As the number of IDPs crosses the staggering one-million mark, Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch admitted that the government has failed to mobilise the public to facilitate and support the influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs). “I accept this as my failure,” he said, while addressing a press conference on Tuesday.
He later clarified that he meant that the government has failed to mobilise the public as was done during the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 epic flood, but this does not mean the government lacks resources.
Baloch — who has been made the focal person by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to handle the issue of IDPs — cautioned that the figure would rise between 2 and 2.2 million in the coming days due to the possible expansion of the military operation. The rehabilitation and safe return of these people would be a big challenge for the government, he solemnly added.
It is time to mobilise the entire nation because the military operation would extend to other cities of the country, including Karachi, so that terrorism can be eradicated from the country. “We want to restore the country’s status as the ‘safe haven of investment’,” he said, adding that terrorism has caused the economy to crumble and reduced investment to only a dream.
Baloch cautioned the nation to prepare for a long war. “This war is longer than 1965 and 1971 because it has far-reaching implications,” he said, adding that failure is not an option. He also said that Shawal was being cleared of militants and dismissing some media reports, he claimed, “No civilian casualties have been reported in the area.”
Answering a question, he said that 70% of foreign organisations have been granted no-objection certificates (NOCs) for relief work at IDP camps.
When asked why the chief executive of the country chose to leave on a personal visit if the government was not successful in mobilising the public, Baloch said Nawaz Sharif flew to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah and he was in the country while and after Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched on June 15.
Official paints a sanguine picture
On a more positive note, Kohat’s General Officer Commanding (GOC) Maj-Gen Akhtar Jamil Rao assured that peace will be restored and the North Waziristan IDPs will respectfully return to their homes. However, he refused to give a timeframe for the completion of the offensive.
Talking to journalists in Bannu Fort on Tuesday, Maj-Gen Rao said 126,08 tons of ration has been distributed among the IDPs so far, which would last them for three months. He promised that the security forces would do everything possible to facilitate the IDPs.
He said that around 500 families settled in schools will be transferred to the IDP camps where they will be provided all possible facilities, adding that each camp will be a model camp. He also said that after militants are eradicated from the North Waziristan Agency, hospitals and colleges will be built.
The GOC added that all civilian and government officials will cooperate with the IDPs and will spend their Eid with them in Bannu.
Inter-ministerial meeting on IDPs
Separately, Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz chaired an inter-ministerial meeting on Tuesday to discuss the rehabilitation of the IDPs.
The meeting was attended by the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) secretary, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairman as well as representatives of the SAFRON Ministry and the Military Operations Directorate.
The EAD secretary gave a presentation, outlining various options, based on previous instances of IDP influx. The SAFRON representative informed the meeting that the FATA Secretariat was already in the process of preparing a damage assessment report, on the basis of which needs assessment in terms of rehabilitation and reconstruction would be carried out.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2014.