Members of what are supposed to be a pro-government, anti-Taliban peace militia in the Safi tehsil of Mohmand Agency beat up survey teams of the Benazir Income Support Program, ostensibly for refusing to do their bidding.
“The survey team members were pressurised by associates of the peace committee in Safi tehsil,” alleged Hussain Khan, the BISP coordinator in Upper Mohmand Agency. “On Tuesday evening, Tayyab, the driver of the survey team was severely beaten when he refused to go work for the Lashkar members.”
Tayyab was taken to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar for treatment.
After the BISP team complained, the Mohmand Agency administration summoned members of the peace militia to seek explanation for their behaviour, assuring the survey team that action will be taken against the militia members responsible.
The Benazir Income Support Program is designed to provide income transfers to the poorest segments of Pakistani society, providing Rs1,000 per month to qualifying households. While the amount is insignificant for most households, for most recipient families it can add up to a 20% increase in their monthly income.
In order to determine which families are eligible, the BISP team conducts nationwide poverty survey, documenting income and family sizes of poor households. In many areas, particularly the tribal regions, however, government officials asking questions are seen as legitimate targets.
There are currently 160 BISP surveyors working in Mohmand. Hussain Khan’s team started their survey on April 3 and has completed about 80% of the work in some places, such as Haleemzai tehsil.
“Our team is willing to go even to the militancy-ridden parts of the agency if we are actually allowed access,” said Khan, adding “Without these hassles, we can complete the survey in ten days.”
Some officials, however, feel discouraged by the constant threats. “I have given up and resigned from this job because I get threats from all sides – both the Taliban and the anti-Taliban militias,” said one person who conducted surveys in the Khwaizai and Baizai subdivisions of the tribal agency.
Mohmand Agency administration officials admit the problem, but say little else. “Some unknown extremist elements in the area do not let them [BISP] work,” admitted one official at the Agency administration’s office in Ekkaghund.
In some areas, security is so bad that surveyors simply cannot enter. In addition, the surveyors’ task is made harder by the fact that much of the population of the agency is internally displaced by the militancy.
“There are some inaccessible areas of Safi, Khwaizai and Baizai where the team cannot conduct its survey,” said Hussain Khan. “Many of those people have fled the region. Their names will be included in the BISP lists from the refugee camps set up for internally displaced persons.”
“About one third of the population of Mohmand is still displaced and living outside the agency because of the military operations against the militants,” said Muhammad Afzal, a social worker who once worked in Safi tehsil but has since moved to Punjab.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2012.