On October 27, 2020, the tranquility of the Speen Jamaat mosque in Peshawar was erupted by the deafening sound of an explosion ricocheting around the halls at 8:30 AM as students recited the Quran. The mosque, which also serves as a religious school named Jamia Zubairia Madrassah, became the epicentre of chaos as eight students were martyred while 109 people were injured in the terrorist attack, while no group claimed responsibility for the terrorist incident. This, however, is not the first time innocent children in Pakistan have become victims of conflict and terrorism.
While terrorism and violence are not new to Pakistan, the recent surge, owing to the changing geopolitical dynamics, can prove detrimental to the country’s peace and stability. In the wake of sporadic attacks in the country, the government’s responsibility to ensure the security of its citizens becomes particularly significant. More importantly, for the state to effectively recognise and dignify the harm suffered by the citizens through the provision of an efficient compensation mechanism and ongoing support for civilian victims of conflict and terrorism is vital.
During the last decade, the number and scale of terrorism-related incidents had significantly decreased in Pakistan. In 2019, terrorist incidents and consequent casualties decreased by 13% as compared to 2018 and the number of people killed in these attacks plummeted by 40%. Even with this decline, the threat of terrorism and conflict in Pakistan has not been eliminated as sporadic attacks aimed at civilians continue. Given the risk to citizens’ life and property posed by the threat of conflict and terrorism, the need to establish a transparent, equitable, and effective compensation regime for civilian victims remains indispensable.
While law-enforcement personnel are usually aware of the threats and risks they face due to conflict and terrorism and are armed to take protective and preventive measures against terror acts, civilian targets are usually unaware of terror threats and can easily fall victim to acts of terrorism and conflict.Despite the fact that financial reparation cannot redress the damage endured by civilian victims, it is instrumental in mending it. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government regularly provides compensation to civilian victims of conflict and terrorism and has adopted a relatively efficient framework for awarding compensation. In 2009, the K-P government simplified the process by delegating the power of approval of awarding compensation from the Home Department to the Divisional Commissioners. The government also notified a timeline for awarding compensation to the victims, shortening the process by delegating the authority for approval of the compensation, and creating a dedicated budget line for civilian victims in 2011. Moreover, to address the gaps within the mechanism, a Civilian Victim Support Fund (CVSF) was established in 2015 at the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) aimed at striving to provide ongoing support to rehabilitate victims and their families. Building upon the 2009 regulation of the authority, the PDMA also announced the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Disaster Management Authority Civilian Victims Compensation Regulations in 2019 and increased the compensation for the deceased to Rs500,000, and in case of injury or incapacitation to Rs200,000.
Although the K-P government is determined to address the damage suffered by the civilians, there are still inadequacies in the existing system of providing monetary compensation and ongoing support. Foremost is the absence of a comprehensive policy and legislation for compensating civilian victims of conflict and terrorism. Despite efforts, in the absence of an overarching legal frameworks, there are signiﬁcant delays in payment of compensations due to problems in veriﬁcation of the victims and their legal heirs. In this regard, Punjab and Balochistan have recognised the right of civilian victims to receive state compensation, rehabilitation, and healthcare.
Besides the shortcomings in K-P’s compensation programmes, multiple issues exist at the implementation level as well. As a result of limitations at the implementation phase, most victims and their families have not been able to receive fair, appropriate, and timely compensations under the existing arrangement in K-P. Moreover, the lack of a formal mechanism for redress of grievances of the civilian victims creates additional obstacles for victims and their families to claim compensation. The government can also not be relieved of its protective functions after a one-time payment to victims; ongoing support, in the form of a rehabilitation plan including medical treatment at the government’s expense, and continued healthcare and education for the victims and their family members is also an equally important function that needs to be performed by the government.
While there is a dire need to highlight issues faced by civilian victims in policy circles, civil society organisations and the media must also play their part in bringing this issue to the spotlight. The government and the media should jointly devise and implement a strategy that creates awareness about the legal and administrative instruments available victims. To improve the existing compensation mechanisms, the K-P government should oversee, coordinate, and standardise compensation mechanisms, ensure compensation accountability and transparency with clear and publicised guidelines, and guarantee sufficient and timely financing for compensation.
According to many observers, the recent terrorist attacks against Pakistan have political underpinnings and should be viewed in the context of the fragmentary intra-Afghan peace process. Nevertheless, the possibility of an increase in terrorist attacks similar to the Peshawar Madrassah incident can also not be entirely ruled out. Against this backdrop, the government’s preparedness is the key. The need for the K-P government to strengthen the existing frameworks for countering terrorism and to provide relentless support through compensation mechanisms for civilian victims cannot be undermined. While the K-P government has undertaken signiﬁcant measures in this regard, through a proactive approach and progressive improvement, the government can prioritise the compensation of civilian victims of conflict and terrorism by considering it as a foremost responsibility.
Monetary compensation may never be enough to recompense the harm incurred by the citizens, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction for the government to recognise and dignify the damage suffered by civilian victims. This would ultimately push the government to recalibrate its counter-terrorism measures and the impact of the ongoing Afghan peace process on terrorism in Pakistan.
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