In a country of 170 million people where anti-American sentiment burns brightly, the US may have won 84 friends on Wednesday by scooping them up in the belly of a Chinook helicopter and ferrying them away from this flooded mountain town.
The rescue effort represents the most visible element of a broader, $55 million US aid package following Pakistan’s worst natural disaster. While the ultimate impact on Pakistani public opinion is unknown, the US has earned almost universal praise here for acting quickly.
The Pakistanis rescued on Wednesday were among more than 2,700 picked up over the past week by six US choppers that have also delivered bags of flour and biscuits to stranded residents of the flood-ravaged Swat Valley.
“The American assistance has been considerable, it has been prompt, and it has been effective,” said Tanvir Ahmad Khan, a former Pakistani foreign secretary and now chairman of the Islamabad-based Institute of Strategic Studies. “The sheer visibility of American personnel and helicopters working in the field gives a feeling of very welcome assistance from the US.”
Most analysts say that feeling is unlikely to translate into any immediate improvement in underlying Pakistani attitudes toward the US. The two nations have been allies in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but the relationship is marked by deep mistrust.
Still, the floods have presented US policymakers with a chance to generate goodwill while providing a much-needed humanitarian service.
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