UN criticises slow aid for Pakistan

UN calls for more aid to Pakistan flood victims, as giving remains highly politicised. Blast leaves seven dead in Xinjiang in a suspected ethnically-motivated attack. France begins Roma deportation. As last combat brigades depart Iraq, questions remain about its future. India accuses Pakistani soldiers of violating ceasefire in Kashmir.
Josephine Whitaker
19 August 2010

The United Nations in an emergency session today challenged the international community to increase and deliver on its aid pledges to Pakistan, after monsoon floods earlier this month have left up to eight million people in need of immediate assistance. Pakistani officials estimate that up to twenty million people, many of whom were already displayed by conflict in Pakistan’s northwest, have been affected by the flooding.

Although this is one of worst humanitarian crises of recent years, on a larger scale than the 2004 tsunami or Haitian earthquake, analysis of aid giving to Pakistan flood appeals indicates that less has been donated over the first 20 days after disaster first struck than after the Haitian earthquake earlier this year, or the 2005 earthquake in Pakistani Kashmir. On day sixteen, after the tsunami, more than $1.4bn had been committed, whereas in the same time, only $200m had been pledged to Pakistan.

In response to the UN’s challenge, a number of countries have announced increases in their aid pledges. Senator John Kerry, visiting Pakistan to view the extent of the crisis, has said the US would increase aid pledges to $150m, although it is not clear if this is in addition to existing aid commitments. EU has promised an extra $39m, Islamic Development Bank has promised $11.2m, Australia and Japan have raised their commitments. ADB offers $2bn assistance package

According to the UN, only half of the $460m needed for initial relief efforts has been raised, and more is desperately needed if millions desperately in need are to receive aid. As fresh flood warnings are issued, rising concerns about public health crises facing those without shelter, food or sanitation. In the longer-term, there are fears of famine, after large areas of farmland were washed away.

The openSecurity verdict: It ought to be heart-warming to see so many countries pledging to increase their aid to Pakistan, as the scale of the disaster brought by heavy monsoon rains becomes increasingly clear. However, there is something chilling in the logic that has been used to coerce reluctant donors, from the United Kingdom to Australia, to commit more aid to one of the largest humanitarian disasters of the last five years. Rather than focusing on the needs of eight million people who need clean water, shelter and food aid immediately, the United States, which according to special envoy Richard Holbrooke is “really going all out” to help Pakistan, used arguments about the future political stability of Pakistan to convince fellow UN member-states to increase their commitments. Of course, an unstable Pakistan will be bad news for its long-suffering population and the rest of the world in the long-term, but that should not be the only persuasive argument in this debate.

Excuses for lower aid commitments are many. First, there is the Pakistan government’s inability to translate funding into effective aid. Despite commitments from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to personally “ supervise the relief and rehabilitation process for the flood victims to get it done in a transparent manner,” many in the donor community are sceptical.

These concerns echo growing anger in the Pakistani population about the government’s pitiful response to the disaster. While the army has been spear-heading relief efforts with little government support, many have still received no government aid and are increasingly angry. President Asif Ali Zardari’s ill-advised visit to Europe before he had visited the flood-affected areas incensed many Pakistanis. His decision to attend a summit in Russia earlier this week has only heightened outrage. As others have pointed out, the Haitian earthquake attracted over $3bn in aid, despite the fact that much of the government perished in the earthquake and ongoing concerns about corruption. What’s more, the government’s inability to administer aid effectively should surely be a reason to give, rather than not to give.

Then there are concerns about militant Islamist organisations handing out aid in the void left by the state. Already newspapers in UK and the US are whipping themselves up into a frenzy of fear over the role of Islamist extremist organisations in providing aid. Their failure to distinguish between militant groups and Islamic groups providing social services in a country in which the state falls short in almost all respects is stunning.

While it is commendable that the US has so far been the biggest donor to the UN’s Pakistan flood appeal, and is pressing its allies to give more, its motives are not so commendable. From the rhetoric of US policy makers, it is clear that the US is most concerned about the effect of an increasingly unstable Pakistan on ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. John Kerry’s comments after visiting Pakistan, that “we don’t want additional jihadists, extremists coming out of a crisis,” nicely sum up America’s concern for flood-affected Pakistanis.

Why is it that reasons for increased aid to Pakistan turn on this extremely politicised argument, rather than any humanitarian imperative to help millions of people in need?

Blast leaves seven dead in Xinjiang

A suspected bomb attack in the remote western province of Xinjiang has left seven people dead and fourteen others seriously injured. The explosion, believed to have been a deliberate attack, occurred in Aksu, a city in western Xinjiang.  Local officials have said that a Uighur man, later arrested at the scene, drove a vehicle carrying explosives to a busy intersection before detonating the devices.

Analysts believe the attack to be ethnically motivated. Last year, waves of ethnic rioting rocked this remote, under-developed region of China, leaving at least 200 dead. The riots saw ethnic minority Uighurs, who claim that their basic rights are often denied, pitted against Han Chinese, the dominant Chinese ethnic group. According to Uighur rights groups and international human rights organisations, the Chinese government has used unrest as an excuse to crack down on the minority group.

Uighurs, a religious and ethnic minority, have long demanded increased autonomy from Beijing. However, the central government has encouraged increased Han migration to Xinjiang, in a policy of ethnic dilution similar to that used in Tibet. A sharp increase in the number of troops in the province after the July 2009 violence also mirrors the government’s controlling tactics in Tibet.

Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri, speaking before the bombing, told reporters that China was facing a “long and fierce and very complicated struggle” because “separatism in Xinjiang has a very long history... and it will continue in the future.” In contrast, local government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin told a press conference in Urumqi that “Xinjiang’s development will not be affected by a small group of bad people.”

France begins Roma deportation

France has begun deporting Roma travellers to Romania and Bulgaria in a state-sponsored crackdown on these itinerant communities. Around eighty Roma who have agreed to return “voluntarily” to Romania were given 300 Euros and flown to Bucharest, where they arrived this morning. Others, who will be forced to leave, will total 700 by the end of August, say government sources.

This latest police-led campaign began after clashes between Roma and police in Grenoble in July. The campaign, strongly supported by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has already seen the closure of 51 camps. If unchallenged, it will lead to the closure of 300 illegal Roma camps over the next three months. Sarkozy has previously described the camps as “sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime.”

However, the government has been sharply criticised by rights groups across Europe, who fear it will deliberately stigmatise an already vulnerable group. Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi voiced his concerns about the implications of the government’s policy, saying he is worried about “xenophobic reactions” towards Roma communities across Europe. Other commentators, such as Fernanda Eberstadt, have described the policy as “classic scapegoating of a vulnerable community”. The United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticised France’s political discourse on race last week, highlighting a “significant resurgence” of racism.

The French government has been quick to point out that its policies are in line with European rules which “expressly allow for restrictions on the right to move freely for reasons of public order, public security and public health,” according to a foreign ministry spokesman. Opponents of the move, however, believe that Sarkozy is using the Roma issue to boost his falling popularity ratings.

As last combat brigades depart Iraq, questions remain about the future

The last United States’ army combat brigade left Iraq early this morning, crossing the border into Kuwait in a carefully-planned, top-secret journey. The departure of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, will leave 6000 support troops in Iraq until end of August, when US combat operations will formally end.

US State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley said American involvement in Iraq is far from over, but would be less intrusive and more civilian-focused from now on. Crowley emphasised that the US remains committed to its trillion dollar investment in Iraq, and needed to honour the memory of almost 4,500 troops who lost their lives in the war. Crowley made no mention of the estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians who also lost their lives in the conflict.

Despite White House reassurances that continued unrest and a six-month old political deadlock following indecisive elections in March will not “derail democracy” in Iraq, many commentators are sceptical that the end of combat operations can be as clear cut as the Obama administration would like it to be. Although 50,000 troops will remain in support of the Iraqi army until the end of 2011, current plans would see all US forces withdrawing from Iraq by the end of 2011, leaving only a small contingent of diplomats and civilians, protected by less than a few thousand troops. 

This will be the first time that the State Department has operated in such a volatile environment without military support, according to James Dobbins, former ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2008. Sceptics believe that the administration, gearing up for midterm elections in November, is not engaging with military realities in Iraq. If the situation in Iraq deteriorates with this full-scale withdrawal, it remains to be seen whether the US would be willing to consider a re-engagement of troops.

India accuses Pakistani soldiers of violating ceasefire in Kashmir

Pakistani troops opened fire early this morning across the Line of Control that separates Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistan, Indian army sources have reported. Pakistani officials have made no comment on the alleged attack, and there is no coverage of the incident in English-language Pakistani media. Meanwhile, in Srinagar, capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, twenty protestors were injured in clashes with police after a nine-year old boy was killed during weekend protests.

According to security forces, Pakistani troops fired across the Line of Control in the early hours of Thursday morning (IST), attacking thee posts in Krishnagati, Poonch district, in the province of Jammu and Kashmir. Sources claim that heavy firing, including mortars and rockets, lasted for more than hour. The army said its troops have responded to “unprovoked” shots, although no details of this response were available. Violations of the Line of Control have been common since the ceasefire was agreed between India and Pakistan in 2003. According to India, there have been more than 150 such violations since 2006, aimed at helping Pakistan militants to enter Indian-controlled Kashmir.

The Indian media is reporting that Pakistan wants to heighten tensions in Kashmir, where last weekend’s killing brought the total number of protestors and bystanders killed to 59 in just two months. Protests today, in violation of a curfew, led police to use live ammunition, tear gas and batons against angry crowds, according to witnesses. According to a police source, seventeen protestors and three policemen were injured in the skirmish.

Muslim Kashmiri militants have been fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir since 1989, in a conflict that has claimed 47000 lives.  

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