Authorities in Pakistan said there is no let up in insurgent attacks on troops performing relief work in an earthquake-stricken region of southwestern Baluchistan province, despite calls for peace. The violence has so far killed at least six soldiers, but officials say it has not disrupted relief operations.
Pakistani troops and paramilitary soldiers have been mainly carried out relief activities around the worst-hit Awaran district, where last week’s powerful earthquake was centered.
Rescue officials and doctors say the calamity left more than 400 dead. Many more wounded are in hospitals. Authorities estimate some 300,000 people, mostly women and children, are homeless and need urgent help.
Security fears have prevented the United Nations and other foreign aid agencies from directly assisting the relief work because the disaster zone is a stronghold of ethnic Baluch insurgents.
National leaders, including the provincial chief minister, Abdul Malik Baluch, are calling on the militants to cease fire to allow uninterrupted relief activities.
In some areas, victims reportedly refuse aid from Pakistani troops, fearing a militant backlash.
Chief Minister Baluch said in an interview with VOA that insurgents have ignored their appeals but he vows to bring emergency assistance to quake victims. “We should not be afraid [of militant attacks] because this government is committed to give the basic facilities and we are providing food, tents and communication systems to the earthquake-affected area,” he said.
Since relief activities began more than a week ago, insurgents have frequently targeted troops carrying rations for earthquake victims. The violence has so far left six soldiers dead.
Baluch said a secure environment has to be in place before reconstruction starts to protect victims from the harsh winter. But he said Pakistan will need international assistance to undertake that task. “No doubt we have no sufficient resources and we are appealing to international community, especially the United Nations, just to help us because there is a very large scale of destruction of houses, round about 25,000 houses are destroyed, and we cannot construct these areas [on our own].”
Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest but least populous province and rich in natural resources. The separatist insurgency dates back to the country’s founding, prompting federal authorities to maintain a large military presence in the impoverished region.