Millions of Pakistanis affected by last month’s deadly flooding are still desperately in need of assistance, and a growing number of them are complaining that the government agencies distributing aid are discriminating against particular groups.
Residents of one camp for internally displaced persons near Karachi told Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr that the ruling Pakistan People’s Party is focusing its relief efforts on party supporters.
PPP officials deny those allegations, though, and Cyril Almeida, a security columnist for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, said there have not been widespread reports of politicized aid distribution.
“The politics of patronage kind of rules the roost,” Almeida told Al Jazeera. “We need to put this in some kind of context: All political parties are trying to get some kind of gain out of this… and we are not seeing this as a problem in a systematic sort of way,” he said.
More frequent complains come from minority communities, which accuse the Pakistani government of distributing aid unequally.
Pakistani media reported late last month that members of Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community were refused aid because of their religion. Local government officials in southern Punjab province refused to shelter 500 families near the Muzaffargarh district, according to the Express-Tribune newspaper.
The Ahmadiyya have been persecuted for decades in Pakistan, which does not officially consider them to be Muslims. General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who seized power in a coup in 1977, passed a law making it a crime for Ahmadis to even call themselves Muslim.
Shia residents in northern Punjab, meanwhile, complained that a local aid official “overlooked the Shia community” and refused to deliver aid to two villages with majority-Shia populations.
“The Ranjhey Wala area has not been provided a single bottle of water,” said Malik Saadat, a local resident, referring to a Shia community.
Both the Shia and Ahmadi communities have been targeted by a series of recent suicide bombings and other attacks. Analysts fear unfair aid distribution could further alienate them from the Pakistani government.
Pakistan’s independent human rights commission said it was “shocked” by the Ahmadi allegations, and urged the government to investigate.
“The extensive scale of displacement and destruction by the massive floods has understandably stretched the resources of the government to the very limits,” said Mehdi Hasan, the chairman of the commission. “But it is hoped that whatever little is available… will be distributed among those in need without discrimination.”
Human rights groups say minorities have definitely suffered from biased aid distribution, but that it remains hard to tell how widespread the problem is, and that the discrimination is often driven by individual local officials rather than a high-level government decision.
“The scale of the crisis is such that it’s hard to pin down how widespread this is,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “At some level there is discrimination, but the scale of the disaster is so massive… there’s always going to be a huge gap between the supply and demand for aid.”
International aid organisations also deny that their aid distributions are based on sect: A spokesman for the World Food Programme said “no distinction” is made based on religion.
Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, called the accusations of religious discrimination “most unfortunate” and called for an investigation earlier this month.