July Issue 2015

By | News & Politics | Published 10 years ago

The sizzling heat of June remained somnolent, giving no respite while we drove to Mandew, a suburban union council of Bannu. Among the crowd of displaced people there, we spotted a little girl holding on to her grandmother’s finger with one hand and a registration card for receiving aid in the other. I held her in my lap and asked her name. She could only utter, “Ayesha.” The rest of the story was related by her grandmother, who told us there was no male left in her family of 10. The family had walked from a suburban village in Mir Ali tehsil, North Waziristan for almost 14 hours, along with little Ayesha, until they finally found transport which took them to the city of Bannu. From there, they didn’t know where to go until an acquaintance guided them to Mandew.

In another suburban union council of Bannu called Naurara, I saw a young man looking extremely embarrassed as he received aid. After the distribution of aid was complete, I asked him why he appeared so awkward. He told me he was doing his M. Phil in Biotechnology from Bannu University when he was forced to flee North Waziristan. Now, he was reduced to collecting aid for his family all day long. He said he felt so frustrated at the end of each day, that he wished he had never been born.

According to the official website of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and websites of other relevant organisations, North Waziristan borders South Waziristan, FR Bannu, FR Karak, Hangu, Kurram Agency and Afghanistan. Its capital is Miranshah and other major towns include Mir Ali and Razmak. It consists of three sub-divisions and nine tehsils. The population of North Waziristan is estimated to be 840,000 and its total land area is 4,707 square kilometers.

On June 15, 2014, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) and the Federal Government of Pakistan announced the launch of a military operation in North Waziristan against armed militias, both Pakistani and non-Pakistani. These militias were reported to have launched strikes inside Pakistan and other regional countries, from North Waziristan. The deadliest among these are said to be the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Al-Qaeda, the East Turkestan Islamic Party (ETIM) and the Haqqani network. These organisations are supposed to be networked with others like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jundullah, the Dr Arshad Group and the Punjabi Taliban present in other parts of Pakistan.

After the air strikes by the Pakistan military started, an estimated 600,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from North Waziristan poured into the settled parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), around 80 per cent into Bannu, the district of KP nearest North Waziristan. The closer checkposts of Sedgai and Khajuri were overwhelmed by several hundred families who had walked for days on end to reach the location, where there was no transport available or, even if it was, the IDP families couldn’t afford it. The scarcity of potable water only compounded their misery; women, children and the old have suffered the most from dehydration. Deaths of children and miscarriages have been reported. And the plight of the IDPs continues to worsen, even though the prime minister of Pakistan recently announced an increase in the cash aid that is to be provided to them.

As the first batch of IDPs passed through the Khajuri and Sedgai posts, they faced untold suffering during registration due to the lack of adequate arrangements by the concerned authorities. While a few hundred families were registered properly on the official green paper, duly recorded by the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), thousands of others were registered only on blank papers that had been stamped. They had to go through immense trouble to prove that they were genuine IDPs, in order to receive food and non-food items in aid.

At first, only a single distribution point for food and non-food items was established for the hundreds and thousands of IDPs in Stadium, Bannu city. This single counter for the five zones of Bannu had to cater to almost 250,000 people on a daily basis. The IDPs complained about how they would arrive at  the counter at four in the morning and had to wait in queue until eight at night for their turn. But when their turn came, they would be told that distribution time had finished and the gates would be closed. Later, the relief points were increased to three, but one could still see severe frustration on the IDPs faces. On June 25, this frustration peaked, and the IDPs blocked the Peshawar-Bannu road in protest.

Although a camp was established by the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) in the FR Bannu region, only 28 families chose to use it. Hundreds and thousands of families are still looking for shelter (often provided by some Bannu locals), and sometimes five to eight families huddle — like their cattle — in a single compound not even sufficient for a single family to live in.

What is tragic is that the misery and sufferings of the displaced people from North Waziristan could have easily been minimised with a little coordination between the institutions responsible for relief work.

The whole process could have been divided into three distinct phases: An immediate relief phase, a recovery phase and a rehabilitation phase. The immediate relief phase could have been managed well if there had been coordination between the institutions working under the federal government of Pakistan and the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A system of coordination should have been developed between the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), the local administration of Bannu and the Social Welfare Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at the second level. Moreover, the first and the second levels of coordination should have networked with local civil society organisations.

In the absence of national and international non-governmental organisations, however, the local organisations were ready to take up the major task of relief and recovery for the IDPs. But, interviews with several local organisations reveal that instead of being facilitated by federal and provincial institutions, they were, in fact, discouraged. And though the locals of Bannu have contributed in every way they can, to provide succour to the IDPs, obviously they cannot be as effective in the absence of governmental facilitation.

On June 24, the PDMA called a meeting for the local organisations. The latter expected to be briefed about the coordination of relief work and the distribution of responsibilities. Instead, they were told that if they wished to help, they first had to get No Objection Certificates (NOCs) from local and provincial authorities. The local organisations therefore spent three critical days trying to get the NOCs, instead of being operational. As no provincial department or institution was taking responsibility for issuing the NOCs, the local organisations were demoralised, but still kept providing relief.

Illness is rampant among the IDP women and children. And, due to the lack of coordination, health issues might be exacerbated in the days to come. The provincial and federal health departments need to make arrangements for medical staff as well as space for treatment on an emergency basis. Mental health experts will also need to be deputed for counseling and psychotherapeutic purposes, as many of the vulnerable IDPs are likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There is also an immediate need for social activists to guide the IDPs with respect to physical health, mental health and socio-cultural issues, as well as help boost morale.

To add to the uncertain conditions, several rumours concerning the military operation and its aftermath have been making the rounds among the IDP families and the locals of Bannu.

One of the most important issues that needs to be addressed, however, is the possible spread of lethal propaganda by the various wings of the militant network, which could succeed in misguiding the IDPs. Banners of proscribed organisations can already be seen at various crossings in Bannu and its suburbs. The state intelligence networks need to develop a coordinated mechanism to ensure that the IDP camps do not become breeding grounds for militant recruitment and the perpetuation of the militant discourse. The government of Pakistan must take responsibility, at all levels, to justify its institutional utility. It is high time that the state earned the trust of the people of Pakistan, especially those living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s July 2014 issue.

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