Gang war over humanitarian turf

The UN can’t fight back against Pakistani ‘charities-with-guns’

The United Nations has suspended its operations in the Bagh tehsil of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. It was forced to close down its office there after “extremists” burnt down two houses lodging its staff. Among the complaints the “extremists” had was over the UN employing women to do humanitarian work.

Ironies abound. The UN’s office was engaged in post-earthquake humanitarian relief effort. You would think that the local community would know and appreciate its work. Yet, the UN has felt the need to develop a PR plan “to better inform the local community about the activities and policies of the world body”. But it says that it will not reconsider its policy of employing women.

The Musharraf regime was quick to accuse the international community of ‘donor fatigue’. The treatment meted out to the UN team—at the hands of the ‘extremists’ which the Pakistani government is loath to control—suggests that donors have good reason to be wary. Clearly, those in need of humanitarian relief are hardly the ones who would go about setting their benefactors on fire. But jihadi organisations like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, legitimised as ‘charities’ by the Pakistani government, are engaged in an exercise to drive out other humanitarian agencies in order to boost their own claims of being the sole protectors of the community. In this gang war over humanitarian turf, the jihadi set has very different rules of engagement. Boasting rights apart, dominating the relief effort enables the jihadi outfits to carry out some decidedly non-humanitarian activities.

Both the Pakistani establishment and its mouthpieces in Kashmir frequently invoke the UN in their political rhetoric. They’ve shown just how much they care about that institution.

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