The US aid chief said Friday he faced a threat when visiting a relief camp in flood-hit Pakistan but pledged that extremists would not deter assistance.
Rajiv Shah, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said he quickly exited the camp he was touring the southern city of Sukkur on Wednesday at the urging of his security guards.
“Within a few minutes of being there, our Diplomatic Security detail informed me that there were some suspicious individuals in the area and we needed to leave. So we tried to make as graceful and appropriate an exit as possible,” Shah told reporters after returning to Washington.
Shah said he had been speaking to women made homeless by the floods, who told him they had lost all their belongings, including even shoes, and that their children were “malnourished and ill.”
“I really did want to listen to the people standing in line and learn about how we, together with our partners, can mount the most effective response on their behalf,” Shah said.
Shah, who believed the militants went to the camp because he was there, said it was “deeply saddening that others would choose to use these environments to propagate themselves.”
But he insisted the United States was committed to a “strong and effective response in cooperation with the people of Pakistan,” including helping with reconstruction once the floodwaters recede.
Shortly after Shah’s visit, a group linked to the extremist movement Lashkar-e-Taiba said in a statement reported by the Dawn newspaper that it was in charge of the camp and hence Shah was endorsing its activities.
Shah denied the camp was linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba — the group best known for the grisly 2008 assault on Mumbai — and said it was run by the United Nations World Food Program.
US officials have warned of threats by extremists against foreign workers assisting in relief in Pakistan’s worst-ever floods, which have deluged an area the size of England and affected 17 million people.
The United States has mobilized more than 200 million dollars for flood relief, hoping its helping hand will dent rampant anti-Americanism in a country that is a main focus of global efforts to root out violent extremism.
The floods came a year after the United States approved a 7.5 billion-dollar aid program for Pakistan, hoping to build support for democratic institutions through investment in the country’s infrastructure and schools.
Shah highlighted US efforts before the floods to develop a first Natural Disaster Management Authority along with an early-warning system for diseases.
The warning system detected isolated cholera cases, allowing the dispatch of medical support to areas at risk of a greater spread of cholera, Shah said.