Islamic charities, U.S. rush to aid Pakistan

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The U.S. has pledged $10 million along with helicopters and boats, to aid Pakistanis hit by the worst flooding in a generation. The humanitarian impulse is only part of the reason behind Washington's gesture. Islamic charities, some with suspected ties to militants, are stepping in to help and may gain support if their relief efforts pay off.

DAVID BARON: I'm David Baron and this is The World. The US has pledged 10 million dollars, along with helicopters and boats, to aid Pakistanis hit by the worst flooding in generations. More than 1,000 people have died in the flooding. And two and a half million people need help. The BBC's Aleem Maqbool is in Islamabad. Aleem, what is the latest on the relief effort?

ALEEM MAQBOOL: Well, the Pakistani army has 30,000 troops involved in relief operations. They have helicopters that are going backwards and forwards trying to winch people to safety because the rain may have stopped now, but the volume of rain that fell in recent days, the highest rainfall ever recorded in Pakistan, has left huge areas still submerged, a lot of people isolated, and the army even admits that it hasn't got to several valleys in northwest Pakistan which have been affected.

BARON: Yeah, bridges washed out, telecommunications gone. You've actually be out to see some of the flooding yourself.

MAQBOOL: Yes, I mean it is the force, the power of these torrents that has been shocking. And you can see that best actually from the air. We've seen a lot of aerial footage over the area, yet in one valley in Swat, which we've talked a lot about in the last year for very different reasons, 29 bridges have been washed away.

BARON: As you mention, the area that's been struck is the Swat valley that's in northwest Pakistan and it's been the scene of an intense struggle for control by the Pakistani government and Islamist militants. Now some charities with supposed ties to those militants are offering aid. Do we know, do those Islamist groups have links to the Taliban?

MAQBOOL: It's very difficult to say, but it's no surprise, to be honest, that this is how the Taliban and other militant groups, as we said, work in those areas. We're not just talking about Swat, we're talking about other areas along that corridor against the Afghan border. In that corridor, this is how Islamist militant groups operate. They have charity wings which help on the ground and so draw people in, convince them that they are really there to help people. This is not just about militancy, this is a class struggle as well, if you like, because there is so much poverty, so much inequality already in those areas, and the Taliban and the Islamist groups in those areas are taking advantage of that. So it's no surprise that they might be taking advantage of this situation as well. To say, look, what is the government doing for you? Nobody's come to your aid. Come to us, we've got this to offer. And maybe we'll want something in return in the future. It's how Islamist groups have worked here in the past, which is why a lot of people are seeing it as crucial that the Pakistani government gets in now, as soon as it can. It's what people have been saying, strategists have been saying for a very long time, that really the Pakistani government has to do what it hasn't done properly in the past and it needs international help to do that which is get development in these places, so there isn't quite the poverty or the inequality or the injustice that there's been in the past.

BARON: You mention international aid. As I mentioned, the US has pledged 10 million dollars in this effort. It doesn't sound like much in light of the size of the disaster, though.

MAQBOOL: You're right. Those sums, 10 million from the US, 10 million from the United Nations, 10 million pounds from the UK, and several other donors, China and Australia. If you're talking about infrastructure damage across a very large part of northern Pakistan, then that certainly is not going to be enough. And those things are crucial, because we're talking about, two and a half million people seems to me a very conservative figure. But two and a half million people affected who may have lost their homes, may have lost everything. They've lost their means to make money. A lot of crops have been ruined. And so to put all those things back is going to take much, much more and its going to take months and months, if not years and years.

BARON: Yes, there's lots of rebuilding ahead. Well, the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad. Thank you for your time.

MAQBOOL: My pleasure.