The IDP conundrum

22 Jun, 2014


The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.
The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

OFFICIAL statistics show that thousands have been internally displaced from North Waziristan in the run-up to Operation Zarb-i-Azb and after. According to the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), around 227,000 people, including over 100,000 children, have so far been registered.

Locals say that IDPs are faced with four major humanitarian issues. First, the availability of transport — necessary for families to shift to safer places — has become a crucial problem. Those who get transport pay huge costs, much more than they could ordinarily afford.

Second, the provision of food items has not been streamlined so far. Keeping in view the large number of women and children refugees, delay in the provision of food might pose a serious threat.

Third, arrangement of space for stay has not been satisfactorily organised. Recognising the cultural peculiarities of the region, this problem might turn into a larger issue in the coming days.

The IDP crisis has both security and relief aspects.

Four, preventive measures and immediate treatment in health matters have so far not been taken care of.

Four institutions must bear responsibility for transport, living conditions and food- and health-related issues. The primary responsibility lies with the FDMA and the federal government. The record of disaster management authorities in the country has so far not elicited any confidence in their capabilities. The FDMA can justify its existence by dealing effectively with the exodus from North Waziristan.

The second institution that is primarily responsible for resolving IDP issues is the civil administration of North Waziristan and the adjacent Frontier Regions. The secondary responsibility lies with the district administrations of the adjacent districts of North Waziristan, especially Bannu. It also lies with the whole machinery of the KP government.

The process by which all humanitarian issues can be resolved may be divided into the relief, recovery and rehabilitation phases. These phases can be effectively and smoothly tackled if there is a mechanism for coordination among the institutions responsible for resolving IDP problems. The divisional administration of the KP government has been declared the focal point for coordinating the relief phase. One hopes that recovery and rehabilitation is planned soon so that workers of various institutions find time to make the necessary arrangements.

A positive development during the ongoing operation has been the formation of an oversight or coordination committee consisting of Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch and the KP governor.

The terms of reference state that “the coordination committee will hold regular meetings and subsequently brief the premier about the progress of the operation”. One hopes that these meetings do take place regularly and the briefing to the prime minister takes place on all relevant issues, including IDPs. The prime minister must take into confidence the leaders of political parties represented in parliament.

With the restrictions on foreign NGOs to support the relief and rehabilitation effort, the responsibility of local civil society organisations seems to have multiplied. All government institutions responsible for resolving the humanitarian issues must allow locally screened groups to help deal with humanitarian issues related to the IDPs.

Besides these issues, there are two others re­lated to the security aspect of displacement that must be taken into consideration. The first issue that cropped up during the Swat military operation in 2009 and the South Waziristan operation the same year was the melting away of the middle-ranking cadre of militant groups in the garb of IDPs.

One wishes the National Counter-Terrorism Authority had been in place for coordinating intelligence gathering of various state outfits. A huge responsibility falls on various institutions of the state intelligence network to sift genuine IDPs from the militant cadre. The activists of militant groups usually melt away in the urban centres of Pakistan and form sleeper cells. They regroup after the military push is over and wreak havoc in the shape of targeted killings, extortion and kidnapping for ransom.

The second security issue related to the IDPs is space for the welfare wings of the militant network to work within the IDP camps and living spaces. They have so far succeeded in using various disasters to perpetuate the militant ideology. This not only perpetuates the militant discourse, it also takes away space from the moderate civil society groups to work with communities.

It is hoped that the ban on foreign NGOs to help IDPs also includes dubious groups working with Saudi funds and funds from other Arab counties.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

Twitter: khadimhussain4

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2014