South Asia

Pakistani flood victims' anger at US

Pakistani flood victims fight for relief bags distributed by soldiers in Nowshera on 20 August 2010
Image caption There has been fighting in the camps, but anger is also directed at the West

Displaced people are camping everywhere. Shelters of canvas and plastic sheeting line the edges of the highways linking Islamabad to Peshawar in the north-west of the country.

The roads are raised, a precious strip of dry land in a sea of stagnant floodwater and thick mud.

I stopped at one makeshift camp and a group of men rushed forward as soon as I got out of the car, crowding round.

One was a thin-faced man in his 40s called Iftikhar.

He pointed to the swamped ground beyond the railway tracks and the remains of his village. His house had been badly damaged, he said.

Even though the waters were starting to recede, it was too unstable for him to move back there with his six daughters.

We desperately need help from the government, so we can rebuild," he told me.

He rolled back a sleeve and showed me the skin rash on his arm. "Everyone is in a bad state," he said. "If we don't get money, I don't know what will happen to us."

Others chimed in around him. Many sounded miserable and frustrated.

They were getting some food, they said, but their community had been knocked back about 25 years.

Sugar and flour was not enough - they needed new houses, new possessions, new books and supplies in the local school to replace everything they had lost.

Some criticised the government, saying the aid was not fairly distributed.

Others blamed the West, including the US, for failing to give enough help.

One man turned his anger on me: "What about your country?" he said, heatedly. "Why aren't you giving more?"

Image caption Some say their communities have been knocked back about 25 years

Elsewhere in the small camp, businessmen were handing out donations from the local community.

If there was not more support, they said, the security situation might worsen.

There has been fighting already in the camps, said one.

"We're doing so much to help the United States in the war on terrorism. Now we're in crisis and we expect help," said one of the businessman donors.

His colleague agreed: "Now's the time for them to prove their commitment to us."

In fact, the US is already the biggest single donor to the UN's emergency fund.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced more aid. But in Pakistan, critics of the US still sound scathing.

Ayaz Amir, an MP in Nawaz Sharif's opposition party, said: "The United States is spending $5bn every month on the war in Afghanistan. That puts into context what they're giving us."

The implication is that if the US does not do much more, Pakistan's ability - and willingness - to support the US-led battle against Islamist insurgents will suffer.

Mr Amir added: "If Pakistan can't recover, then one thing which will be washed away is the so-called war on terror. This front will not be functioning."

Bombing

On the ground, the floods are also compounding the misery caused to millions of ordinary Pakistanis by the militant violence and government offensives against it.

Image caption Many people in the camps have been helped by local communities and businesses during Ramadan

I met one young girl, still a teenager, now living in a roadside tent. The floods destroyed her family home. But the insurgency also destroyed her family, she told me.

"My Dad was killed in a bomb attack," she told me. "My mother had already died - and then a bomb killed my father.

"Now, in Pakistan, we have this new crisis caused by the flooding. But even now, with people in this state, bombs are still going off and people are still being shot."

Pakistan was already riven by problems before the floods hit.

It was struggling with a weak, unpopular government, and an insurgency and the country was engulfed by strong anti-American feeling.

The question now is whether these extraordinary floods could make all those problems even worse.