Thursday, June 26, 2014

The silence of the world community - On the sufferings of the North Waziristan IDPs

By Shad Begum[1]       

Our hearts filled with grief when a militant in Swat shot our innocent Malala Yousafzai on October 9, 2012.  The whole Pakistani nation was shocked by this unfortunate incident. World leaders including the UN Secretary General issued statements of condemnation of this horrible act of violence against an innocent child speaking for the rights of children to education.

The innocent IDP children of Waziristan are waiting for a similar response from the Pakistani nation and the international community during their unimaginable stories of sufferings.

So far Mr. Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) visited District Bannu to have a first hand experience of the sufferings of North Waziristan IDPs.

As of today, according to media reports, Prime Minster Mr. Nawaz Sharif has made up his mind to visit IDPs camps in Bannu on the eleventh day of Zarb-e-Azb military operation in North Waziristan. So far Pakistan army has taken the lead in providing relief and assistance to the North Waziristan in coordination with Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) and FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA). 

Unfortunately no lessen were learned from the Swat – Malakand IDPs crisis in 2009. The biggest lesson of Swat- Malakand IDPs crisis was that in Pakhtun culture it is difficult to stay in IDPs camps with women if the arrangement of the camps and tents is not socially and culturally fitting. This was the reason that 80 % of IDPs stayed with host families. Only 10 % were in government camps and 10 % were in private camps setup by faith-based and charitable organizations.  The bond of Pakhtunwali and Islam was the foundation of this unprecedented support for the Swat- Malakand IDPs, which was world wide appreciated. 

In the case of North Waziristan IDPs the example of Swat- Malakand IDPs crisis should have provided the basis for the government strategy to cope with the NW IDPs. When the government authorities were investing in setting up the Bakka Khel IDP camp in FR Bannu the presumption was that the NW IDPs would stay in the camp, which did not happen. Now the question is what was the plan B of the government to deal with a situation wherein host families have to handle the IDPs? The plan B could have been, based on learning from Swat- Malakand IDPs crisis, that the Deputy Commissioners could have convened a meeting of the property dealers, political leaders, civil society actors and discussed and elaborated a plan for the accommodation of the influx of IDPs from NW.  In return for hosting a family, the government could have had compensated each hosting family in cash. Similarly public buildings such as schools and non-functional health centers in rural areas could also have been used for accommodating the IDPs of NW. Since the IDPs have left all their assets in NW except their cattle (and perhaps some cash & jewelry items), the government could also have purchased the cattle on high prices from the IDPs to avoid their sale on throwaway prices. Similarly the special needs of women and children could have been better handled by creating a network of women volunteers especially female school teachers, Lady health workers (LHWs), Traditional Birth attendants (TBAs).

It is also difficult to understand the decision of government of Pakistan in the first place to deny the international support, including support from the UN, for coping with NW IDPs crisis.  The decision by the government of Pakistan yesterday to seek UN support for the NW IDPs speaks volumes about the flawed policy priorities in addressing this tragedy of enormous proportions. In moments of national crisis political leadership rise above partisan interests to meet difficult challenges but the refusal of PTI’s chief Mr. Imran Khan to accompany Prime Minster Mr. Nawaz Sharif to the NW IDPs camp in District Bunnu is lamentable.

The silence of the international community including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on this humanitarian tragedy is unjustified on whatever grounds. Western governments have also ignored the NW IDPs.  Any significant world leader has issued no single statement in support of the NW IDPs so far.

The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reportedly convened an All Parties’ Conference in Peshawar on the IDPs crisis after a statement by the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) chief Mr. Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpaow.  This would have been much better if it was convened by Prime Minster Mr. Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad to address the NW IDPs crisis and show solidarity and support for the people of North Waziristan who are sacrificing for the future of Pakistan.

The uncoordinated and poorly planned response to the NW IDPs crisis by the government of Pakistan need serious review to fill the gaps in the strategy and policy framework of humanitarian response to the IDPs crisis and should focus on rebuilding the lives of the IDPs back in Waziristan after the military operation.







[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage award. She could be reached on shadbegum@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

An Unfolding Humanitarian Crisis By Shad Begum

By Shad Begum

Our security forces are fighting a battle for the soul of Pakistan on the Western front. The military operation, namely Zarb-e-Azb, against foreign militants and their local sponsors have displaced almost half a million population from North Waziristan so far. While a grave Humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif has kept a discrete silence about the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and Zarb-e-Azb. After my communication with National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) and Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it appears that the humanitarian response from Nawaz Sharif’s government is poorly coordinated and inadequately executed to address the North Waziristan IDPs crisis.

Most probably, because of security concerns, IDPs have not opted for stay in officially arranged camps by FDMA, particularly after an attack on Toghsari IDP camp in Hangu district. According to updated information by FDMA, 36,831 families have been registered so far out of which 120,101 are men, 173,996 are women, and 192,442 are children. Only 28 families out of 36,831 opted to stay in the Bakka Khel camp in FR Bannu.

The government is providing PKR 12000 cash for each family in the Bakka Khel camp and also to IDPs on check posts during registration. Apart from cash assistance, FDMA is also providing transport and shelter to fleeing IDPs form Waziristan. The Nawaz Sharif government has decided not to take assistance from humanitarian organization including UN agencies. Only World Food Program (WFP) is providing food with support from the government of Pakistan. Perhaps one reason for declining assistance from local and international humanitarian organization is the support mechanism of militants who escape the government net through pro-jihadist welfare organizations as was reported during the Swat IDP crises in 2009. However this should not affect the support work of humanitarian organizations that are politically neutral.

The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the federal government are not on the same page in addressing the IDP crisis. Most of the IDPs are either staying with their relatives or renting places in the southern districts Bannu, D.I.Khan, Karak, Kohat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There is no place for registration of or assistance for out-of –camp IDPs. Without a proper plan for scattered IDPs, there will be security consequences, as militants will disappear into populated areas in the shape of IDPs.    

The SAFRON ministry, the NDMA, FDMA and PDMA need better coordination to address the IDP crisis. The decision of the government to disallow the humanitarian organizations for providing assistance to NW IDPs also need to be shared with the public e.g. what is the logic behind this decision? Is the government capable of handling this crisis bay its own?
If yes, then why are IDPS not going to the camps set up for them?

The National Humanitarian Network (NHN) of Pakistan (a civil society network) needs to approach the government authorities and the UN agencies for better understanding of the situation. UNOCHA Pakistan should take the lead on coordinating this effort.

The people of Waziristan belong to a closely knitted tribal society. Whole clans, sub clans and families have been displaced and most likely they will be staying together during this displacement on this clannish/tribal structure basis.

The Deputy Commissioner of the Bannu, D I Khan, Karak and Kohat districts should establish a help line for non-camp IDPs and register them for targeted assistance. It is unfortunate that no mother and child health support is available to the IDPs even in the camps. In this hot summer and without clean drinking water, many mothers and children will lose the battle of life due to preventable diseases such as diarrhea.


The government needs a better IDP assistance strategy to overcome the crisis.


[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage award. She could be reached on shadbegum@gmail.com

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Innocent Victims of Conflict by Shad Begum

By Shad Begum[1]                                                                                                                              

According to the tenets of Pakhtunwali – the code of living of the Pakhtuns – women and children are awarded certain protections during mutual feuds and conflicts. Both Islam and international humanitarian laws award similar protections and privileges to non-combatants, civilians, the old, women and children. My personal experiences of being an internally displaced person (IDP) and of working with IDP women and children during the Swat IDP crisis have left me with indelible marks on my consciousness that are re-surfaced with images of IDPs from the North Waziristan Agency (NWA). I am witness to the sufferings of thousands of pregnant women who walked on foot for miles to save their lives and their unborn children. Unfortunately, many of these unborn children, who had not even an iota of responsibility in making the conflict, had to be sacrificed for conflicting ideologies and interests. The Pakhtun culture is very secretive about pregnancies. Sometimes, even male members of the household do not have the knowledge of pregnancies till the baby is born. One can imagine the difficulties of the displaced pregnant women and their families from NWA.

The current discourse in Pakistan is split amongst the liberals and the conservatives on whether negotiations or a military operation is the solution to the current crises of religious extremism and militancy. Both parties to the conflict – Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Government – are trying to win the hearts and minds of common Pakistanis to their sides. During all these debates, there are very few voices for those who stand a neutral ground – the old, the women, and the children. The current NWA IDP crisis is further sidelined due to media attention towards the unfortunate incidents in Lahore, in which several precious lives, including women, were lost.

Due to the on-going conflict in the Waziristan region, thousands of families from NWA have left the area since May, 2014.  According to the available official figures there are around 60,000 registered IDPs in various camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; however, other sources show the number of IDPs above 70,000. These IDPs have settled in different areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) has established an IDP camp in Bakakhel in Bannu district to house around 100,000 individuals while 200,000-250,000 are expected in a few days.  Because of culturally inappropriate arrangements, IDP families are shying away from registration in the official camps and mostly looking for alternative arrangements on their own – staying with relatives or acquaintances in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh provinces. The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has announced a relief package of PKR 7000/- (USD75) per family through ATM cards. Cooked food will be distributed in camps initially but no food hubs are allowed according to official policy. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has announced free medical care in the hospitals. Food vendors will be allowed permits for IDPs staying inside NWA.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is still lacking a national IDP policy, which leaves many spaces in addressing the needs of the IDPs in times of crisis. Provinces resort to individual policies on IDPs in Pakistan. For example the recent decision of the Sindh government to ban entry of IDPs to the province absolutely ignores the humanitarian aspects of displacement from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and is not good for the national cohesion.

The Government policy to exclusively provide relief to the IDPs is shrinking the space for the humanitarian organizations to provide relief to the IDPs from NWA. In majority cases, government authorities are not trained for handling IDP crisis. Data collection about IDP needs become a problem in such situations.  The policy of the Government to provide assistance to IDP families through ATM cards is also problematic for several reasons. Many of the IDP families from NWA are not familiar with using ATM cards. Additionally, ATM cards are not available in the camps.  It also needs mention here that majority of women do not have computerized national identity cards (CNIC), which exclude them from getting cash assistance through government issued ATM cards. The special needs of women and children are not taken care of in the light of the prevailing cultural setting. Pregnant and lactating women are particularly vulnerable due to the lack of mobile health facilities in and around the IDP camps. Cash or food assistance is not the only items needed to be considered for IDPs. There are social and psychological issues of the IDPs that need professional handling.

We hope that the Government of Pakistan will review its policy and include humanitarian organizations, especially local actors with proper background check, to provide relief to the innocent victims of the ongoing conflict. While we appreciate the security concerns involved in providing humanitarian assistance, it must be recognized that security of humanitarian organizations or the lack of an accountability framework for relief organizations should not be taken as an excuse from denying relief to the people in distress, especially IDP women and children.  We believe that Government agencies and humanitarian organizations can join hands to address the IDPs challenges in the hot summer wherein the holy month of fasting (Ramadhan) is only one week away. It will be extremely difficult for IDP families to bear the hardships of displacement and the rigor of fasting during the hot months of summer.

The UN and its agencies have the mandate and responsibility to coordinate the work of the humanitarian organizations and the government agencies. No clear plan of action has been made public to address the IDP challenge from NWA. Coordination gaps between the humanitarian, the UN, and government agencies need to be addressed sooner in the best interest of NWA IDPs.

While whatever is being said and done, the Government of Pakistan should come up with a clear plan of action and timeline for the rehabilitation of IDPs back to their places of origin with honor and dignity.




[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage award. She could be reached on shadbegum@gmail.com