Putting a good foot forward in Pakistan

David Rohde had a story in the New York Times earlier this week that nicely demonstrates how U.S. disaster relief can affect local attitudes about Americans — even in Al Qaeda country: Asmat Ali Janbaz’s explanation for the American military helicopters flying over this isolated mountain valley last Thursday afternoon was familiar. Mr. Janbaz, who ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

David Rohde had a story in the New York Times earlier this week that nicely demonstrates how U.S. disaster relief can affect local attitudes about Americans -- even in Al Qaeda country:

David Rohde had a story in the New York Times earlier this week that nicely demonstrates how U.S. disaster relief can affect local attitudes about Americans — even in Al Qaeda country:

Asmat Ali Janbaz’s explanation for the American military helicopters flying over this isolated mountain valley last Thursday afternoon was familiar. Mr. Janbaz, who lives in the area and who describes himself as an Islamic hard-liner, contended that the Americans were not ferrying injured earthquake victims to safety; instead, they were secretly establishing an American military base in northern Pakistan to encircle China. “This is the mission!” he declared triumphantly. “Not to help the people of Pakistan.” Yet after Mr. Janbaz departed, something extraordinary happened. Here in a mountainous corner of northern Pakistan long thought to be a center for militant training camps and religious conservatism, three men dismissed his theory and heartily praised the United States for aiding victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake, which killed more than 53,000 Pakistanis. “People don’t believe such things; people only believe in what they are seeing,” said Manzur Hussain, a 36-year-old hospital worker whose brother, sister and two sons died in the earthquake. “People who give them aid, they respect them.” While it is too early to reach firm conclusions, anecdotal interviews with earthquake survivors in this picturesque mountain district, known as Mansehra, suggest that American assistance may be improving Pakistanis’ perceptions of the United States – an image that has been overwhelmingly negative here since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Read the whole thing — Al Qaeda is also mobilizing humanitarian relief, but it’s tougher to gauge those efforts. Link via America Abroad’s Jim Lindsay, who observes:

This is only one story from one reporter. But something similar happened in Indonesia after the United States rushed to help victims of last December?s tsunami. People saw Americans willing to help them with their problems. Their attitudes toward the United States softened as a result. All this is worth keeping in mind as policy makers and pundits tout the benefits of public diplomacy and ?listening tours.? Good words are fine. Good deeds are even better.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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