Displaced Pakistanis protest inadequate government aid

June 3rd, 2009 - 8:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, June 3 (DPA) Scores of people uprooted by the ongoing military operation against the Taliban in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley held a rally here Wednesday to protest the government’s failure to provide sufficient food and shelter.
Chanting slogans “We need food” and “We need peace”, about 200 demonstrators marched on a busy street in the capital, Islamabad.

Nearly 2.5 million people have been displaced from Swat and its three neighbouring districts since early last month when the government launched a major push against the militants.

Only 20 percent of the displaced are living in refugee camps set up in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where Swat is located, and other parts of the country. The remaining 80 percent are staying with relatives.

The operation, which has resulted in the elimination of about 1,250 militants, according to the government, enjoys wide public support, but analysts have warned the support would vanish if the government does not provide adequate relief to the displaced.

“The government is doing nothing for us,” said Mohammad Alam, 35, a shopkeeper from Mingora, the main town in Swat. “We get no money, no wheat flour, no sugar, no medicine.”

“My eight family members are staying with my cousin who has been feeding us all for the last month,” he said. “He is a poor man and cannot afford us too long. It’s the government who should support us.”

The Pakistani government has appealed to the international community for $1 billion in assistance for displaced people, but so far, only about one-fourth of the required amount has been delivered.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Monday complained that only one-fifth of the $543 million requested by the UN has been received.

“If we do not get the rest of the funds, we will have to start cutting services,” he told an informal session of the 192-member UN General Assembly.

The slow pace of the operation and the inability of the security forces to secure even some major towns are causing the residents to question the usefulness of the offensive.

“We don’t believe in the government’s claim of having killed so many Taliban,” said Mohammad Tariq, 45, a government employee from Matta, a small town in Swat. “These are just lies. The soldiers kill civilians and say these are Taliban.”

“This operation is not working. What is the difference? Previously the military was in the mountains and the Taliban were in the cities, but now the Taliban are in the mountains and the military in the cities,” he said.

“Fighting anyway goes on, and we cannot return to our homes,” he added.

Despite growing discontent among the displaced people, the government forces continued action against the Taliban Wednesday.

The army said in a statement it had retaken control of the small town of Charbagh, 15 km northeast of Mingora.

Separately, Taliban fighters raided the Baidarra checkpoint north of Matta, resulting in a fierce exchange of fire in which three insurgents were killed, the military said. One soldier died and two others were wounded in the clash, the army statement said.

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