Pakistani militants urge rejection of Western aid

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Pakistani Taliban militants have urged the government to reject Western aid for victims of devastating floods, saying it would only be siphoned off by corrupt officials.

The call from the militants battling the government came as the United States stepped up aid for victims of the floods which have killed more than 1,600 people, forced 2 million from their homes and disrupted the lives of about 14 million people, or 8 percent of the population.

"We urge the government not to take Western aid," a Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Azam Tariq, said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"The government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the centre are desperate to get it, not for the people affected but to make their bank accounts bigger," he said, referring to the northwestern province hardest hit by the floods.

Roiling floods triggered by unusually heavy monsoon rain have scoured the Indus river basin leaving a trail of destruction from mountains in the north to the plains of Sindh province in the south.

There is concern that Islamist charities with links to militant groups have been seeking to fill the gap left by what many see as the inadequate response by Pakistani authorities.

The United Nations says the disaster is the biggest the country had ever faced and it would cost billions of dollars to rehabilitate the victims and rebuild ruined infrastructure.

President Asif Ali Zardari, under fire for his government's perceived sluggish response to the floods, returned home yesterday from foreign visits he embarked on as the disaster was unfolding.

Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was in the southern city of Karachi today and it was not clear if he would visit the disaster zone, officials said.

Zardari, whose popularity has never matched that of his charismatic wife, enraged his critics by going ahead with visits to meet leaders in Britain and France after the floods began.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 63-year history, has taken the lead in relief efforts, reinforcing the faith many Pakistanis have in the ability of their armed forces and highlighting the comparative ineffectiveness of civilian governments.

Analysts say the armed forces would not try to take over the country as they have vowed to stay out of politics and are busy fighting militants.

The United States announced an additional $20 million in help on yesterday amid growing concern over the political, economic and security ramifications of the disaster.

The United States needs a stable Pakistan to help it end a nine-year war by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The new aid brought to $55 million the amount of funds committed by Washington to relief efforts, along with US military helicopters that have been airlifting survivors trapped by the worst floods in the region in 80 years.

Hundreds of roads and bridges have been destroyed and waters have not yet crested in the south, meaning the situation could get worse in Pakistan, a US ally.