U.S. officials are urging the international community to boost aid for an estimated 2 to 3 million internally displaced Pakistanis, many of whom fled fighting between security forces and militants earlier this year.
Months after Pakistani military offensives pushed out Taliban extremists from their northwest strongholds, most civilians who fled their homes in the greater Swat Valley region have yet to return, according to the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Eric Schwartz.
"There are still 1.5 million who have not returned [home]," he said. "The principal, immediate challenge is to create conditions to support voluntary and durable returns. This includes reestablishing security, utilities, civil administration, providing food, restoring livelihoods."
Schwartz was testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Agency for International Development Deputy Assistant Administrator Jon Brause noted that the United States is providing the lion's share of foreign assistance for Pakistan's internally displaced population, already spending more than half of $320 million pledged for the effort.
"When the government of Pakistan requested large tents, generators, and 'meals-ready-to-eat', the United States responded by immediately airlifting air conditioned tents, generators, and Halal meals to Islamabad," he said. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing over 50,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat, and 6,800 tons of vegetable oil."
But U.S. officials stressed that the rest of the international community has a critical role to play in addressing Pakistan's humanitarian needs and promoting stability in the country.Democratic Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania echoed the call, noting that a lack of foreign support would undermine Pakistani authorities and provide openings for the Taliban to exploit. "The response to the crisis offers the government of Pakistan an opportunity to consolidate the gains achieved so far this year and extend its writ of authority over territories where the government previously ruled in name only," he said. "But the sacrifices made by the army will be for naught if large numbers of IDPs [internally displaced persons] turn against the government for lack of assistance during their time of need." News reports from Pakistan say foreign Islamist charities are funneling resources into camps for internally displaced people, using the humanitarian crisis to spread an anti-Western message. The State Department's Eric Schwartz argued the stakes are high for the United States, as Taliban elements in Pakistan collaborate with militants in neighboring Afghanistan that are battling U.S. forces.