In early 2012, it is timely to look at the plight of those displaced by terrorism and the “war on terror” in Pakistan. An analysis of the situation might offer lessons for local authorities and the international community to effectively address the concerns of the victims of conflict-induced displacements.
Security operations and US drone attacks aiming to crush terrorists continue in Pakistan. Although their intensity may have recently diminished. Security operations in some parts of the country have created a war-like situation due to clashes between the army and militants, causing millions of civilians.
Between 2008 and 2009, over three million people were displaced because of army operations in Swat and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Although clashes in Swat have come to an end, the army is still fighting terrorists in South Waziristan. The conflict-induced displacement of people continues, despite over two million having returned to their homes. Currently, there are half a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, the majority of which are children.
Other than the devastation caused by terrorist attacks and security operations, there is also that caused by US drones in several FATA regions. The widespread insecurity in the region thus forces thousands of families to continue living as IDPs.
US drone attacks have decreased in number lately, and so has the intensity of local security operations. According to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, US drone attacks have fallen from 90 attacks in 2010 to 59 in 2011.
Nevertheless, some attacks still take place, causing both civilian and non-civilian casualties. Therefore, many IDPs find themselves better off living in camps or with friends in other parts of the country rather than returning to their homes.
The double issue of displacement and returnees
These troubles come in addition to the trauma linked to their direct experience of violence. Among the victims of the conflict, the children are particularly vulnerable to being traumatised by witnessing bloodshed or losing family members, friends, and homes. Therefore, there is a need to pay attention to the special needs of those children displaced and/or affected by the conflict.
When displaced, people suffer from a whole range of problems. In general, they have no choice but to live in unhygienic conditions, in and outside the camps organised by humanitarian agencies and the government. It is children who suffer the most from these conditions.
A UNESCO report found that the conflict in Swat left roughly 15,000 children with no capacity to attend school. This is mainly due to the fact that the Tehreek-e-Nafaaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, a group of local Taliban, is against the education of girls, and their militants in Swat therefore destroyed over 200 schools, including 95 girls schools.
The situation is similar for those IDPs who have returned to the Swat/Malakand district since school buildings are in ruins and teachers no longer available. The government needs the urgent support of the international community to rebuild these much-needed infrastructures.
The role of aid programmes in post-conflict Pakistan
The end of the conflict in Swat does not mean that the region is free from the influence of militancy and religious extremism, as some members and sympathisers of the Taliban were even found in IDP camps. Considering this, the government’s “Sabawoon” program is timely. Sabawoon is a rehabilitation centre for young people in Swat, where a team of doctors take care of the victims of religious extremism. The centre initially had 177 children, 102 of whom have completed their treatments and were able to return to their families.
This is a worthwhile initiative, but others are also needed: the government and the international community must initiate programmes for IDPs who continue to be traumatised by war. There is an urgent need to provide psychological counseling for the victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The government’s announcement of the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Trust, which will provide roughly £700,000, to support projects focused on education and rehabilitation for children affected by terrorism and security operations, is significant. However, the trust has not funded any such projects up to now.
In the meantime, there is a need to focus on providing livelihood opportunities to the returnees because their previous means of income, such as agriculture and tourism, have been badly affected. Therefore, the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) strategy in Pakistan focuses on the following: “To support the return and resettlement of [IDPs] through income generation and economic rehabilitation activities and contribute towards addressing the structural causes of conflict through peace building intervention”.
The UNDP’s peacebuilding strategy has been effective because it focuses comprehensively on addressing the needs of conflict victims. So far, the UNDP in Pakistan has engaged over 10,000 people through youth facilitation centers, the formation of peace committees, sports, Qur’an recitations, peace walks and capacity building programs. These are important first steps for the rehabilitation of returnees. Also, considering the fact that the livelihood of the majority in Swat depends on the tourism industry, the UNDP has organised the “Amman Festival: Ski Gala and Spirit of Swat” to revive tourism by attracting over 70,000 people from across the country.
While there are limited resources left in the aftermath of the conflict in the Malakand region, the role of peace committees is crucial to ensure stability in the region. There might be increasing cases of conflicts over such issues as land and businesses etc. Therefore, the members of these peace committees need to be trained with conflict resolution skills in order to avoid or appease these situations.
The number of victims of terrorism and security operations is alarmingly high and the government cannot afford to neglect their special needs, especially those of IDPs and returnees. Through this article, I wish to initiate a discussion on the special needs of the victims of conflict in Pakistan.
It is still a relatively new phenomenon in Pakistan, therefore, external insights and expertise will be valuable to comprehensively understand the true nature of problems for different segments of the IDPs and returnee populations. This will help to develop relevant programmes for the wellbeing of victims, who once they are fully healed and rehabilitated, will be better armed to counter future attacks of religious extremism and terrorism.