Man-made crises can be avoided or at least mitigated through a modicum of rationality and foresight. The IDP crisis is a man-made crisis created directly as a result of the commencement of a military operation in North Waziristan. Unfortunately, while it can be assumed that the war-fighting elements of the military operation were planned, the humanitarian problems such an operation would cause were ignored. In a conventional war against an external power, the human costs may not be factored in but in an unconventional war, amidst one’s own people, this is inexcusable.
However, it is not the job of the military to make these calculations. It is the job of the civilian leadership in a democracy to take ownership and frame a holistic policy within which the military plans and operates military strategy and tactics. Unfortunately for Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has failed to provide resolute leadership to the military operation.
Earlier, the same leadership had failed to provide determined leadership to the dialogue, despite a mandate from the entire spectrum of Pakistan’s political leadership through an APC. Since the APC, the government dithered and fumbled on commencing the dialogue while the prime minister traipsed around the globe — to what intent, one is still not clear. Despite a reluctant and belated start to the dialogue, progress was made. The TTP were fractured, as the PTI chairman had been predicting repeatedly when recommending peace through dialogue. The Mehsud tribe separated from the Fazlullah group, seeking dialogue. The TTP were rent with fissures but the government failed to exploit this advantage. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), which was bearing the brunt of TTP terror, saw suicide attacks fall drastically. Again, the government failed to move further in the dialogue process with those who now actively sought talks. It was as if there was a shadowy puppet master tightening the government’s strings every time some sign of progress in the dialogue became apparent.
In a vitiated atmosphere, the self-created inevitability of a military operation became evident. At that time, the PTI chairman again warned of the IDPs who would pour into K-P and asked what was being done to prepare for this scenario. Tragically, the federal government failed to factor in the IDPs and showed a shamefully cavalier approach to the whole issue by not taking into confidence the K-P government, which would be in the frontline of coping with the IDP influx. Instead, the K-P chief minister heard about the start of the military operation on television. In what can only be described as criminal ignorance, it seems the federal government assumed the number of IDPs would not exceed 100,000!
So, the military operation commenced, with the state being completely unprepared for the consequences. The result is a humanitarian crisis that could overwhelm the national polity. The IDP figure has crossed 800,000 — all flowing into Bannu to add to the already existing IDPs in K-P, from earlier operations in Fata. The K-P government, with limited resources and already confronting the fallout of terrorism, simply cannot cope alone while the federal government has still not realised the full extent of the humanitarian crisis and is unwilling to reach out to the international community for assistance, including the UN. With over 330,000 children, many already suffering from infections, the outbreak of epidemics is a major threat — especially as existing medical facilities are inadequate, medicine is in short supply and excessive load-shedding is compounding problems.
An equally serious threat is the further deterioration of an already serious law and order situation. The K-P police is overstretched and under-equipped as a result of years of neglect by previous governments. The federal government continues to clutch on to the FC for guard duties in Islamabad. Perhaps, the most acute long-term threat is from the growing resentment and anger that presently surges through the IDPs. Their jirga refused to meet the prime minister, but met with the PTI chairman and told him of the trials they have been put through. They also informed how after the split in the TTP, they had begun flushing out foreign militants in their midst before the operation began.
These are fellow Pakistanis, who feel abandoned by their compatriots in their hour of suffering. The drawing room elite, which had been crying hoarse for military action are nowhere to be seen in aiding the IDPs. Ironically, the long-term success of the military operation will not be premised on how many ‘militants’ it kills or the destruction of North Waziristan’s infrastructure. It will, in the final analysis, depend upon how the survivors suffering in IDP camps define the narrative of what happened to them. Sadly, at present, that narrative is not in favour of peace.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2014.
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