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Pakistan: Help us, or the terrorists win.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi presented the U.N.’s members with a stark challenge: Help Pakistan recover from its most devastating natural disaster in modern history or run the risk of surrendering a key front in the war on terror. “This disaster has hit us hard at a time, and in areas, where we are ...

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Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi presented the U.N.’s members with a stark challenge: Help Pakistan recover from its most devastating natural disaster in modern history or run the risk of surrendering a key front in the war on terror.

“This disaster has hit us hard at a time, and in areas, where we are in the midst of fighting a war against extremists and terrorists,” Qureshi warned foreign delegates, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at a U.N. donor’s conference on the Pakistani flood. “If we fail, it could undermine the hard won gains made by the government in our difficult and painful war against terrorism. We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists.”

Qureshi provided one of his darkest assessments to date of the political, economic and security  costs of Pakistan’s floods, which have placed more than 20 million people in need of assistance, destroyed more than 900,000 homes and created financial losses of over $43 billion. “We are the people that the international community looks towards, as a bulwark against terrorism and extremism,” he said, adding that Pakistan “now looks towards the international community to show a similar determination and humanity in our hour of need.”

The blunt speech was part of a broader effort by Pakistan, the United Nations, the United States and its military allies in the region to goad the international community into stepping up funding for the relief effort, which has been severely underfunded. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged an additional $60 million to the U.N. flood relief in Pakistan, bringing the total U.S. contribution to $150 million. Britain’s development minister, Andrew Mitchell, pledged an additional $33 million, saying that the pace of funding for has been “woefully inadequate.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who recently visited the flood disaster region, also sought to dramatize the extraordinary nature of the floods, which have inundated 20 percent of Pakistan, an area larger than Italy. Ban said more people have been affected by the flood than the combined populations hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami, Cyclone Nargis, and the Haitian earthquake. “Pakistan is facing a slow-motion tsunami; its destructive power will accumulate and grow with time,” Ban told U.N. delegates. “At least 160,000 square kilometers of land is under water — an area larger than more than half the countries of the world.”   

“We have never seen anything like this before. 1919, I’m told was a mega flood. This far exceeds that,” Qureshi told a gathering of diplomats, investors, journalists and Pakistani-Americans at a discussion on the flood at the Asia Society.

Qureshi, who was joined by Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, singled out the United States for leading the international effort to respond to the worst natural calamity in modern history. “Thank you America,” said Qureshi, noting that ordinary Pakistanis recognized the role that the United States has played since the floods struck. “You have contributed significantly; you have shown the world that you are a caring nation.”

He also thanked George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist, who announced plans today to allocate $5 million — more money than the vast majority of foreign countries contributing to the flood response — to a Pakistan democracy program he runs to help those in need. The InterAsian Development Bank also announced it would make $2 billion in low interest loans over the next two years to help pave the way to a massive reconstruction effort.

Today’s pledges moved the U.N. closer to raising the nearly $460 million it is seeking to fund relief operations over the next six months. The fund raising effort has drawn criticism of many of Pakistan’s closest allies, including oil rich sheikdoms like Saudi Arabia and China, which have provided only a trickle of aid to the U.N.-led relief effort.”I think the Chinese should step up to the plate,” Holbrooke said in a briefing with a handful of reporters. “They always say Pakistan is their closest ally.”

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, which has faced sharp criticism for its slow response, announced that it will pledge about $105 million in assistance, most of it in the form of relief supplies. Only about $5 million will be provided in cash to the Pakistan National Disaster Management Authority. None is earmarked for the U.N.’s relief efforts. The European Union has also increased its funding commitment by $39 million to about $90 million. Several other countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, also made new contributions today.

But Qureshi defended his country’s allies, saying that Saudi Arabia has been sending relief planes into Pakistan ever since the flood began and that China has stepped in to provide life-saving assistance to more than 27,000 Pakistanis who live near the Chinese border. “They have never let us down in the past and I don’t expect them to let us down now,” he said of China.

Qureshi and Holbrooke said they were acutely aware that the Pakistani floods could have massive strategic implications for their countries’ security interests in the region, but insisted that, for now,  their main focus was on saving lives. Holbrooke also made it clear that the U.S. saw the flood as an opportunity to showcase American generosity, saying he and other top U.S. diplomats had developed a slogan. “We want to be the first in, with the most assistance,” he said.

Qureshi acknowledged criticism that the Pakistan government was slow to respond in the initial days of the flood. “Initially there was shock and paralysis but we are now getting our act together,” he said. “We’ve been struck by this national calamity; we will face it and we will muster the resources and get out of this.”

Follow Me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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