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Islamic charities versus the US in battle for Pakistan aid

Pakistani flood survivors catch water bottles distributed by military helicopter in Bssera village near Muzaffargarh on August 11, 2010. Pakistan issued fresh flood warnings August 11, putting parts of Punjab and Sindh on alert and calling on foreign donors to step up efforts to contain the country's worst humanitarian disaster. Photo courtesy AFP.

US tripling number of Pakistani aid helicopters: Gates
Tampa, Florida (AFP) Aug 11, 2010 - The United States has deployed a carrier to Pakistan that will triple the number of US helicopters involved in the flood relief effort, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday. Gates said the deployment of the USS Peleliu would mean "three times as many helicopters" were on hand to help some 14 million people estimated to be facing direct or indirect harm in one of the worst ever humanitarian crises.

The USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship, will have 19 helicopters on board. The six US helicopters currently helping in the aid efforts are to be redeployed to Afghanistan, officials said. "The flooding in Pakistan has the potential to be significantly more disastrous for the country than the earthquake several years ago," Gates said, referring to the 2005 Kashmir earthquake that killed more than 73,000 people. "The (US) president (Barack Obama) wants to lean forward in offering help to the Pakistanis," Gates said. "We will work with them (the Pakistanis) and do this at their pace."
by Staff Writers
Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 11, 2010
When torrential monsoon rains flooded Pakistan, sparking the country's worst-ever humanitarian crisis, hardline Islamic charities moved fast. Faster than the government.

Banned in Pakistan and on a UN terror list, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) is one of a number of Islamic organisations that have been highly visible in the battle to help provide relief to millions of survivors.

Filling a void created by the perceived failure of the civilian government to mobilise, fears are growing in the United States that such charities are using soft power to propagate extremism in the nuclear-armed state.

Pakistan's Taliban have now urged the government to reject American aid in favour of 20 million dollars of Taliban aid. There was no indication that the militia can or will pay, but the battle for hearts and minds has been drawn.

"We are providing food, clothes, medicines, tents, utensils, 5,000 rupees (60 dollars) cash to each family," said Atique Chohan, spokesman for JuD in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the Taliban are active.

"So far we have helped 250,000 people," he told AFP at a camp run by JuD's newly set up welfare organisation Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation in the district of Nowshehra, where dozens of bearded volunteers dished out food.

A truck drove up loaded with food, clothes, medicine and toys for victims, none of whom care that JuD chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed is considered a terrorist in India and by the United Nations.

He founded Laskhar-e-Taiba, the Kashmiri militant group outlawed in Pakistan and blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead.

Vitriol has been reserved for President Asif Ali Zardari, who returned home only this week from London, and the government -- whose cash-strapped departments have been accused of infighting.

"Local religious organisations like JuD help more," said 25-year-old taxi driver Ghulam Haider, whose home was swept away in Nowshehra.

Villages along the motorway from Peshawar to Islamabad are inundated and women are seen wading through knee-high water.

"The government gave us tents and nothing else. All goods here have been supplied by affluent and ordinary citizens. We're getting help from private organisations," said Jahanas Khan, 50, who was uprooted from his village.

The United States has increased its flood aid to 55 million dollars and the United Nations is to launch an international appeal for several hundred million dollars, saying that six million people are depend on help to survive.

Anthony Cordesman, who has advised the Obama administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the floods represent "a major opportunity" for Islamist groups to win further influence among people denied government services.

"If we have to deal with a radicalised Pakistan, that raises the threat that is posed by terrorism by several orders of magnitude," said Cordesman, an expert from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Concerned about extremism, Washington is trying to engage more fully with Pakistan, which President Barack Obama has put on the frontline of the war against Al-Qaeda and considers crucial to ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

Aid from the United States and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can have a tremendous impact, said Cordesman, but can also go unnoticed by people on the ground, who have no idea where it came from.

Pakistani analyst Talat Masood said the situation exposed the extent to which the government was trapped between extremists and the military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half its existence.

"It is unable to meet the challenge... It is a strange situation. Dominance of the military or dominance of militancy."

Ashley Tellis, a south Asia security expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told AFP that it was a recurring pattern.

"I think they (the military) will eventually show that they can respond, but they've certainly lost the battle of being seen as the first responder and that is in a sense the most important part of the public relations battle."

In a conference call with journalists, Anne Patterson, the US ambassador to Islamabad, minimised the influence extremist groups had in providing aid.

Back at the JuD camp in Peshawar, civil servant Aurangzeb Khan, 43, dropped money into a transparent glass donation box, half filled with banknotes.

"I would have given it to the government had it done a good job," he said.

earlier related report
UN urges huge aid push for Pakistan floods
Sukkur, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 11, 2010 - The United Nations appealed Wednesday for 460 million dollars in emergency aid in response to Pakistan's floods, as a senior envoy warned militants could exploit the crisis.

Launching the appeal in New York, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said the funds would be used for food, clean water, shelter and medical supplies.

"We have a huge task in front of us to deliver all that is required as soon as possible," he told donors.

Pakistan says 14 million people are facing direct or indirect harm, while the United Nations has warned that children are among the most vulnerable, with diarrhoea the biggest health threat and measles a concern.

The UN believes 1,600 people have died in the floods, while Pakistan has confirmed 1,243 deaths.

Pakistan's government has admitted being unable to cope with the scale of the crisis. An outpouring of rage from survivors and the political opposition is piling pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari.

Hardline Islamic charities have filled some of the vacuum, leading to warnings within the United States about extremism in a country on the frontline of the US-led war on Al-Qaeda and key to the conflict in Afghanistan.

UN aid envoy for Pakistan Jean-Maurice Ripert warned that armed militants could take advantage of the disaster.

"The people's misery can always be exploited by those who have political or militant aims," he was quoted as saying by French newspaper Le Monde, adding that the floods were "the worst natural disaster the country has known".

The Pakistani Taliban, which has been fighting the military in the tribal belt and last year in the northwestern valley of Swat, has called on the government to turn down all foreign aid for the victims.

Pakistan's meteorological service warned of floods in Hyderabad district, which could spread devastation further south in Sindh province, and issued a "significant" flood forecast for Kalabagh and Chashma in Punjab.

Returning from a visit to Europe, Zardari sent the chief minister of Sindh to the city of Sukkur, which is close to flooded areas, and his eldest daughter to discuss relief with businessmen.

Officials in Punjab said more than 90 percent of the town of Kot Addu had emptied and that thousands of factories had shut because of electricity and gas cuts.

The chief minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, said that up to 3.5 million people could be affected in the province, although there were few deaths.

"Up to 40 kilometres (25 miles) of Indus Highway is inundated and has been closed. The initial rough estimates show that losses of 35 billion rupees (411 million dollars), excluding crops, have been suffered by Sindh," he said.

"What we need is substantial foreign aid and not peanuts. The aid being pledged so far is peanuts and not enough to meet the enormous challenge ahead.

"The immediate danger is almost over, but we are concerned about the next possible big wave of flooding.... If it is a progressive flow it should be fine, but if it comes at once then it will be trouble."

The World Food Programme said it was trying to get help to up to six million survivors at a cost of 150 million dollars.

But the Pakistani Taliban has condemned the aid effort and offered to cough up 20 million dollars on its own, without indicating how it would find the money.

"We condemn American and other foreign aid and believe that it will lead to subjugation. Our jihad against America will continue," spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP by telephone.

The United States announced Tuesday it would increase its flood aid by another 20 million dollars to 55 million dollars.

At the Pakistani military base of Ghazi, US Major Mark Geeting said US military helicopters had evacuated 2,305 people and supplied aid including water, rice, flour and meal packages.

But critics say the official relief effort has been woefully slow.

Anthony Cordesman, who has advised the Obama administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the floods represent "a major opportunity" for Islamist groups to win further influence among people denied government services.

"If we have to deal with a radicalised Pakistan, that raises the threat that is posed by terrorism by several orders of magnitude," he said.

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UN to launch appeal as Pakistan flood disaster deepens
Sukkur, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 10, 2010
The United Nations is launching an appeal to help the millions of people hit by Pakistan's worst ever floods which have cut off swathes of the country and raised fears of a food crisis. A UN official said the disaster has affected almost 14 million people, eclipsing the scale of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as the deadly floodwaters sweep south and rescuers battle to bring aid ... read more

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