- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Obama administration said Tuesday that it has given $5 million to help hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis displaced by heavy fighting in the country’s Swat Valley, and it intends to provide further assistance in the coming days.

The money came from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and was given to the International Organization for Migration, a nongovernmental group, officials said.

“That’s just the initial tranche, of course,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters. “This is primarily to provide tents, to provide shelter and emergency relief supplies, food and medicine to the affected populations.”

The administration has not given any funds yet to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is coordinating the relief efforts on the ground, officials said.

“USAID and the U.S. Embassy [in Islamabad] continue to work closely with local and U.N. officials to discuss the scope of the problem,” Mr. Kelly said.

Richard C. Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was asked about refugee aid during a hearing on Pakistan before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday, but he did not mentioned the $5 million.

Still, he promised the committee chairman, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to share recommendations for a budget supplemental.

“We are looking at how to act on that,” Mr. Holbrooke said when Mr. Kerry called on the administration to help Pakistanis in need.

Mr. Kerry suggested that aid during a time of crisis could improve attitudes toward the United States.

“I don’t know if it’ll be a supplemental or something, but I think the administration ought to come up here and seize this opportunity,” Mr. Kerry said.

He added that U.S. aid after a powerful earthquake in 2005 changed many Pakistanis’ perceptions of the U.S.

“I share your view, and I’ll relate your views immediately to the executive” branch, Mr. Holbrooke said.

The United Nations has appealed to countries around the world to help manage the massive exodus from Swat, where the Pakistani military is widening its offensive against Taliban militants.

Antonio Guterres, head of UNHCR, said Monday that the speed and scale of the latest displacement requires an immediate international humanitarian response.

“The total number of displaced Pakistanis registered by authorities with UNHCR help since May 2 has now reached more than 360,000 people. Not everyone is registered, and people continue to flee, many arriving only with what they can carry on their backs,” Mr. Guterres said.

“These are the same people who for decades showed great generosity to millions of Afghan refugees. Now it is time for the international community to show them the same generosity, by supporting humanitarian programs for the Pakistani displaced,” he said.

UNHCR has helped Pakistan set up three new camps for refugees in the Mardan and Swabi districts, and is helping the Pakistan Red Crescent set up a fourth.

The agency is also supplying basic relief items such as tents, kitchen sets, jerrycans, sleeping mats and blankets that are delivered through nongovernmental organizations and Pakistani authorities. But the need exceeds supply.

Mr. Holbrooke received praise for his work so far, though several lawmakers were skeptical of the administration proposal to triple U.S. nonmilitary aid to Pakistan without a clear strategy of how the money will be spent.

• Nicholas Kralev can be reached at nkralev@washingtontimes.com.

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