Dr Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development and the highest-ranking Indian American in the Barack Obama administration, has set the record straight over conflicting reports that he had visited a relief camp run by a front organisation of Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Pakistan's Sindh province and handed over US aid.
The JuD is headed by Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Tayiba and alleged mastermind of the horrific 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai
During a briefing at the Foreign Press Centre in Washington, DC to provide an update on America's relief efforts and assistance to flood-hit Pakistan, Shah said he was glad that a question was asked about whether he was aware that the camp at Sukkur was run by Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, a charitable arm of the JuD.
"It is important, and I'd like the chance to clarify," he said, and explained, "First, I think it's important to step back and note that the purpose of the trip was to oversee and manage and do everything we can to mount the most effective humanitarian response possible and that we carry out that moral mission because we are committed to saving lives that are in danger and alleviating extraordinary suffering when it occurs."
Shah noted that the camp in question was "in fact, a World Food Programme distribution and it is the first structured distribution of 30-day rations being conducted in that area."
"So I felt it was important to highlight that as an important part of the solution -- and important part of protecting people from starvation," he said.
Shah said, "While there, I had a chance to meet with aid workers from WFP and from our implementing partner. I also had a chance to talk directly with women who were standing in line. And these were the people who pointed out to me that they didn't have shoes, you know, because they had lost all their possessions. They barely had clothing, their children were malnourished and ill. One woman had her child in a hospital somewhere and wasn't exactly sure what was happening to her child."
"It's such a tragedy of such massive proportions, and I really did want to listen to the people standing in line and learn about how we, together with our partners, can mount the most effective response on their behalf," he said.
Shah said that he had hoped to spend "more time talking to the people in line, but within a few minutes of being there, our diplomatic security detail informed me that there were some suspicious individuals in the area and we needed to leave. So we tried to make as graceful and appropriate an exit as possible."
He said, "It's important to note that USAID and the World Food Programme and all of our implementing partners only support and work with absolutely validated organisations."
Shah noted that "We are sometimes criticised for moving too slowly; we have to do careful auditing and compliance. But the fact that we do that auditing and compliance ensures that I'm able to stand here and say that I know with certainty that we work with only partners that are validated."
Shah acknowledged that "in this situation and perhaps in others, that Tehreek-e-Taliban and others have actually been threatening aid relief workers and international aid relief workers. I can't tell you how disappointed and inappropriate that feels; when you've been there and you've talked to people who have literally lost everything and are just trying to survive."
Shah said, "It's deeply saddening that others would choose to use these environments to propagate themselves or to threaten international aid workers."
But he said he was happy that he had had "a chance to talk to a few women. I would have liked to talk to more. I think the stories you learn from them really motivate and provide information that can help us to do a better job, and our goal right now is just to make sure we're feeding and saving as many people as possible."
When rediff.com pursued the question and asked how, at a broader level, USAID can avoid running into these situations and also keep a check of seepage of its aid, Shah said, "We have systems that allow us to track our food, our commodities and our dollars very carefully."
He said that "If other people show up at sites, either to intimidate or in some cases to help, or to just be visible and try to take credit for what other people are doing," this was indeed unavoidable.
But Shah said, "The people we work with share our commitment to service and saving lives and feeding the hungry."
But he acknowledged, "It is a fluid situation, and it's difficult. But certainly, on behalf of US tax dollars and taxpayers, we can track our money and our commodities quite closely, because we work with a set of validated implementing partners that are providing direct services to people in critical needs."