Pakistan is facing what may turn out to be its worst natural catastrophe ever. The U.S. must focus on providing maximum relief assistance over the coming weeks and plan to partner with Pakistan in leading an international effort to rehabilitate and reconstruct the flood-affected areas over the longer term. A robust U.S. response to the flood disaster would help shore up U.S.-Pakistan relations and maintain stability in a crisis-prone country vulnerable to the influence of anti-U.S. extremist groups.

In addition to the floods, Pakistan has been wracked in recent weeks by ethnic/political violence in Karachi that claimed over 80 lives, a high profile suicide attack that killed a senior Pakistani military official in Peshawar, and its worst plane crash in history in the capital city of Islamabad. As U.S. Senior Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said on Thursday, “Pakistan faces an unbelievable combination of problems…I know no other country that faces more challenges.”

In this context, it is necessary for the Pakistani civilian government and military leadership to unify efforts to respond to the flood crisis. Civil-Military unity is necessary to maintain peoples’ confidence in the government’s ability to manage the multiple challenges and prevent social upheavals that could lead to a general sense of chaos and lawlessness in the country. It is estimated that around 1,600 Pakistanis have been killed and perhaps fourteen million have been affected by the floods, having lost their homes, livelihoods, and in many cases access to food and clean water. Without immediate and robust assistance from the international community, many more Pakistanis could perish and general instability could ensue.

The U.S. has responded promptly to Pakistani requests for U.S. helicopters for immediate rescue and relief operations. The U.S. is providing 19 U.S. heavy-lift helicopters to assist the Pakistan government, thus replacing the six helicopters currently on loan from the Afghanistan war effort. The U.S. has also pledged $72 million in financial and humanitarian assistance, making it the highest pledge so far from any nation. The U.N. has made an appeal for $460 million in international donations for immediate humanitarian aid.

Once the immediate crisis subsides, the U.S. will need to continue to focus on helping Pakistan rebuild flood-devastated infrastructure and cope with the longer-term economic challenges from the disaster. The U.N. has estimated that it will take billions in international assistance to rehabilitate the affected areas. The U.S. has already committed to a $7.5 billion five-year program of assistance for economic projects in Pakistan through the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation. Portions of this funding should be easily re-programmed and expedited, if necessary, to rebuild the flood-devastated areas of the country.

The floods in Pakistan have added to the sense of uncertainty and instability in the country. The U.S. must pull out all stops and respond aggressively to help Pakistan cope with the disaster. Unlike during the refugee crisis following the Pakistani military operations in the Swat Valley last year, the Pakistan government is publicly welcoming a U.S. role in helping to mitigate the impact of the flood disaster. The U.S. response can help bolster the Pakistan government’s grip on the situation and strengthen the overall bond between our two countries.

Co-authored by Nicholas Hamisevicz .