May 13, 2007:
militants are attacking aid workers in Pakistan. But it's not that simple. The
UN is still providing aid to the victims of the late 2005 earthquakes in
northern Pakistan. That's not unusual. The UN has hired lots of local people,
and companies to help get the goods and services delivered to needy people.
Millions of dollars is flowing into the local economy via payroll and
contracts. Again, not unusual.
But another bit of normal
behavior is less pleasant. There are often several firms competing for
contracts, and the losers often seek ways to show their displeasure. In
northern Pakistan, many businessmen have prominent local clergy as allies. This
is especially useful if some of the business is illegal. Pays to have God, or
his humble servant, on your side. When the UN gave out some contracts recently,
they offended some people who didn't hesitate to use religion to get revenge.
Some clerics began inciting their followers to attack UN aid workers because
they employed women. To an Islamic conservative (think Taliban), women should
not work outside the house, even if they were widows with no other source of
income. The clerics are demanding that the police arrest the UN officials for
"un-Islamic" behavior. The cops have to be careful, as you cannot just call out
the clerics on their business connections. But local politicians will start
getting heat if the aid operations are disrupted for too long. Eventually, the
UN will be advised that things might calm down if some more business were given
to certain companies. This could be considered giving in to blackmail, but the
lives at stake are largely those who are still recovering from the earthquake.
The UN usually pays the money, and life goes on.