The misery for which we did not prepare

Published in Daily Times on July 6th 2014. 

Chances are that about 600,000 of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), also known as the internally ‘disowned’ people of North Waziristan, will need more than a few tonnes of wheat, which the army is supplying to them in cookie cutter packages as they flee the war and Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Also chances are that they do not appreciate moving from their homes where drone attacks, aerial bombing by the Pakistan army, routine attacks from the Uzbeks and crossfire between the army and Taliban were not enough to drive them out. They probably had nothing on them but their pride as they left their homes and now, having to stand in long queues for handouts, even that has been scrapped.

One wonders why it seems like the government went into this unprepared. Years of dragging their feet in a war that was ultimately inevitable is the cause of this unpreparedness. The result: lack of planning and mayhem. Who suffers? The people do, particularly women and children, the sick and the old.

In a sane world, it would have been obvious that groups that challenge the writ of the state must be dealt with. In this world it would also be obvious that foreign and local militants supported by a vast network of funding and arms, from Karachi to Uzbekistan, would fester while we turned our faces, and that one day the soul of North Waziristan would need to eventually be exorcised. It would be apparent that even those like the Haqqani network, who we were using for that archaic cancer-like concept called strategic depth, would need to be asked to terminate the contract.

The nerve though, of all stakeholders to be surprised at the now large humanitarian crisis as a result of this war! Just as in South Sudan the floods have festered the misery of the IDPs there, in Pakistan it is the sweltering heat that has brought the IDPs to their knees. If their journey on foot for hundreds of kilometres was not enough to break them, the scene at their destination, of absolute crisis, was. Three IDPs were severely injured in what seemed like a battle for food at a distribution point in Bannu when police baton charged them to stop them from scuffling.

What pundits called an opportunity for the government — the hope that the migration would allow for a renewed drive to stem out polio from the region — has now come to a screeching halt as refuseniks demand that their children not be vaccinated. Is this a surprise too or did we wishfully think that the IDPs would run to polio drops camps despite internalised fear and indoctrination by the Taliban against the anti-polio drive? Where are the programmes that worked on an advocacy campaign for these people for the health of their children? Where is the urgency and the need to enforce what is nothing less than an international crisis? Only this year alone, FATA has reported 66 polio cases and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reported 15. This is not the time to powder the nose of this crisis. Nor is it time to sell to the world the misery of these people though photo-ops. It is a time to admit that this part of the war was not given the priority it needed.

It is time to acknowledge the state of emergency in the north. As a result, we must take from wherever the aid comes, from the private sector, philanthropists and donors like the UN’s World Food Programme under twinning with USAID. And, as aid pours in, it makes sense to allocate it though channels that already exist, rather than wasting money in administrative set up costs. The army and local government already have established centres that work well but need to be fuelled with more relief. Likewise, given the security scenario, it is understandable that the local government has mandated No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for the establishment of relief camps. This also is a laudable step and may help to limit pro-Taliban offshoots from infiltrating the relief activities under the garb of religious organisations.

We cannot fail these people. The war depends on it. It is a war we must win, for posterity. For the weary hearts of our jawans that have given way fighting the sinister forces against the state. And, more importantly, for the promise that this country holds while its competitors join the emerging world.

Peace comes in many forms. This is an opportunity, yes, for polio advocacy, resettlement after the clean up and a new exposure for the IDPs to better standards of education, but above all it is a chance for Pakistanis to unite and let IDPs know that they are a part of them. It is, after all, the missing sense of connectedness that isolated them and pushed many among them to join forces with the Taliban.

Give what you have most of — it will go a long way for this country.

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