Pakistan Taliban targeting aid workers, says US

 

THE PAKISTAN Taliban is planning attacks against foreigners delivering emergency aid in the aftermath of devastating floods, according to an American defence official.

The threat is being taken seriously by the United Nations and by charities which are helping millions of people in desperate need of clean water, food and medicine after almost a month of floods.

Some of the worst-affected areas are in the northwest of the country and in the southern Punjab, both known as havens for Jihadi groups.

“According to information available to the US government, Tehreek-e-Taliban plans to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan,” the official told reporters in Washington on condition of anonymity.

“Tehreek-e-Taliban also may be making plans to attack federal and provincial ministers in Islamabad.”

Weeks of flooding have affected an estimated 17.2 million people. Some 6.5 million people are homeless, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Charities and UN agencies have fanned out across the region and hundreds of foreign aid workers have flown into Pakistan.

The region’s Islamist insurgents have long considered western aid workers as legitimate targets.

Insurgents shot dead a British doctor, Karen Woo, earlier this month in Afghanistan. She died alongside six other aid workers in a bloody reminder of the dangers faced by relief missions.

Last year, a suicide bomber killed five members of staff with the UN’s World Food Programme at its offices in Islamabad.

Much of the border region with Afghanistan is already considered a no-go area for foreign staff, and local workers have also been kidnapped.

A spokesman for the World Health Organisation said aid work in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan was being affected by security concerns.

“Now with this threat it means either we have to downsize the operation – which means less access to the affectees – otherwise we have to take more mitigation measures in order to reduce the security risk, which means more resources,” Ahmed Farah Shadoul said. “This will definitely delay the operation in certain areas.”

Government officials had hoped that the flood danger would have receded by now. However, high tides have prevented the bloated Indus river from emptying into the Arabian Sea.

Further monsoon rains are expected.

Meanwhile, work has continued to strengthen levees and protect towns and villages.

Authorities in southern Sindh yesterday ordered nearly half a million people to evacuate three towns as rising water threatened flood defences and a fresh round of destruction.

In northern Sindh, waters were also closing in on the town of Shahdadkot.

Riaz Ahmed Soomro, relief commissioner for Sindh, said: “People have been asked to evacuate, but it’s a very big town. People had built an artificial embankment but the pressure is increasing.”

The warning is the first suggestion that relief efforts might be targeted by militants although the Pakistani Taliban has previously denounced all foreign aid for victims of the catastrophic flooding.

There are also concerns that the floods have choked off key supply routes to Nato forces in Afghanistan and allowed breathing space for militants in Pakistan as the military diverts helicopters and personnel to flood relief.

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