The IDPs deserve better

Published October 16, 2014
The writer is a director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
The writer is a director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

THE signs of unrest and despair among the people displaced from North Waziristan Agency, on account of the military operation there, must begin to be addressed before the situation takes an ugly turn.

While a group of IDPs from Mohmand Agency have been protesting in Peshawar for two months and demanding relief on the scale allowed to the displaced peopled from North Waziristan Agency, the latter are not satisfied either with the treatment meted out to them.

Several grand jirgas of prominent men from both Waziristan agencies have demanded immediate repatriation to their homes and implementation of adequate rehabilitation plans. Now some of them are reported to have arrived in Islamabad with plans to stage a dharna for the realisation of their demands, offering yet more proof of the government’s incapacity to address public grievances in the ‘normal’ course of things.

Their plea for earliest possible return to their homes, at least in the 90pc of the North Waziristan territory that is said to have been cleared of terrorists, cannot easily be refuted. They are obviously anxious to avoid the fate of the IDPs from the South Waziristan Agency who were dislocated in 2009. Out of the 56,228 South Waziristan families displaced years ago only 7,500 or so have returned home and about 48,500 families are still bearing the hardships of dislocation.


Despite the government’s claims regarding IDP rehabilitation, the road ahead is bumpy.


So strong seems to be the North Waziristan IDPs’ desire for returning home before winter sets in that they are unlikely to heed retired Gen Hamid Gul’s advice for delaying the homeward trek for security reasons. Nor are they going to forgive the government for its tardiness in preparing for the none-too-easy task of rehabilitating them.

Despite the government’s fairly tall claims regarding the IDPs’ rehabilitation, including the prime minister’s declarations during his recent visit to Miramshah, the road ahead looks quite bumpy. It was only over the past fortnight that the government launched an appeal for international aid for the rehabilitation of IDPs for which the finance minister said $2bn were needed. A formal donor conference is, however, yet to be held. One can only hope the IDPs will not be made to wait till foreign aid can be secured.

Meanwhile, the tribal jirga has rejected assessment of the IDPs’ losses by a committee on which they are not represented. On the face of it, their demand that the committee should include a representative of the affected people, who could correctly estimate the value of the property destroyed during the conflict, is unexceptionable. Non-acceptance of this demand will create unnecessary bitterness that could further undermine the IDPs’ faith in the rehabilitation plan and delay their homeward journey.

This means that while the government goes around asking for resources for the rehabilitation of IDPs, especially those from North Waziristan — for they left their homes following an official command — the problems faced by them must continue to be addressed efficiently and in a humane manner.

Although Pakistan has been facing the problem of internal displacement for many years its tendency to treat the issue through ad hoc measures has created problems for both the administration and the affected communities. It is generally agreed that only 10pc of the one million plus North Waziristan IDPs have found their way into official camps and the rest have been obliged to take refuge in private lodgings. Two or three families, each comprising over a dozen members, are said to be living in a small room. The disastrous effects of this kind of shelter on the occupants’ health, hygiene, and social attitudes cannot be easily grasped.

Besides, none of the problems reported by civil society organisations — who could get NOCs from the Provincial Disaster Management Authority and clearance by the military authorities — have been solved. The registration figures do not sound correct. According to Nadra data, the 87,772 registered families include only 14,558 women (above 18 years) and 6,220 children. Both these estimates appear grossly below the actual figure. The problems faced by people having double addresses on their CNICs or women-headed households and the second or third wives of polygamous men remain largely unresolved.

An HRCP lawyers group that briefly studied the North Waziristan IDP status in Bannu district took special notice of the non-Muslim affectees. The group found Christian and Hindu IDPs housed in a Christian-managed hospital. While they shared the plight of Muslim families they found an opportunity to voice their traditional grievances — they cannot buy land (even for places of worship) in North Waziristan, are allowed category B domicile, and the quota in services for minorities is not enforced in their agency. Disasters often push victims’ dormant grievances to the surface.

The group endorsed the view expressed by observers earlier that the main hurdle to proper management of the IDPs’ affairs is lack of coordination among the various official actors. It is said the National Disaster Management Authority has no role in dealing with North Waziristan IDPs and the PDMA of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has only a token role.

The different issues are dealt by different organisations — the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, the Fata Secretariat, the KP provincial government, the Fata Disaster Management Authority, the Bannu commissioner and the Displacement Management Unit of the army corps are all powerful agencies and almost all of them unused to coordinated teamwork.

Finally, it is not too late to remind the government of the urgency of adhering to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and making a law on the subject, a law that could guarantee the IDPs their basic rights to protection, relief, freedom of movement, repatriation and rehabilitation. Pakistan has earned considerable notoriety for hosting the largest number of refugees in the world without adopting a proper refugee law or recognising the UN Declaration on Refugees. It can ill-afford fresh strictures on its ad hoc disposal of the rights of displaced persons.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2014

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