MIR ALI, Pakistan – The Taliban hinted Thursday they may launch attacks against foreigners helping Pakistan respond to the worst floods in the country’s history, saying their presence was “unacceptable.” The U.N. said it would not be deterred by violent threats.
The militant group has attacked aid workers in the country before, and an outbreak of violence could complicate a relief effort that has already struggled to reach the 8 million people who are in need of emergency assistance.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq claimed the U.S. and other countries that have pledged support are not really focused on providing aid to flood victims but had other motives he did not specify.
“Behind the scenes they have certain intentions, but on the face they are talking of relief and help,” Tariq told the Associated Press by telephone. “No relief is reaching the affected people, and when the victims are not receiving help, then this horde of foreigners is not acceptable to us at all.”
He strongly hinted that the militants could resort to violence, saying “when we say something is unacceptable to us, one can draw one’s own conclusion.”
U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said the U.N. remained committed to helping flood victims in Pakistan.
“We will obviously take these threats seriously as we did before, and take appropriate precautions, but we will not be deterred from doing what we believe we need to do, which is help the people of Pakistan … who have been affected by the flood,” he told a news conference in New York.
Holmes noted that the Pakistani Taliban carried out a suicide attack against the office of the U.N.’s World Food Program in Islamabad last October, killing five staffers, and in March, militants attacked the offices of World Vision, a U.S.-based Christian aid group helping earthquake survivors in northwestern Pakistan, killing six Pakistani employees.
He said U.N. security experts will be working with U.N. agencies and international organizations “to assess what the risks are and to minimize them.”
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington is also taking the threat of attacks by militants seriously.
According to the United Nations, almost 17.2 million people have been significantly affected by the floods and about 1.2 million homes have been destroyed or badly damaged.
Holmes said U.N. agencies have reached almost 2 million Pakistanis with emergency food supplies and an estimated 2.5 million with clean drinking water. He said medical treatment has been provided to about 3 million people and more than 115,000 tents and 77,000 tarpaulins have been distributed.