June issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Published 15 years ago

“If this is Pakistan’s war, then why is only a part of Pakistan bearing the brunt?” asks Aman Gul, currently living at an IDP camp. Gul walked with 18 family members — 14 of them female — for two days to get to the camp. “I shudder at the dangers that lie in front of us, particularly for the females,” says Gul. With their feet swollen as a result of walking for hours on end, a frustrated Gul and his family ask tiredly, “Why are people playing politics over our plight?”

Gul, however, is not alone in his observation. Whether one talks to the IDPs being hosted by families in Islamabad, Peshawar, Mardan or in the camps, this anger and confusion is what one is confronted with everywhere: “Why is it that we are not welcome in Sindh? Why are our Sindhi friends observing strikes against us? If the MQM raises their voice against us, we understand because there has been a traditional hostility between us. The MQM does not want to let go of Karachi and if more Pathans settle in the city, it might tip the political scale against them. But why is the Jiye Sindh Quami Mahaz (JSQM) observing strikes all over Sindh?”

There are no easy answers. Sindhi nationalists claim that their demand to stall IDP settlements in Sindh is legitimate. Nationalists in Hyderabad and Thatta are livid. “Till when will we suffer for the mistakes of the Pakistani establishment? When they launched an operation in Balochistan killing Nawab Bugti, the Bugtis and Marris fled to Thatta and the adjoining districts and took over the mining labour.

“In previous years, we had to host the refugees from India, who now stake a claim on our provincial capital, Hyderabad, and are even branching out into Nawabshah and other parts of the province. And now, we are expected to host the IDPs as well. Why do we have to look after those displaced by a war which is not of our making? Did we get a share when Zia-ul-Haq, along with other Mohajirs and Pashtuns, was reaping the benefits of the Cold War and enjoying the jihadi dollars? Did Sindh get a share when the Musharraf-led government was benefitting from the post 9/11 aid flowing in from the West? The decision of when to wage a war against the militants and when to end it has nothing to do with us. We were never taken into confidence. So why should we clean up someone else’s mess?”

The more passionate members of the JSQM declared, “We don’t want autonomy. We want independence from Pakistan. Why should we bear the cost of Pakistan’s problems?” I point out that it was their leader, G.M. Syed, who introduced the resolution for Pakistan in the Sindh Assembly. But now, the same people are demanding independence from Pakistan — isn’t it a dichotomy? They have a ready response: “We accepted Pakistan in accordance with an agreement but that has been violated.” We wish the IDPs well but our primary concern is our own people. If the Sindhis could afford it, if we were developed enough, we would have shared our resources. But we are struggling ourselves and are in no position to help someone else. Why then, are the IDPs being forced upon us?

In addition to hosting different ethnicities, Sindhi nationalists also point out that the development that has taken place over the years has not benefited the Sindhis. After the construction of Kotri Barrage, most of the newly arable land was given to retired or in-service army officers and civil servants. There are chaks popularly known as “Punjabi Chak” or “General da Chak.” Unfortunately, it is the local Sindhis who have borne the negative impact of the Kotri Barrage. The barrage’s downstream flow has left acres of land uncultivatable, further adding to their grievances.

A question that everyone asks in both rural and urban Sindh is, why doesn’t the Punjab host the IDPs? In the past, too, it has refrained from hosting the Afghan refugees. And the fact is that there are not as many economic migrants in the Punjab as there are in Sindh.

The Punjab government, in its defense, says that the IDPs have their support. However, initially the message wasn’t quite clear. According to media reports, the Punjab government had stated that the IDPs could foment trouble in the province just like the Afghan refugees did. Hence, it was decided not to permit their entry or allow any camps to be set up for them in the province. There was also the suggestion to raise a new border force to protect Punjab’s borders from the Taliban entering the province, disguised as IDPs. While one understands the need to safeguard a province from the arrival of the Taliban, is it fair to ban the entry of the IDPs to any part of the country? This is unconstitutional; Article 15 of the Constitution holds that “every citizen shall have the right to remain, and subject to any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the public interest, enter and move freely throughout Pakistan and to reside and settle in any part thereof.”

The Punjab government maintains that it wants to help the IDPs. It has formed an Inter-provincial Coordination Committee (IPCC), after consultation with the ANP-led Frontier government, to provide aid to the IDPs at their camps in the NWFP. The IPCC comprises two members, each from the Punjab and the NWFP. The NWFP members will inform the Punjab government of the requirements of the IDPs.

“If it becomes mandatory for us to accommodate the IDPs anyway, a computerised registration system would be set up to ensure a strict check on their activities till their return,” maintain Punjab official sources.

But the question is, how many IDPs is the Punjab hosting at the moment? If the IDPs are being housed in Attock, that is because most of them have families there. The Sindhi nationalists ask, “Why not in Lahore? Why not in Kasur? Why not in southern Punjab? If we are being forced to host them in camps along the Super Highway, why can’t this practice be followed in the Punjab? Is it because the Punjab is scared that the increase in the Pashtun population could cause political problems in the province since the adherents of a greater Pakhtunistan claim some districts of the Punjab as well?”

The Punjab government begs to differ. The central information secretary of the PML—N, says, “We are willing to render all kinds of support to the IDPs. We even offered to manage some of the camps for the NWFP government in their own province, but the NWFP government wants to manage all the camps in a uniform manner. We did not insist because we do not want to create unnecessary problems between the governments. We merely want to help our brothers.”

The problem is not just of who will host the IDPs. It runs deeper. The political and ethnic dissent over the IDPs issue is a good example of the state of Pakistan’s federalism. The provinces have always felt that they are never consulted when taking important decisions. When the IDPs issue arose, a meeting of the Council of Common Interests should have been convened to chalk out a strategy to deal with the issue in a systematic manner. But that didn’t happen. Consequently, the chaos and disagreement about who should play host.

How do we expect the IDP child of today to own Pakistan tomorrow when today, he perceives that he is being avoided? With the mismanagement of the IDP issue, we might be sowing the seeds of future discontent.