Pakistan government stretched thin amid deadly violence, flooding
Tuesday, August 3, 2010; 3:41 PM
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan confronted crises on two fronts Tuesday, as flooding that has already affected at least 3 million people threatened to spread and street battles in the nation's largest city claimed at least 45 lives.
Fresh monsoon rains on Tuesday panicked many residents of northwestern Pakistan who have already endured nearly a week of destruction from the worst floods to strike the region in eight decades. The rainfall also disrupted relief efforts, as aid groups pulled back out of fear that villages that had been drying out would once again be inundated.
The government has appeared overwhelmed by the scope of the disaster, and on Tuesday charities that are widely believed to be fronts for militant Islamic organizations were on the streets offering help. Members of one charity associated with the banned group Lashkar-i-Taiba were operating openly in the heavily damaged town of Charsadda, giving out rice, bread, medicine and tents.
"If our political leaders and rulers are ignoring us, such organizations will work for us instead," said Ajmeer Shah, a 52-year-old farmer. "The politicians have left us to others' mercy."
Northwestern Pakistan is a central front in the battle with radical Islamic groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which use the region as a base from which to stage attacks both here and against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The U.S., concerned that the floods could drive needy residents into the arms of such groups, has announced $10 million in aid, and has delivered over 300,000 meals.
Pakistani officials appealed for greater international assistance Tuesday, saying they do not have the resources to provide help to all those who need it.
More rains are expected this week, and the government is closely monitoring dams that could burst if the pressure continues to rise. Already, at least 1,500 people have died in the flooding. Flooding was reported late Tuesday night in another area of the country, Punjab province, that had until then been dry.
Pakistan in the past week has been beset by multiple crises -- including a commercial plane crash -- and an outbreak of violence in Karachi added to the government's troubles on Tuesday.
The clashes were sparked by the assassination of a local legislator, which prompted a cycle of revenge attacks between two ethnically based political parties that have long sparred over resources and influence.
Shops burned, and many residents stayed indoors Tuesday for fear of getting caught in the crossfire. Police struggled to restore control.