There will be no denying the fact that Pakistan has been facing worst humatarian crisis as more than 2 million people have been forced to leave their homes. Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting. There are still questions which can be asked from someone as who is responsible for this worst crisis. Actually rulers were just playing the game for earning dollars, but now the situation is worst.
S.M. Naseem wrote in his article published in Dawn newspaper that the Pakistan Army’s sudden escalation of hostilities against the Taliban in the last two weeks, without prior preparation to prevent or minimise collateral damage, has landed the country, even if unintentionally, in its worst humanitarian crisis since its inception.
Back then, people were willing to pay any price to secure their freedom and new home. No one then had any doubts that the war for which they were laying down their lives and for which millions were abandoning their hearths and homes, even as old inhabitants ecstatically welcomed the refugees, was their own and that they were fully prepared to face and share its consequences.
A similar, if contextually different, response was witnessed during the 2005 earthquake when hundreds of thousands of refugees were forced to seek shelter, albeit temporarily, in various urban centres in the country until their homes and communities were rebuilt with government help — a task that is yet to be completed. Successive governments seem to accumulate unfinished agendas as new ones are thrust on them either by the vagaries of nature or their own follies.
The early 1980s brought us another humanitarian disaster in the form of the influx of Afghan refugees. This influx — thought to be temporary — was welcomed as a Pashtunwali gesture. It came with the safe haven we provided to Afghan warlords, militant religious extremism and the drug and Kalashnikov culture.
Things are different today as we face the second largest internal migration in our history since 1947. Although many, especially among the elite, call it the result of Pakistan’s ‘existentialist war,’ others, even among those directly affected by the war, refuse to accept its ownership, attributing its illegitimate paternity to the US and Pakistani military establishments. The reality is, of course, much more complex than either of the two oversimplified versions, although both have some truth to them.
The fact is that large swathes of our country are today beyond the writ of the state and various insurgencies, representing legitimate and contrived grievances, dominate certain parts. Of these, the Taliban and the Baloch nationalists’ issues have acquired urgency. Although the latter has much greater political significance as an ‘existentialist threat’ for Pakistan, as well as being a secular struggle which could transform into an Intifada of sorts, the focus currently is on the former because of US involvement and the inducement of billions of aid being promised to fight that menace. To that extent, it is, at least partly, an American war, or at best an American-army war.
Regardless of the differences regarding their genesis and motivation, there is considerable unanimity now — although differences on a common strategy still remain — that the Taliban have become a formidable threat to the integrity, progress and prosperity of the Pakistani nation and that they can’t be allowed to impose their despicable version of religion by force, as they have attempted to in Swat.
Whether it was wise on the part of the political class to allow them political space by accepting an indigenous legal system and whether the Taliban succeeded in hoodwinking the people that they wanted to dismantle an unjust socioeconomic order is now moot. Their reneging on the agreement to lay down arms and accept the writ of the constitution, which Sufi Mohammad, the Taliban intermediary, rejected as un-Islamic, and their armed intrusion into Dir and Buner, have gone against them.
True much of the blame for the fiasco lies at the door of those who negotiated and canvassed for the Nizam-i-Adl. But the army and intelligence agencies can’t be absolved of not nipping the insurgency in the bud and, more importantly, not being prepared with a plan for well-thought-through army action that would include the evacuation of civilians from the targeted area in advance. The pace and timing of the army’s action seems to have been dictated more by the need of getting financial support from Washington than by meeting the challenges in Pakistan.
If military sources are to be believed, the delayed fast-track action in Buner, Dir and Swat has already killed about a quarter of the 4,000 Taliban insurgents facing about 10,000 Pakistani troops during the last two weeks. Whether or not the tide of Taliban insurgency has been stemmed significantly, will become evident only when at least some of the trapped insurgents begin to surrender and people in the affected areas begin to trek back to their homes in sufficient numbers. However, the ISPR has been reticent about collateral damage, which independent reports indicate are high, since the techniques adopted are similar to those used by American forces in Iraq.
Currently, the second front of the battle against the Taliban — that for hearts and minds, rather than hearths and homes — is being fought in a score of refugee camps set up in the adjacent Pakhtunkhwa areas and in the countless temporary shelters all over the country and in the homes of friends and relatives. Up to two million people have been displaced and the arrangements in the refugee camps are inadequate and their management far from satisfactory — far below the standards, by no means spectacular, achieved during the 2005 earthquake. The private relief effort is stated to have exceeded the official effort by a margin of three to one.
If military action continues for much longer, citizens will get weary and the refugees will get restless and may even succumb to the lure of the Taliban’s agenda. There is, therefore, the need to upscale and remove imperfections in the public relief effort, along with increasing the intensity of military action while keeping collateral damage to a minimum. Otherwise, the Taliban will gain ground as modern-day Robin Hoods.
The management of the relief effort is far more haphazard and half-hearted than in the case of the 2005 earthquake, which unravelled without prior warning, unlike the present disaster. It is regrettable that the disaster relief lessons learnt and institutions created after the 2005 earthquake have not been invoked in the present situation.
The Pakistani Army today faces its biggest challenge in redeeming itself in the eyes of the nation since 1971 when it lost half the country and later when it got itself involved in two prolonged periods of ruling the nation, destroying democracy in the process. It has a chance to prove that it is on the same page as the civilian government to save the integrity of the nation and restore peace.