For a country founded in the footsteps of the largest migration in history; the apathy is astounding.
The war in the northwest, its latest episode now a few weeks old, has left the land bleeding people. It is a constant stream of humans, unfettered and unstoppable, its constancy an omen of the depletion and death. The men, women and children of Waziristan now wander bereft of home and hearth; now rendered homeless by war, they have not been welcome anywhere.
When the crowds first began to arrive, the Chief Ministers of at least two of Pakistan’s other provinces, made public statements saying that they would not be welcome. On Saturday June 21, 2014, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah spoke at the inaugural ceremony of “Karachi: Oasis of Harmony” saying that his provincial government had “sealed border” and taken several measures to stop the influx of over two million “aliens” into the province by checking everyone coming into the province by road, train or air.
Also read: 'Number of IDPs may reach 600,000: Baloch'
Similar measures were said to be put in place in Balochistan, whose provincial administration also announced a sealing of its borders against the influx of refugees.
The Chief Ministers of Sindh and Balochistan have since retracted their statements; making new ones following the release of millions in resettlement funds by the federal government. They now say they are willing to welcome IDPs into their province. Anyone who has been paying attention to the issue of internally displaced people would know these glib assurances to be cursory. Very few, however, are paying any attention at all.
As Pakistan’s cities groan under the weight of summer, load-shedding, war, and constant political chaos; its citizens all seem to have largely tuned out from the consequences of war and the conditions of those it has rendered homeless.
The raucous news media; its internal differences goaded by internecine political battles, continues to focus on the shutting of this or that television channel and the comings and goings of this or that aspiring leader. In leftover moments between commercials, it showcases syrupy montages meant to inspire support for the country’s armed forces, its fallen soldiers.
The condition of the poor and dispossessed fits neither into the discourse of patriotism nor the narrow concerns of political manoeuvring. The ragged refugees queued up at this or that camp standing under a sweltering sun and on unforgiving soil, are presented for a few seconds at the end of the newscast.
On Pakistani news sites, articles detailing their fate are overlooked in favour of Bollywood movie reviews and FIFA World Cup updates.
Pakistanis have other priorities than to care about what they feel are just war casualties which have not yet died.
In the meantime, the unlucky, these internally disowned Pakistanis continue to suffer. One news report from Hangu details how the families arriving there from Orakzai Agency find no respite at all. There are no tents, and few government officials, some received dispersed advice to trek instead to Bannu, where it is rumoured, the government has set up a camp and a Disaster Relief Cell.
In Bannu of course, there is only more misery. Police and troops deployed there started to fire shots into the air on Tuesday to disperse a crowd of protesting IDPs. The men had gathered because they were starving. This, the biggest camp in the path of the nearly 450,000 thousand people did not have enough food. Those are the lucky ones. The BBC reported this week that when families of IDPs reach the margins of a town, they often have to wait long hours in the intense heat, before they can obtain the security clearance to enter the area.
Differentiating between the miserable and the militants now leans toward assuming that all are the latter.
Also read: 'Food shortage in Bannu'
Pakistan has a history of cruelty to refugees. They have been — since the country’s migration borne birth — misfits in its ethnicity-entrenched ideas of belonging. Successive waves have not eased the burdens; those that were refugees once, are still wont to suspect the newcomers of now. All of it adds up in the absence of a narrative of how this war borne displacement will affect the countries delicate balances in the future.
There is the war of now; against the home brew of militancy and extremism; and the war of the future which will be fought on the basis of changed demographics, the unravelling of lines of separation between the newcomers and the long stayers.
In this augury of the wars to come, is the truth of the current turning away; the absence of empathy in the plight of those who lives have been spared but whose homes have been taken. In a Pakistan whose national borders are beleaguered, the other borders between those who belong more and those who belong less have become the crucial lines of demarcation and denial.
The wanderers are cursed and they are disowned, their death acknowledged as a better fate than their displacement.