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Pakistan floods: Taliban suspend attacks

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 02 August 2010

Channel 4 News has learned the Taliban has suspended attacks in flood-hit areas of Pakistan as Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller reports on the "walls of water" which have left at least 1500 people dead.

Survivors of the Pakistan floods. (Credit: Reuters)

The Pakistani Taliban has announced that it will temporarily suspend attacks in the flood-hit areas of the country, as the AFP news agency reports at least 1,500 people have been killed.

Channel 4 News has learned the Disasters Emergency Committee, which acts as an umbrella organisation for 13 different humanitarian aid agencies, is tonight considering launching an appeal.

Earlier it emerged that Islamist charities, some with suspected ties to militants, stepped in to provide aid for Pakistanis hit by the worst flooding in memory. This put more pressure on the government criticised for its response to the disaster.

The floods have ravaged the north west and displaced more than a million people. Pakistan's administration is under pressure, and is heavily dependent on foreign aid, having a poor record in crisis management, whether fighting Taliban insurgents or easing chronic power cuts.

Muhammad Umer, purportedly a Taliban spokesman said in a statement:
"We are announcing temporary suspension of Mujahidden activities in the flood-hit area to give another opportunity to the people to seek forgiveness.

"We are immediately suspending operations but if the army or the government considered it as our weaknesses and commit any mistake, then the army, the government and the people will face dire consequences.

"People in the military operation-hit areas, who are against Islam and Shariat, must repent and seek forgiveness and should pledge support to the Mujhiden and Islam."

The Taliban spokesman claimed that flood brought disaster in the areas where the people "opposed and desecrated Shariat and insulted Mujahideen and sought help from the infidels and hypocrites."

The Islamist charities may gain support if their relief efforts pay off, as they did in the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir which killed 75,000 people.

Some analysts expressed doubts that Islamist groups and their militant wings could capitalise on the disaster because army offensives have weakened them.

Others said the Islamists' camps had set a dangerous precedent. Columnist Huma Yusuf said: "It is very likely that they will exploit the governance vacuum, in the wake of this tragedy, to fuel their own recruitment."

Aid efforts
With more heavy monsoon rain forecast this week authorities expect the death toll to rise.

A state of emergency has been declared in the north-west provincial government of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KPK) after days of rain caused widespread devastation. The flood is now passing through Punjab and moving towards the Sindh region, where people have already been asked to evacuate.

Roads, bridges, crops and livestock have been destroyed as rivers have burst their banks and inundated vast areas, with Balochistan in the south west and Punjab also affected.

The UK has pledged £5m in aid, to be delivered through the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), to help those affected. The US embassy has announced $10 million in immediate humanitarian aid, with more to be earmarked as necessary. The European Union will donate 30 million euros.

World Vision told Channel 4 News that with more rain on the way relief workers are struggling to help the thousands of victims at need.

"Our fear is that the worst is yet to come as the rain continues to fall and we struggle to reach people in remote areas," says Muhammad Ali from World Vision in Pakistan.

World Vision told Channel 4 News that the most at risk are children and women who are suffering from poor health and unhygienic conditions.

"There is a real danger of the spread of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, asthma, skin allergies and possibly cholera in these areas," Shaharyar Bangash, programme manager, World Vision Pakistan, said.

Save the Children has launched a $10 million appeal to reach stranded families.

A Save the Children relief worker who is in the crisis zone told Channel 4 News:
"I went with some colleagues to Upper Swat yesterday to help assess the damage.

"When we reached Fatehpur, the road suddenly ended in a 100 meter drop off to the River Swat below. It seemed like an entire part of the road, as well as houses, had been scooped out with a gigantic cup.

"This is the only road leading to Miandam, Bahrain and Kalam, where thousands of residents and tourists from all over Pakistan are stranded."

The Save the Children relief worker concluded "I felt strangely relieved to return to the safety and comfort of Save the Children's office, but was saddened to witness the flood’s devastation, which had displaced so many children and families from their homes."
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Salman Shahid, spokesman for the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (Foundation for the Welfare of Humanity), said the Islamist group had set up 13 relief and six medical camps, and a dozen ambulances were providing emergency treatment. Several other Islamist groups are also helping out with the relief effort.

Falah-i-Insaniat is believed to have ties to Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity, which the UN Security Council banned last December for its alleged links with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group blamed for the 2008 attack on the Indian city of Mumbai.

Mr Shahid told Reuters news agency: "We're very much there. We're the only group that is providing cooked food to trapped people and those laying on the roadside. Our volunteers are evacuating people."

Ashraf Mall, Tearfund's Pakistan Country Manager told Channel 4 News that the incoming heavy rain mixed with the flood water is a "recipe for disaster". He said so many victims of the floods he has met now only have temporary shelter.

He said: "Over the weekend I was talking to people affected by the floods. One man Mir Akber Khan left his home on Friday when the water level rose. Now he says that his house is disappearing as the water has reached the roof of his home. His family has lost everything.

"Thousands of families like Mir’s have set up temporary shelter in the hills hoping the water will subside sooner rather than later. They’re waiting patiently to be rescued and for food and water aid to be delivered."
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Damage and devastation
Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority claimed more than 29,500 houses were damaged and a key trade highway to China was blocked by the flooding.

Nicki Bennet, a senior humanitarian officer at the UN's office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs said: "Our main challenge of getting a clearer picture is access." 

Officials said it is too early to estimate the damage caused to the economy, but the rains had so far appeared to have spared the main agricultural heartland in the Punjab.

Adnan Khan, from the provincial Disaster Management Authority in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, said: "The entire infrastructure we built in the last 50 years has been destroyed."

The disaster management authority said tents and hygiene kits have been delivered along with helicopters and boats that have been dispatched.

But analysts say the government lacks the resources to take on a disaster of this scale, leaving the military in charge.

Over 30,000 Pakistani troops have rescued some 19,000 people from marooned areas so far. Military bases used to strike militants in Nowshera, 60 miles northwest of the capital Islamabad, have also been flooded.

President Asif Ali Zardari has limited control over the military and his administration has been relatively ineffective in tackling corruption and reforming the nation's economy.

Defence expert at Quaid-e-Azam university, Riffat Hussein said: "What we have seen is their almost total paralysis and they have not been able to mobilise the resources."

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