U.S. Envoy Tours Pakistan Refugee Camp U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke visited camps in Pakistan for those displaced by the government's offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Some 3 million Pakistanis have fled the war zone. Holbrooke expressed sympathy to those displaced by the fighting.

U.S. Envoy Tours Pakistan Refugee Camp

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

As President Obama worked to repair relations with the Muslim world in Egypt, his special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, was delivering a goodwill message in Pakistan. Holbrooke toured refugee camps brimming with people. They've been displaced by the Pakistani military offensive against the Taliban.

NPR's Julie McCarthy followed along on that tour.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Ambassador Holbrooke literally blew into Camp Sheikh Shahzad on a storm of dust and debris whipped up by the choppers of his entourage descending onto four helipads.

(Soundbite of helicopters)

MCCARTHY: The local commissioner for the area greeted Holbrooke, recommending that he freely wander the camp if he wanted to know the pulse of the place.

Unidentified Man #1: I would like you to go to any, any tent and have the (unintelligible).

Ambassador RICHARD HOLBROOKE (Special Envoy to Pakistan): Thank you.

Unidentified Man #1: Thank you.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: Well, that's the best briefing I've ever had.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Amb. HOLBROOKE: Can I just ask a couple of questions?

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: Where are the people in this camp from?

Unidentified Man #1: They are from Buner, Swat and Dir.

The U.S. envoy asked the internal refuges - farmers, jewelers, day laborers -about their individual stories. And he seemed most interested to know what they knew of the Taliban. He asked Mohammad Khan from Mingora, the main city of Swat Valley…

Amb. HOLBROOKE: Are the Taliban people you know from your hometown, or are they from somewhere else?

MCCARTHY: Khan said only they were from the area, apparently reluctant to speak publicly about the militants who had terrorized the local population. The displaced here still are not convinced the extremists won't stage a comeback. Shazia Bakt Begum, her face hidden behind a gleaming white veil, was a bit more forthcoming.

Ms. SHAZIA BAKT BEGUM: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: We're not angry with the army over the operation against the militants, she says. We're fed up with the fighting.

As Holbrooke listened, his eyes settled on the latest addition to Shazia's family.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: How old is she?

Ms. BEGUM: (Through translator) Six months.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: Oh, beautiful.

MCCARTHY: The veteran diplomat is, in turns, the charming listener and no-nonsense messenger looking to set a few things straight, like when Shazia implored the U.S. envoy to bring us peace.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: We want peace, too, but that's up - but the security must come from your own army, not from the Americans and other countries.

MCCARTHY: The pall of misery is plain to see in the camps, but residents were keen to give Holbrooke unvarnished details. Abdul Sadiq, a farmer from the district of Buner, just south of Swat, told Holbrooke how dissatisfied he was.

Mr. ABDUL SADIQ: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: We're getting cooked food, but it's not good food, he says. We have no bedding. My crops have withered in the field. Now we need help. Give us something, he pleaded.

The U.S. has given a lot, pledging over $300 million to help the refugees, half of all the international aid Pakistan has gotten. But a high American official is looked upon as deliverance in camps where many feel abandoned by their own government and believe that the war on terror is an American war. But Holbrooke said there should be no mistake about what drove two-and-a-half million people from their homes here.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: This suffering is caused by the Taliban and al-Qaida, and the United States and the government have not done a good enough job of explaining the facts. This is caused by the Taliban.

MCCARTHY: Holbrooke moved from tent to tent, stooping inside the sauna-like, crowded living quarters, mopping his brow with a baseball cap. The patience he extended to the refugees was a bit different to that given to the Pakistani journalists, who heckled Holbrooke in the middle of an interview he was conducting on the rutted grounds of the camp.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

Unidentified Man #2: (unintelligible) Wouldn't you come here (unintelligible) to talk to - with the international media?

Amb. HOLBROOKE: Well, if you keep yelling - we just gave interviews to a dozen others.

Unidentified Man #2: No, no, no. Local media is not allowed to talk to you.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: Just back off. Back off. Back off.

MCCARTHY: There was no shortage of camp residents curious to meet Washington's point man for the region. While a jittery security detail worked to keep them at bay, plenty got their chance in the controlled chaos.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Sheikh Shahzad Camp, Pakistan.

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