Unfolding crisis

Published June 26, 2014

THE difference between governmental action and inaction can sometimes be difficult to discern — but often it is blindingly and shockingly obvious. Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people from North Waziristan have poured out of the region and the federal government and the political leadership would like the country to believe they are doing all that they can to ease the humanitarian crisis; but the facts, visible plainly to all, suggest that is clearly not the case. When politicians and the administration are in a purposeful mode and go into overdrive, doing absolutely everything they can within their powers to address a particular issue, there is one immutable aspect of whatever they do: publicity. But the handling of the IDP crisis has been left to junior ministers, committees and the like. No senior politician, other than the PTI’s Imran Khan, has even seen fit to visit the areas where the state is ostensibly doing all it can to ease the plight of the IDPs.

Compare and contrast the scenes and reports of the swelling number of IDPs appearing helpless and un-helped with the officials’ claims. Remember also the reason why these Pakistani citizens have fled their homes: it is the enormous price the state and the nation have asked of them in order to take on militants threatening the safety and security of Pakistan. Given the level of sacrifice that has been asked of them, it is surely not too much to hope the state took more seriously its responsibilities towards the NWA IDPs — especially since the state has gained significant experience in recent years in dealing with Fata IDPs displaced by military operations. Moreover, it has been known for years that some kind of military operation in North Waziristan would likely be required at some stage — so theoretically the IDP management in the present instance should have been the best managed and most thoroughly planned of all. Instead, it appears to be one of the more miserable and haphazard IDP management programmes in memory.

Unhappily, the growing IDP crisis is having a double negative effect. The unfolding humanitarian tragedy is eclipsing the reason there are IDPs fleeing North Waziristan in the first place: the military operation. How do the goals of a military operation square with the resentment and unhappiness that the IDP crisis is sure to further stoke among the people of Fata? At great cost to state and society, some militant strongholds in NWA may be about to be overrun, but what is the long-term possibility of success against militancy if the sympathy of the locals ebbs and possibly even switches to the militants’ side? Surely, whether from the point of view of morality or state responsibility or even just operational common sense, the North Waziristan IDPs need to be looked after and looked after well.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2014

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