Thursday, June 26, 2014

The silence of the world community - On the sufferings of the North Waziristan IDPs

By Shad Begum[1]       

Our hearts filled with grief when a militant in Swat shot our innocent Malala Yousafzai on October 9, 2012.  The whole Pakistani nation was shocked by this unfortunate incident. World leaders including the UN Secretary General issued statements of condemnation of this horrible act of violence against an innocent child speaking for the rights of children to education.

The innocent IDP children of Waziristan are waiting for a similar response from the Pakistani nation and the international community during their unimaginable stories of sufferings.

So far Mr. Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) visited District Bannu to have a first hand experience of the sufferings of North Waziristan IDPs.

As of today, according to media reports, Prime Minster Mr. Nawaz Sharif has made up his mind to visit IDPs camps in Bannu on the eleventh day of Zarb-e-Azb military operation in North Waziristan. So far Pakistan army has taken the lead in providing relief and assistance to the North Waziristan in coordination with Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) and FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA). 

Unfortunately no lessen were learned from the Swat – Malakand IDPs crisis in 2009. The biggest lesson of Swat- Malakand IDPs crisis was that in Pakhtun culture it is difficult to stay in IDPs camps with women if the arrangement of the camps and tents is not socially and culturally fitting. This was the reason that 80 % of IDPs stayed with host families. Only 10 % were in government camps and 10 % were in private camps setup by faith-based and charitable organizations.  The bond of Pakhtunwali and Islam was the foundation of this unprecedented support for the Swat- Malakand IDPs, which was world wide appreciated. 

In the case of North Waziristan IDPs the example of Swat- Malakand IDPs crisis should have provided the basis for the government strategy to cope with the NW IDPs. When the government authorities were investing in setting up the Bakka Khel IDP camp in FR Bannu the presumption was that the NW IDPs would stay in the camp, which did not happen. Now the question is what was the plan B of the government to deal with a situation wherein host families have to handle the IDPs? The plan B could have been, based on learning from Swat- Malakand IDPs crisis, that the Deputy Commissioners could have convened a meeting of the property dealers, political leaders, civil society actors and discussed and elaborated a plan for the accommodation of the influx of IDPs from NW.  In return for hosting a family, the government could have had compensated each hosting family in cash. Similarly public buildings such as schools and non-functional health centers in rural areas could also have been used for accommodating the IDPs of NW. Since the IDPs have left all their assets in NW except their cattle (and perhaps some cash & jewelry items), the government could also have purchased the cattle on high prices from the IDPs to avoid their sale on throwaway prices. Similarly the special needs of women and children could have been better handled by creating a network of women volunteers especially female school teachers, Lady health workers (LHWs), Traditional Birth attendants (TBAs).

It is also difficult to understand the decision of government of Pakistan in the first place to deny the international support, including support from the UN, for coping with NW IDPs crisis.  The decision by the government of Pakistan yesterday to seek UN support for the NW IDPs speaks volumes about the flawed policy priorities in addressing this tragedy of enormous proportions. In moments of national crisis political leadership rise above partisan interests to meet difficult challenges but the refusal of PTI’s chief Mr. Imran Khan to accompany Prime Minster Mr. Nawaz Sharif to the NW IDPs camp in District Bunnu is lamentable.

The silence of the international community including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on this humanitarian tragedy is unjustified on whatever grounds. Western governments have also ignored the NW IDPs.  Any significant world leader has issued no single statement in support of the NW IDPs so far.

The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reportedly convened an All Parties’ Conference in Peshawar on the IDPs crisis after a statement by the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) chief Mr. Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpaow.  This would have been much better if it was convened by Prime Minster Mr. Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad to address the NW IDPs crisis and show solidarity and support for the people of North Waziristan who are sacrificing for the future of Pakistan.

The uncoordinated and poorly planned response to the NW IDPs crisis by the government of Pakistan need serious review to fill the gaps in the strategy and policy framework of humanitarian response to the IDPs crisis and should focus on rebuilding the lives of the IDPs back in Waziristan after the military operation.







[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage award. She could be reached on shadbegum@gmail.com

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