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Pakistan to clamp down on Islamist militant charities

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Friday it will clamp down on charities linked to Islamist militants amid fears their involvement in flood relief could exploit anger against the government and undermine the fight against groups like the Taliban.

A girl waits for treatment at a medical centre for flood victims, operated by Mercy Malaysia, in a mosque in Charsadda located in Pakistan's northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province August 20, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Islamist charities have moved swiftly to fill the vacuum left by a government overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and struggling to reach millions of people in dire need of shelter, food and drinking water.

It would not be the first time the government has announced restrictions against charities tied to militant groups, but critics say banned organisations often re-emerge with new names and authorities are not serious about stopping them.

“The banned organisations are not allowed to visit flood-hit areas,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters. “We will arrest members of banned organisations collecting funds and will try them under the Anti-Terrorism Act.”

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari warned on Thursday that militants were trying to exploit the floods to promote their agendas -- as they did after a devastating earthquake in Kashmir in 2005.

More than 4 million Pakistanis have been made homeless by nearly three weeks of floods, making urgent the critical task of securing enough aid.

(For a video: More aid pledged for Paksitan, click here)

(For a slideshow, click here)

In a sign of improving relations between the Pakistan and India since the Mumbai militant attacks in 2008, New Delhi said that $5 million in aid had been accepted after initial reluctance from Islamabad.

“We welcome acceptance of our offer by Pakistan’s government. It is a goodwill offer for solidarity,” India’s foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said in New Delhi.

The decision comes a day after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday to express sympathy and condolences.

Eight million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance after around a third of the country was hit by floods, with waters stretching dozens of miles (km) from rivers.

The floods have marooned villages and destroyed power stations and roads just as the government had made progress in stabilising Pakistan through offensives against militants.

There were increasing fears of disease outbreaks.

“With over 38,000 reported cases of acute diarrhoea already and at least one confirmed cholera death, the spectre of major cholera outbreaks is real,” Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta of the women and child health division at Aga Khan University in Karachi wrote in the Lancet medical journal.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said millions of livestock were at risk and at least 200,000 cows, sheep, buffalo, goats and donkeys had already died.

“Livestock in this country are the poor people’s mobile ATM,” said David Doolan, Senior FAO Officer, in charge of FAO programmes in Pakistan. “In good times people build up their herds and in bad times they sell livestock to generate cash.”

Weather officials said floods could recede in Punjab province but there was a danger of more rain in Sindh over the next week. These provinces, where the majority of Pakistanis live, have been hit hardest by the floods.

The United States led a stream of pledges of more funds for Pakistan during a special meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a further $60 million, bringing to more than $150 million the contribution Washington would make toward emergency flood relief.

The U.N. has issued an appeal for $459 million, of which about 60 percent had been pledged.

Highlighting the wider problems facing Pakistan, 14 people were killed on Thursday in different incidents of targeted killings in Karachi after a Pashtun political leader was gunned down, a sign of underlying ethnic and political tensions in the country’s biggest city.

Pakistan officials are due to meet the International Monetary Fund next week for talks on easing growth and fiscal deficit targets following the country’s worst ever floods.

Pakistan turned to the IMF in 2008 for emergency financing to avert a balance of payments crisis and shore up reserves, agreeing to a set of conditions including revenue targets.

The IMF meetings will start on Aug. 23 and were scheduled for even before the floods began. In May, Pakistan received $1.13 billion, the fifth tranche of a $11.3 billion IMF loan.

(Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony in Islamabad and Sahar Ahmed and Faisal Aziz in Karachi; Bappa Majumdar in New Delhi; Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations and Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Michael Georgy)

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