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Professor, students discuss impact of floods on India-Pakistan peace process

The monsoon flooding of Pakistan's Swat Valley has killed thousands, submerged villages and destroyed roads and villages. But the valley was in turmoil even before the rains came in July, according to Durba Ghosh, associate professor of history, at a Sept. 8 lecture in Goldwin Smith Hall.

"This was a region that was already in quite a bit of crisis before the flooding occurred," said Ghosh, who noted that in May 2009, the Pakistan government, encouraged by the United States, began a campaign to remove the Taliban from the Swat Valley, displacing inhabitants of the valley.

Shortly after the campaign was declared successful, the flooding began. Homes, schools, hospitals, roads and crops were washed away. There is a threat of famine and a lack of drinkable water, said Ghosh, acting director of the South Asia Program.

The government reaction, Ghosh believes, has been inadequate, and is comparable to the American government's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Much internal aid has come from Islamic charities in Pakistan. Though there have been suspicions that these charities are linked to militant groups, Ghosh said the charities "have been able to provide, on a large scale, what the government cannot," and may not have militant affiliations.

Ghosh moderated a panel discussion after her talk. Cornell students spoke about the impact of the flooding on the peace process between India and Pakistan. Graduate student Fareeha Zia, from the Islamic Alliance for Justice, argued that the flood should be addressed first, saying the two countries should establish a connection through aid. "Let us come out of it," she said. "Help us. Engage with us."

Doctoral student Basit Riaz Sheikh did not want the peace process to be forgotten, citing several occasions where it was stalled due to crises such as this. "If we really connect the dots, what we see is a pattern," he said, noting that he hoped India and Pakistan will make progress with peace, even in the face of the disaster.

Negative feelings on both sides of the border also add to the problem. Krishna Jaynt of the Cornell India Association discussed Pakistan's delay in accepting aid from India, which India called a "snub." Such reactions, he said, obstruct peace. "I think that we've lost the big picture," he said.

The students, however, also examined support for peace in both countries. Sheikh mentioned a campaign supporting pro-peace news in both countries as well as cooperative gestures such as Indian journalists appearing on Pakistani news programs.

Taimoor Akhtar of the Pakistani Students Association felt that the desire for peace is present at the civilian level. "When you come down to the people," he said, "I think the opinion of the people is there."

The event was sponsored by the Cornell International Affairs Review and several student groups. A concert to benefit flood victims was held Sept. 11 at Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.

Jenny Proctor '12 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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Blaine Friedlander