Beyond dharnas: The forgotten numbers of Waziristan

Published August 30, 2014
Internally displaced Pakistani civilians from the North Waziristan tribal agency queue outside a World Food Programme (WFP) food distribution point in Bannu. — AFP photo
Internally displaced Pakistani civilians from the North Waziristan tribal agency queue outside a World Food Programme (WFP) food distribution point in Bannu. — AFP photo

The crowd at the ‘Azadi Square’ seems to be growing each day over at the Red Zone in Islamabad.

Depending on what channel you are watching, various estimates will be given and dozens of experts will ponder over possible outcomes of these protests led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s Tahirul Qadri.

Only when the live telecasts and noisy talk shows break for the hourly news bulletin, will you perhaps hear about a bigger crowd lurking in Pakistan’s shadows – the one million internally displaced that everyone seems to have forgotten.

While the speeches, deadlines, concerts and rainstorms continue in Islamabad, operation Zarb-e-Azb continues in North Waziristan.

Also read: IDPs want time frame for their return

Every now and then, you hear about some top TTP commander killed in the military offensive but snippets of such news aren’t really what the media are interested in currently.

No, it’s totally okay to show Qadri’s Friday khutba live – no need to inform the country about the over 400,000 children that are on the move at the moment or are living in shelters with their families in terrible conditions.

But the broadcast media isn’t the only one at fault.

In their quest to banish Nawaz Sharif, Khan and Qadri, self-appointed saviours of the country, both seem to be ignoring the issue as well. Once, every now and then, they both pay tribute to the Army but I am yet to hear more than a few words about the IDPs and their condition.

The government seems to be failing at this too.

According to the Pakistan representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR only had the resources to provide tents and other non-food items for 500,000 people for six months. What exactly is the government providing then?

Currently over 1,209 schools in Bannu are being used as shelters – with summer vacations now coming to an end, where will these people go?

Know more: Schools being vacated of IDPs

The UNHCR has complained over and over again that government agencies in Bannu need to allow NGOs and relief workers to perform their services in the region so that before winter hits, better arrangements can be made for the displaced persons.

According to the latest government figures, 75 per cent of those who have fled from North Waziristan are women and children. If the UNHCR can’t work there and the government isn’t doing much either – who will help these families?

The show in Islamabad isn’t going to be wrapping up for a while it seems. Khan’s treadmill has arrived so that his exercise regime can continue while Qadri’s got his ‘kaffan’ ready, with graves being dug up for all his supporters ready to battle whatever comes their way.

The government will thus continue to focus on its survival and the military will go on trying to target militant hideouts up in the mountains.

Who will help these displaced people, who have fled their homes and may not be returning for months to come? Tents are not the only things one would need when abandoning their home.

Take a look: IDPs without CNIC being denied assistance

With the opposition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa busy in trying to strengthen their no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, and him focusing on his party’s Azadi movement, it seems even the provincial leaders are paying very little attention to what is happening in Bannu.

A colossal crisis is setting in deeper each day, but power politics has gripped the province far more strongly.

For KP to become the ‘model province’ PTI had vouched for, attention needs to be given to the IDP crisis it is currently going through. But with all the leaders turned towards the capital, there is little hope it seems.

Usually, during military offensives and natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, you see the softer side of Pakistan as volunteers unite to help the victims and donate heavily.

This time, while we are so busy watching the stopwatch on our televisions doing a countdown of Qadri’s daily deadlines, we are completely ignoring the one million people in need of our help.

So let me ask again, with the media keeping them off the airwaves; our leaders continuing to look the other way; and us staying glued to the Azadi show, who will help these people out?

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