Peacekeeping: Greed and Good Works


May 13, 2007: Islamic 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.


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