Pakistan militants exploiting floods-U.S. official

* Militants deliver food, money for flood relief

* Fears insurgents will exploit chaos to win support

By Phil Stewart and Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON, Aug 27 (BestGrowthStock) – The United States has seen
evidence that Pakistani militants and affiliated charities are
deepening their involvement in flood relief in an effort to win
popular support, a senior U.S. official said.

The disclosure follows State Department warnings that
insurgents may also be targeting foreign aid workers responding
to the floods, and raises the stakes in relief efforts that
critics say are moving too slowly.

The worst floods in decades, triggered by unusually heavy
monsoon rains more than three weeks ago, have overwhelmed the
Pakistani state’s ability to respond.

One major risk is Islamist charities and militants
successfully exploiting anger over the government response,
even as the United States and international allies rush to
deliver additional aid.

The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
said militants were even dispensing money for victims.

“There are certainly clear indications that the insurgents
and affiliated groups are trying to use the flood and the
relief from the flood to try to gain support for their broader
effort of being able to control large parts of Pakistan,” the
official said on Thursday.

Pakistan, aware of the risks, last week announced it would
clamp down on charities linked to Islamist militant groups.

But, in a sign of how difficult that could be to do in
practice, the top U.S. aid official on Wednesday toured a flood
victims camp which had also been supplied by a charity with
suspected links to a militant group on a U.S. terrorism list.

The camp was in a government school served by
Falah-e-Insaniyat, a charity with suspected ties to
Lashkar-e-Taiba and its humanitarian wing Jamaat-ud-Dawa, both
blacklisted by the United Nations.

Once nurtured by Pakistan’s spy agency to fight India in
Kashmir, Lashkar-e-Taiba was blamed for the 2008 attack in the
Indian commercial capital Mumbai that killed 166 people.

AID, MONEY, FOOD

“They’re delivering aid. They bring money. They bring
food,” the official said of the aid efforts by insurgents.

The official acknowledged that the crisis was a lot for
Islamabad to absorb, particularly since the country only
returned to civilian rule two years ago.

“The scale of the disaster would challenge any government,”
the U.S. official said.

Pakistan’s government is expected to ask the International
Monetary Fund during talks in Washington this week to ease
restrictions on an $11 billion loan program approved in 2008.

Analysts have questioned whether any backlash against
Islamabad could also negatively affect efforts by the United
States to boost its image in the country, as it tries to win
over support for the battle against militants there and in
neighboring Afghanistan.

So far, at least, the reaction has been positive, the
official said. But he stressed the extent of fallout from the
flooding was still unknown, a view echoed by analysts.

“This is likely to unfold over weeks if not months. It is
too soon to predict what the political implications are,” said
Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress.

Speculation is rife in Pakistan that the floods may affect
the political fortunes of President Asif Ali Zardari, who was
criticized for sticking to a European trip while his country
was under water.

Former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin,
cautioned Washington to stay out of any political drama that
might unfold and focus on relief efforts.

“Pakistani politics will take its natural course and we
should not be involved or play favorites,” said Chamberlin, who
is with the Middle East Institute.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Pakistan militants exploiting floods-U.S. official