ISLAMABAD — Islamic militants are exploiting the strain this summer's monsoon floods placed on the military and government by regrouping their forces in northwest Pakistan, provincial officials warned Thursday.
Sen. John Kerry, who is in Islamabad, also expressed concerns about a strengthening insurgency as he announced that the United States would ramp up its flood-relief package to $150 million.
As the crisis nears its fourth week, officials in Pakistan and in Washington are increasingly worried that Taliban militants and other Islamic extremist groups will take advantage of a disaster that has forced 60,000 Pakistani troops into flood-relief work and diverted police resources across the country.
Those concerns are heightened by the fact that some of the areas that suffered the most from record-breaking monsoons are in the country's northwest and in southern Punjab, regions where Islamic militancy is entrenched.
Pakistani officials are warning that it could take years to rebuild the housing, bridges, roads, hospitals and schools ravaged by the flooding, creating an ideal environment for economic stagnation, social unrest and a rise in militancy. To head off those conditions, Pakistani and U.S. leaders have urged the international community to step up flood assistance.
"None of us want to see this crisis provide an opportunity or excuse for people who want to exploit the misfortunes of others for political or ideological purposes," Kerry, D-Mass., said at a news conference with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
Zardari said the crisis could open the door for the recruitment and development of militants.
"Taking babies who have become orphans, putting them in their own camps to train them as the terrorists of tomorrow — things like that is what I'm worried about, what I'm sending an SOS on," Zardari said.