Pakistan: thousands flee US drone attacks

US drone attacks on Pakistan’s northwestern borderlands are causing a massive humanitarian emergency, officials in Islamabad claimed after a new attack April 4 killed 13 people. The officials say up to 1 million people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape the US missile attacks as well as bombings by the Pakistani army.

In Bajaur agency, entire villages have been “flattened” by Pakistani troops under growing US pressure to act against militants who have made the area their base. Kacha Garhi, on the outskirts of Peshawar in North West Frontier Province, is one of 11 tent camps once used by Afghan refugees and now inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis made homeless in their own land. So far 546,000 have registered as internally displaced people (IDPs) according to figures provided by Rabia Ali, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Jamil Amjad, the Pakistani commissioner in charge of the refugees, says the government is running short of resources to provide for such large numbers. Two weeks ago, two refugees were killed and six injured in clashes with police during protests over shortages of water, food and tents. Amjad, head of the NWFP Disasters Management Cell, said those in the camps represent only a quarter of the displaced, with the majority taking refuge with friends or family in villages further from the conflict zone.

Dr. Saeed Akbar Khan of the World Health Organization said: “About 51% of the camps’ inmates suffer from acute respiratory infections and 19 percent had acute watery diarrhoea.” The WHO and UNICEF have launched an urgent $30 million appeal to assist the IDPs.

Pakistani officials say drone attacks have been stepped up since President Barack Obama took office in Washington, killing at least 81 people. Meanwhile, militant attacks in Pakistan are also escalating. A suicide attacker blew himself up inside an Islamabad base of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary April 4, killing six troops and wounding five. (London Times, Daily Times, Pakistan, April 5; IPS, Jan. 12)

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