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Forgotten victims

March 04, 2013

WHILE laws have been framed to counter terrorism in Pakistan, hardly any legal framework exists to address compensation issues facing victims of terrorism and their heirs. Administrative orders regarding state help are issued on an ad hoc basis, usually depending on the severity of the incident and the number of fatalities. Hence it is welcome that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has registered people disabled in acts of terrorism and natural disasters as well as widows of victims. Nationally, there are no definitive figures regarding the number of fatalities due to militancy, though nearly all projections say the number of civilian victims is higher. Various government officials cite a total of 40,000 dead, though other sources dispute this figure. Therefore there is a need to establish a central database of victims and their dependants to better facilitate compensation. While the military takes care of its own, civilian victims, in the absence of a social safety net, are left out in the cold, though compensation for members of the police force is considerably better, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

A thorough legal framework both at the federal and provincial levels is needed to address issues of compensation for the dead and injured. Disabled victims need special attention so that they can be rehabilitated. Timelines must be set so that people are compensated within a reasonable period. Legal provisions should also be made to look after the health, education and household expenses of victims’ families, especially in cases where the deceased was the sole earner and for those from low-income families. Disbursement of funds should also be hassle-free; there have been cases in the past where victims’ families have been asked for a cut of the funds by corrupt officials before releasing them. While taking care of the victims is primarily the state’s job, considering Pakistan’s social milieu, where clan and community play important roles, community leaders with means should also play their part to rehabilitate those affected by terrorism. Monetary compensation and state support may never fill the void; but it will send a message to victims that the government stands by them.