Red Cross reports rising violence in Pakistan

July 11, 2011 - 9:59 AM
APTOPIX Pakistan

Fresh paramilitary troops arrive after security forces took control of a troubled area of Karachi, Pakistan on Saturday, July 9, 2011. Gunshots rattled Pakistan's largest city Saturday as authorities scrambled to bring an end to political and ethnic violence that has claimed at least 93 lives in five days. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

GENEVA (AP) — Aid workers are seeing a marked spike in casualties and injuries in Pakistan, fueled by intensifying violence and anti-Western suspicions in the wake of the U.S. raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden, a senior Red Cross official said Monday.

Pascal Cuttat, the departing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Pakistan, said the "violence has increased considerably since bin Laden was killed, and has spread into urban areas" such as Peshawar and Karachi, resulting in noticeably more people dead and injured and arriving at humanitarian and medical clinics.

"More than we have seen for many years," Cuttat told reporters at the Red Cross' Geneva headquarters. "Overall, the curve of violence is increasing, and the time-link is clear."

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was shot and killed in an early morning raid by U.S. Navy Seals at his secret compound in the Pakistani town of Abbotabad. Since then, Cuttat said, it's gotten tougher for aid groups to operate in Pakistan — the bureaucratic hoops against getting permits and visas have multiplied — due to a marked jump in violence and anti-Western sentiment.

"We are consistently facing suspicion of any foreigner working in the country," he said. "To live and work and get permission to do anything has become more difficult. Everyone is struggling with the bureaucracy."

Cuttat said at the end of a 3-year stint in Pakistan, however, that aid workers are "struggling but not impeded" as they try to help victims of flooding and armed insurgencies.

"We can only move through Pakistan in certain areas," he said.

He said "the effects of last year's floods are not digested entirely yet" — thousands of people still suffer because of the 2010 monsoon floods. But, he said, the Red Cross is focused on providing aid for up to a quarter-million people displaced by fighting last year.

Cuttat said he regretted that his staff of 1,300 Pakistanis and about a tenth as many international workers were unable to get better access to Pakistan's thousands of prisoners and detainees.

He said he could not directly link to the Red Cross or other aid groups any expected fallout of the Obama administration's decision to suspend more than one-third of American military aid to the Pakistan's military.