Promising minimum possible collateral damage, the government said on Friday that surgical airstrikes against hideouts of militants will continue in the tribal regions.
“We are aware of the miseries of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the need to avoid collateral damage in the targeted areas,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told lawmakers in the National Assembly.
“The concern of the house is genuine. The government will announce a comprehensive policy for the IDPs in the wake of surgical strikes,” he told several opposition lawmakers who quizzed him about the ongoing retaliatory airstrikes.
Nisar said the government wants ‘zero collateral damage’, but pointed out that this cannot be ensured ‘100 per cent’. However, he reiterated that the government would do its utmost to ensure that innocent civilians were not harmed.
The minister told the lawmakers that in a recent meeting with the top military brass he had asked for a clear policy for ensuring minimum collateral damage and a better support network for the IDPs.
He said the army chief told him that the military authorities had sketched out a plan for supporting the IDPs which would be shared with the government soon. “The army has its own support network to cope with such situations,” Nisar added.
The minister said the government has constituted a committee under the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) for the rehabilitation of IDPs.
“So far, the government has no intention of launching a military operation in the tribal areas and [as such] it is better for local tribesmen to remain in their homes,” Nisar said. “But if they [tribesmen] are still afraid of collateral damage from the airstrikes and want to evacuate, then the government will make arrangements to shelter them in camps,” he added.
Contradicting the reported flight of 15,000 tribesmen, the minister said only a ‘few hundred’ people have fled the tribal areas. Most of them, he added, were living with their relatives in Peshawar, Bannu and other cities. “At present, there is no need to set up IDP camps.”
Earlier Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf member Ayesha Gulalai suggested taking the tribal elders into confidence over the changing scenario in their areas and urged the government to address their concerns.
Awami Muslim League chief Shaikh Rasheed Ahmad proposed converting vacant newly-built schools into shelter camps for the IDPs.
Upon Nisar’s request, the speaker did not allow the house to debate Jamshed Dasti’s allegations that the Parliament Lodges were being used for ‘immoral activities’. The interior minister said his investigation had showed that the allegations were baseless.
Separately, Interior Minister Nisar said the prime minister will be briefed by the provincial chief ministers on issues of law and order and finances, particularly financial compensation for the families of victims of militant attacks.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2014.
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