Sunday, June 22, 2014
Innocent Victims of Conflict by Shad Begum
By Shad Begum
According to the tenets of Pakhtunwali – the code of living of the Pakhtuns – women and children are awarded certain protections during mutual feuds and conflicts. Both Islam and international humanitarian laws award similar protections and privileges to non-combatants, civilians, the old, women and children. My personal experiences of being an internally displaced person (IDP) and of working with IDP women and children during the Swat IDP crisis have left me with indelible marks on my consciousness that are re-surfaced with images of IDPs from the North Waziristan Agency (NWA). I am witness to the sufferings of thousands of pregnant women who walked on foot for miles to save their lives and their unborn children. Unfortunately, many of these unborn children, who had not even an iota of responsibility in making the conflict, had to be sacrificed for conflicting ideologies and interests. The Pakhtun culture is very secretive about pregnancies. Sometimes, even male members of the household do not have the knowledge of pregnancies till the baby is born. One can imagine the difficulties of the displaced pregnant women and their families from NWA.
The current discourse in Pakistan is split amongst the liberals and the conservatives on whether negotiations or a military operation is the solution to the current crises of religious extremism and militancy. Both parties to the conflict – Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Government – are trying to win the hearts and minds of common Pakistanis to their sides. During all these debates, there are very few voices for those who stand a neutral ground – the old, the women, and the children. The current NWA IDP crisis is further sidelined due to media attention towards the unfortunate incidents in Lahore, in which several precious lives, including women, were lost.
Due to the on-going conflict in the Waziristan region, thousands of families from NWA have left the area since May, 2014. According to the available official figures there are around 60,000 registered IDPs in various camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; however, other sources show the number of IDPs above 70,000. These IDPs have settled in different areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) has established an IDP camp in Bakakhel in Bannu district to house around 100,000 individuals while 200,000-250,000 are expected in a few days. Because of culturally inappropriate arrangements, IDP families are shying away from registration in the official camps and mostly looking for alternative arrangements on their own – staying with relatives or acquaintances in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh provinces. The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has announced a relief package of PKR 7000/- (USD75) per family through ATM cards. Cooked food will be distributed in camps initially but no food hubs are allowed according to official policy. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has announced free medical care in the hospitals. Food vendors will be allowed permits for IDPs staying inside NWA.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is still lacking a national IDP policy, which leaves many spaces in addressing the needs of the IDPs in times of crisis. Provinces resort to individual policies on IDPs in Pakistan. For example the recent decision of the Sindh government to ban entry of IDPs to the province absolutely ignores the humanitarian aspects of displacement from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and is not good for the national cohesion.
The Government policy to exclusively provide relief to the IDPs is shrinking the space for the humanitarian organizations to provide relief to the IDPs from NWA. In majority cases, government authorities are not trained for handling IDP crisis. Data collection about IDP needs become a problem in such situations. The policy of the Government to provide assistance to IDP families through ATM cards is also problematic for several reasons. Many of the IDP families from NWA are not familiar with using ATM cards. Additionally, ATM cards are not available in the camps. It also needs mention here that majority of women do not have computerized national identity cards (CNIC), which exclude them from getting cash assistance through government issued ATM cards. The special needs of women and children are not taken care of in the light of the prevailing cultural setting. Pregnant and lactating women are particularly vulnerable due to the lack of mobile health facilities in and around the IDP camps. Cash or food assistance is not the only items needed to be considered for IDPs. There are social and psychological issues of the IDPs that need professional handling.
We hope that the Government of Pakistan will review its policy and include humanitarian organizations, especially local actors with proper background check, to provide relief to the innocent victims of the ongoing conflict. While we appreciate the security concerns involved in providing humanitarian assistance, it must be recognized that security of humanitarian organizations or the lack of an accountability framework for relief organizations should not be taken as an excuse from denying relief to the people in distress, especially IDP women and children. We believe that Government agencies and humanitarian organizations can join hands to address the IDPs challenges in the hot summer wherein the holy month of fasting (Ramadhan) is only one week away. It will be extremely difficult for IDP families to bear the hardships of displacement and the rigor of fasting during the hot months of summer.
The UN and its agencies have the mandate and responsibility to coordinate the work of the humanitarian organizations and the government agencies. No clear plan of action has been made public to address the IDP challenge from NWA. Coordination gaps between the humanitarian, the UN, and government agencies need to be addressed sooner in the best interest of NWA IDPs.
While whatever is being said and done, the Government of Pakistan should come up with a clear plan of action and timeline for the rehabilitation of IDPs back to their places of origin with honor and dignity.