Overcoming The Gloom
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"Jihadists" helping displaced Pakistanis - aid group
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Inadequate assistance was allowing militant groups to operate in camps and communities housing hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis displaced by an offensive against the Taliban, an aid group said on Wednesday.
About 2 million people have fled the military's push against the Taliban in Pakistan's northwest, most since an offensive began in the Swat valley in May. Those numbers are expected to swell further as the offensive is widened.
U.N. officials said this week that only about 30 percent of a $543 million aid appeal it launched in May in a bid to avert a long-term humanitarian crisis had been met. Aid group Refugees International said the slow pace of help had created a vacuum which militants and other "political actors" were filling.
"Jihadist groups are present, leading an international agency to suspend its visits in some camps on Fridays and Saturdays as 'these are the days the jihadists distribute their assistance'," the Washington-based group said in a report on Wednesday.
Refugees International did not identify the agency concerned.
It said it had witnessed a similar phenomenon in Iraq.
At least 45,000 people have already fled South Waziristan as the military gears up for its next phase of the offensive against Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and his thousands of followers in their stronghold near the Afghan border.
The offensives were launched after Taliban gains this year raised fears about the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in its fight against al Qaeda and Washington's attempt to stabilise Afghanistan.
The United Nations and other agencies estimate more than 80 percent of the displaced are staying with families and friends in "host" communities rather than in camps, putting enormous strain on already over-stretched facilities.
According to the Refugees International report, "the implications of this humanitarian crisis and growing instability have not been adequately recognised" and more funding is urgently needed to help the United Nations and other agencies. It said one aid organisation, which it did not identify, had reported "pockets of starvation".
According to the report, "politically motivated actors" were helping the displaced in order to gain their support. That aid ranged from portable fans to mobile telephone cards, it said.
Some candidates running in local elections had even established their own camps, the report said.
Last month, aid officials said members of a Pakistani Islamist charity on a U.N. watch list were helping the displaced. Officials identified the previously unheard of Falah-i-Insaniat as an offshoot of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) charity.
The United Nations placed the JuD on a terrorist list in December, saying it was an alias for the banned Laskhar-e-Taiba militant group. India blames Lashkar-e-Taiba for the Mumbai attack last year that killed 166 people.
Analysts have said it was unlikely the Pakistani government would stop groups like the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation from providing help in the camps -- unless they engage in militancy -- because there were no laws banning such activity.
The United States has been the biggest contributor to the U.N. fund with $169 million, Refugees International said.
Immediate assistance is needed in the provision of food, shelter and drinking water, as well as "trauma-related services", especially for children, it said.
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