Aid Likely to Improve U.S. Image; Pakistan Quake an Opportunity to Alter Opinion

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Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The highly visible U.S. role in Pakistan's earthquake-relief efforts could improve popular attitudes toward America in the region, just as U.S. aid after the tsunami produced a sharp pro-U.S. swing in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.

As with the tsunami-relief effort, it was U.S. military helicopters and C-17 cargo planes yesterday that began delivering and distributing much of the international aid flooding into the region. President Bush has pledged an initial $50 million to aid victims of Saturday's quake in Pakistan.

"I think [U.S. aid] will definitely have an impact, especially at the popular level," said S. Azmat Hassan, a career Pakistani diplomat who now teaches at the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.

"Government-to-government relations between Pakistan and Washington have been good since September 11, but public opinion until now has been a very different matter," he added.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a tour of Central Asia, told reporters she was considering a side trip to Pakistan to underscore U.S. concern.

"I want to be very clear to the Pakistani people that the American people stand with them," she said.

Analysts expect Saturday's quake to have a number of political aftershocks, affecting everything from Pakistan's nuclear standoff with India to the hunt for al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally in the global war on terror, also faces a delicate time. A botched domestic response to the tragedy could produce profound political change, as happened after the Armenian earthquake of 1988 in the Soviet Union and the 1999 earthquake in Turkey.

News reports from the region say survivors in both Pakistan and India are already complaining of sluggish relief efforts. …