Monday, July 06, 2009

IDPs in Pakistan – Largest in the World

Pakistan today is faced by a humanitarian crisis perhaps greater than terrorism, the threat posed by a whopping number of 3.4 million persons, internally displaced by the ongoing military operations against the Taliban on its soil. This number, announced by UNICEF, made this one of the largest internal displacements of a population in the world, along with Rwanda. This issue became securitised when militants were able to pass as IDPs and escape fighting which raised the question of how many innocents had been mistaken for militants and punished.

The exhausted IDPs arrive in IDP camps in places like Peshawar and Mardan and find inadequate accommodation, food and health care, leaving behind their harvest and source of income, realise that the government has no long term R&R plan for them, and can thus be easily tapped by Taliban fighters to form a new generation of militants/radicalised IDPs. The fear is that inadvertently the mass IDP displacement could serve as a cover for militant movement and Southern Punjab which is serving as a hotbed for terrorism, may become a base for militants. This led the Punjab government to decide to not permit IDPs within its territory, only give financial support to the camps in the Frontier, ask IDPs seeking shelter with relatives to be registered and their hosts to complete a surety bond.

But there is also fear that this backlash against IDPs may create ethnic tensions and stoke ethnic clashes that could create more endemic problems for Pakistan than its war against terrorism, and failing to address this humanitarian crisis is a public failure that the Pakistan state cannot afford. Ultimately, the most important thing for Pakistan right now is a national consensus against militancy. When the army operation launched in May, most Pakistanis were in favor of crushing the high-handed Taliban. Within days of the IDP crisis gaining momentum, many began to re-evaluate whether the army crackdown was worth the humanitarian toll it has inflicted. As IDPs in camps battle illness and starvation, Pakistan’s will to fight against militants is in danger of waning.

Source – ‘Estranged from their own land’ – Huma Yusuf –, June 12, 2009

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