New aid crisis in Pakistan
The Pakistani government has blocked food aid to war-torn Balochistan.
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President Musharraf says tribal chiefs like Bugti keep their people poor and backward in order to maintain control. He has repeatedly pledged to bring development and economic investment to the province.Skip to next paragraph
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But Bugti's death sparked widespread rioting among his supporters in the provincial capital of Quetta, and four months later, the insurgency shows no signs of abating.
Frustrated aid workers and diplomats are increasingly concerned about the widening humanitarian crisis – and furious they are being denied access to the area.
Six months since the UNICEF assessment, a Western diplomat says: "The UN is now desperate. They are literally begging us for help."
Just this week, the government abruptly canceled a planned tour to Balochistan by a visiting delegation from the European Commission.
There are aid-worker reports that military trucks rounded up displaced people and hid them ahead of earlier visits by local aid groups.
Why wouldn't Pakistani authorities let relief workers in to help? "The official logic is that they can't guarantee safety for the internationals, or even for local aid groups," says Samina Ahmed, head of the International Crisis Group's (ICG) office in Islamabad.
"The unofficial logic, I suspect, is basically neglect more than anything. This is just not a priority for the government, and they probably hope they will all go back home if everyone ignores them," she says.
Compounding the lack of aid access is the fact that the displaced families have decamped across wide, isolated areas.
"These are small groups – some as small as 10 or 50 people," says van Dijk. "And they roam around. They don't have permanent dwellings."
In the isolated districts of Naseerabad and Jafarabad, where the bulk of the displaced villagers have gathered, one eyewitness describes the refugees as "utterly desperate."
"It's very upsetting to see children in this state," says the local resident, who did not want to be named for fear he would be arrested. "They have no shelter, little clothing, and almost no food."
A climate of political oppression, in which more than 150 Baloch activists have been arrested and taken to undisclosed locations, only amplifies the crisis, say human rights workers and opposition politicians.
Some analysts wonder why the UN hasn't pushed Pakistan on the issue more publicly. "It's quite clear that quiet pressure is not working here," says one Pakistani political analyst. "This situation demands a strong, international condemnation."
Ms. Ahmed of the ICG says that, "The UN has a mandate and UN agencies have a responsibility to help people. My concern here is that if agencies don't meet their mandate they lose credibility."
The UN is not alone in being unable to provide aid. Other organizations, such as Oxfam, CARE, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have also been trying to gain access to the region.
Baloch politicians meanwhile complain that millions of dollars in US military hardware, given to the Pakistan military to fight Islamic insurgents in the tribal belt, have been diverted to Balochistan and used against the rebel tribes.
"Are the American people aware of how their donations are being used?" asks a Baloch politician angrily.
As debate over the issue rages behind the scenes, van Dijk says supplies of medicine and food are sitting in Quetta warehouses, and could be distributed in as little as two weeks.
On Wednesday, an hour after the Monitor interviewed van Dijk about the crisis, his office suddenly received a letter from the Pakistani government giving permission to deliver some initial packages.
"This should have happened 10 months ago," he says. "If it would have happened then those children who died would still be alive. I don't know how many more have died by now."