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Efforts Mount To Ease Pakistani Crisis; Bomb Rocks Peshawar

Nearly 2 million Pakistanis have the Malakand region in recent weeks.
(RFE/RL) -- The United Nations has launched an appeal for $543 million in emergency assistance to ease what it describes as the "incredible suffering" of people displaced by Pakistan's offensive against Taliban militants in the western Malakand region.

Meanwhile, a car bomb has exploded outside a cinema in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing six people and wounded about 75, hospital officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, a UN official coordinating the humanitarian effort, Martin Mogwanja, said the size and speed of the displacement was extraordinary.

Pakistani officials say they have registered about 2 million people fleeing the fighting in the northwestern Swat Valley and neighboring districts of Buner and Lower Dir in Malakand. Another half a million people have already been displaced by fighting in the tribal areas.

Speaking to a donor conference on May 21, Pakistani Prime Minster Yousaf Raza Gilani explained why it was important to help the millions of his country’s ethnic-Pashtun citizens.

"We have to win the hearts and minds of the people. We need to do something concrete and visible on a priority basis for the people of the two areas," Gilani said. "Ladies and gentlemen, it would also help in ensuring that the militants do not exploit the vulnerability of the displaced population."

Donor Conference

Media reports suggest that the $224 million Pakistan raised on May 21 will go into the UN appeal. After pledging $110 million on May 19, the United States is by far the single largest contributor to the aid effort.

Washington has stepped up its assistance to Pakistan since the beginning of a major offensive against the Taliban earlier this month. After announcing the aid package for the displaced people on May 20, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the United States' resolve to back Pakistani efforts against extremism.

"Providing this assistance is not only the right thing to do, but it is essential to global security and the security of the United States and we are prepared to do more as the situation demands," Clinton said.

Aid agencies estimate that most of the 2 million displaced are still relying on local hospitality and their own resources to cope with the trauma of displacement. Out of the displaced people, only 350,000 are living in some one dozen displacement camps.

Displaced families and local hosts, however, are soon expected to exhaust their resources during the sweltering hot summer, which could worsen the situation dramatically.

The Pakistani authorities are soon expected to offer cash grants worth $500 per family as an initial measure to help ease the burden of displacement.

But the Pakistani government and aid agencies say they need to position enough long-term resources to prevent the displacement crisis from turning into a humanitarian nightmare.