The South Asia Channel
Pakistan’s IDP Problem
Since the military operation in North Waziristan began in June, thousands of Pakistani civilians have been forced from their homes. The state has failed to provide for them, yet many said they would sacrifice even more for their country.
On June 15, 2014, as the Pakistan military moved into the North Waziristan Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), thousands of families were displaced from the region. Seeking shelter in the settled areas of Pakistan, the majority of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) migrated to Bannu, a small town 115 miles southwest of Peshawar. More than six months have passed since the military operation began and the state of Pakistan has failed to provide adequate assistance to IDPs affected by this activity.
According to the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), 87,778 North Waziristan families have been registered and verified as displaced. Reports have suggested that close to one million IDPs have fled North Waziristan and a significant number have not registered with the FDMA. In what has been a first, thousands of families have fled to Afghanistan, preferring to seek shelter there instead of in the settled areas of Pakistan.
When the military first moved into the North Waziristan agency, the government of Pakistan refused to seek international assistance. While large sums should have been earmarked to provide effective relief, initially the government only allocated $5 million to aid the IDPs. Compared to the estimated $500 million earmarked for the Islamabad-Rawalpindi Metro Bus project, the budget for IDP relief evidenced the priorities of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government.
On a recent trip to Bannu, I had the opportunity to witness the IDPs’ living conditions and the services that were provided to them by the state. A town of almost one million people, Bannu is over capacitated after the flood of IDPs. Plagued by chronic power and gas shortages, the infrastructure of the city has been immensely burdened in recent months.
Poor strategy and coordination has left relief operations in the doldrums and a large number of IDPs without assistance. Many IDPs possess “dual-addresses.” These individuals live in North Waziristan and work in urban parts of the country. Identification documents are often compiled using their working address, for ease of employment. This practice has left many unable to register themselves as an IDP or to access to rations and cash transfers. Instead of implementing mechanisms to resolve this discrepancy, the FDMA has denied assistance to these people.
The lives of IDPs, who barely survived the hot summer months and are now fending for themselves in the cold, have been complicated by corruption. Last summer, fake marriage certificates were for sale, for a price of $50. Since marriage certificates were required documentation for procuring ration cards and since many IDPs did not possess a certificate of this sort, individuals were left with no choice but to pay for fake certificates.
The displaced individuals that I interviewed admitted that they had paid bribes to procure numerous services including completing the IDP registration process, obtaining monthly rations, and securing tents. The government’s failure to adequately distribute tents has resulted in instances where three families of IDPs have been forced to live under one tent. Markets in Bannu are stocked with relief goods and are being sold for above-market prices. These items, which include everything from tents to flour and sugar, should have been distributed to the IDPs for free. Cash transfers, meant to be handed out via mobile money, have gone missing. All of this has happened under the nose of the FDMA and the political administration of Bannu, but no one has been held accountable.
The problems faced by IDPs have been further compounded by the lack of available healthcare and schooling facilities. Children that were going to school while living in North Waziristan are now idle. Local schools in Bannu do not have the capacity to absorb IDP children, and private schools with capacity are charging over $100 per child. Many of these children were preparing to start school when the military operation began in June. Since moving out of their homes in North Waziristan, the lives of these displaced children have come to a standstill.
Military operations are only one aspect of a counter-insurgency strategy. Relief and rehabilitation of affected populations is a far more important task because it lays the foundations upon which a new social contract can be developed. Since Pakistan has failed to effectively manage the relief and rehabilitation of affected populations, extremist outfits have started providing relief work to the IDPs. Over time, this trend will allow radical outfits to recruit IDPs; further complicating and elongating a conflict that has raged for over a decade. Viewed with suspicion and fear by people in urban parts of the country, there is a deep sense of marginalization among IDPs. If left unchecked, this emotion could quickly turn into anger and have serious repercussions for the country.
After hearing the harrowing and depressing accounts of the IDPs in Bannu, I was surprised by the sense of patriotism displayed by these individuals. While the state has treated them as second-class citizens, the IDPs were willing to become refugees, once more, if doing so would make the country stronger. Their grievances aside, these people wanted to play their role in the development of Pakistan. Instead of weapons and explosives, they wanted industries and economic development. Rather than send their children to institutions preaching radical Islam, they wanted them to study modern science.
IDPs from the tribal areas of Pakistan have sacrificed a lot for their country. Driven from their homes, they have been left stranded by the state. Despite all of this, they continue to view their plight as a sacrifice for the nation. It is time for Pakistan to provide effective relief for these individuals.