's offer to fly helicopters for relief efforts after the 2005 earthquake in the northern part of the country.

He also says India itself has declined Pakistani assistance in the past.

"There was an earthquake that had hit Gujarat about a decade ago, and Pakistan had offered humanitarian relief assistance to India and the Indian government had turned it down," said Hussain.  "So there is whole history of offers being made and spurned by the different sides."

He says he believes India's $5 million pledge is a delicate diplomatic maneuver, especially as compared to the tens of millions of dollars other countries are providing and Pakistan's enormous need for assistance.

"It's like a drop in the ocean, not even in the bucket," added Hussain.  "So therefore, I think they are sending a message not only to the international community but also to Pakistan that India means well."

From Lahore, international relations analyst Rasool Baksh Rais agrees with Hussain that the pledge largely is symbolic.  But he says some elements within Pakistan will not take kindly to the sum, especially considering India's economy is much larger than Pakistan's.

"It is also a kind of insult to injury that you are acting like a regional hegemony and look at the growth of your economy," said Rais.

He says Islamabad's acceptance of the aid could put pressure on the civilian government, as it fights growing criticism from flood victims that they have not received enough aid.

"There has been even much critique from certain opposition forces that why we cannot mobilize the national resources; they can be more than enough to meet the challenge that we are facing," added Rais.  "Why accept aid?"

Regardless of the source and size of the aid, analysts agree that every little bit will help as rains continue to soak a country seeking to emerge from the area's worst flooding in more than 80 years.

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