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Pakistan's offensive opens new forum for militants: refugee camps

Religious charities with extremist ties or sympathies are winning favor among displaced people for their speedy aid work.

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The group has so outshone the secular party governing NWFP, the Awami National Party, that some of the party's members have switched allegiances.

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Mabaris Hamdard, who fled fighting in Buner district and now lives with a host family in Mardan, says his son burned his ANP membership card in protest.

"My son was president of the student wing of the party back in Buner, but joined the Al-Khidmat Foundation to become a volunteer," says Mr. Hamdard, a poet.  

Says Hazir Gul, a resident of Swat and an official with Disaster Response Network, a secular nongovernmental organization: "Unlike the secular parties, both Al-Khidmat and JuD have a network of volunteers on the level of union councils, tehsils, districts, and the province."

"It was not difficult for them to reach to every family quickly as the crisis emerged," continues Mr. Gul, who is also involved in aid work.

No ID card? No government aid.

While private charities are quickly delivering food and medicine, the government has a bigger burden: trying to provide more aid, such as temporary shelter and cash handouts. It will soon also have to help facilitate resettling the refugees, after Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said Friday they could begin returning home over the weekend.

For now, in the camps, a lengthy procedure for registration and distributing aid has frustrated IDPs. Lack of coordination among different government and United Nations agencies has also delayed the process.

Some people complain about corruption, accusing government officials of demanding bribes before issuing registration or ration cards.

The UN has only about 30 percent of the $543 million it requested in May to aid Pakistani IDPs. "Our resources are limited, and we are only reaching a fraction of those whom we would like to reach," said Martin Mogwanja, the top UN humanitarian coordinator in the country.

Meanwhile, IDPs are running low on cash. Nek Amal, a schoolteacher from Mingora, the main town in Swat, says he's run out after one month in Jalala Camp. His wife recently gave birth to their child in their tent.

"I can't even buy powdered milk for the child or some soft food for the mother," says Mr. Amal, who blames the government for his family's displacement.

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SIDEBAR

Islamic organizations in Pakistan have long won praise for delivering aid fast – especially during a massive earthquake in October 2005 that killed 87,000 people.

In addition to Falah-e-Insaniyat (formerly Jamaat-ud-Dawa), the disaster shone a spotlight on other Islamic aid groups such as Al-Khidmat, Khubaib Foundation, Islamic Relief, and Helping Hands.

During a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Balochistan Province last October, JuD and Al-Khidmat were the first to reach victims in the southwestern region's remotest villages.

The two groups, along with other religious charities, also provided quick relief during a flood last year in Peshawar that affected more than half a million people.

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