The battle for Pakistan

ANALYSIS: The battle for Pakistan — Najmuddin A Shaikh
Daily Times, May 15, 2009

The armed forces are now committed, one hopes, to the elimination of the military threat. It is civil society that has to erode and then eliminate the ideological threat that has been allowed to grow over the last thirty years

Some substantial damage has been done to the Taliban and their cohorts by the continuing military operation in Swat. The ISPR spokesman has claimed, corroborating an earlier statement by the interior advisor, that 751 Taliban (‘miscreants’) have been killed up to May 11, while 71 members of the regular and paramilitary forces have been martyred.

Given the intensity of the operation, these are relatively small numbers and bear testimony to the fact that the armed forces are choosing their targets carefully and are trying to avoid civilian casualties, a task rendered difficult by the Taliban’s use of innocent civilians as human shields.

There has been a massive exodus of civilians from the conflict zones. Nearly a million people have made their way out of Swat and Buner into Mardan, Swabi other settled areas of Pukhtunkhwa, and considerable numbers have come down to Karachi, the city with the largest Pashtun population in Pakistan. This, in addition to the half-million refugees from the tribal areas displaced by the army offensive in Bajaur, has created a major problem, which is likely to be further exacerbated when the military expands its operations to other insurgency-hit areas.

We have, however, the experience of coping with even larger displacements. At its peak, the Afghan jihad brought to Pakistan some 5.2 million refugees. Even today we are providing shelter to some 2 million officially registered refugees, while at least another million are unregistered or have somehow acquired Pakistani documentation.

The plight of our Afghan brothers as refugees and as IDPs inside Afghanistan is relevant to the concerns we have now on a number of counts, some positive and some negative. First, we were able to cope with the Afghan refugees and create infrastructure for the most part in the same areas in which the Swat refugees will have to be accommodated. We will now, as then, rely on the generosity and hospitality of the kith and kin of the refugees.

Today, according to official estimates, only 20 percent of the Swat refugees are in camps while the rest have found shelter with relatives and friends. We will need to ensure, however, that the burden on the hosts is minimised by providing essential items and facilities to the refugees, which they would have been entitled to had they moved to the camps.

Second, in trying to cope with the difficult task of administering the camps and in aid of the jihad, we permitted jihadi parties, particularly the more fundamentalist among them, to exercise considerable amount of control in the camps and to propagate their distorted version of Islam. It was in these camps and in the schools run by these parties that the seeds of extremism were planted. Today, there is talk of screening new arrivals in tents to ensure that no Taliban find sanctuary, but it is even more important to ensure that volunteers at camps do not share the Taliban’s worldview.

It was disquieting, in this context, to read a report in the Guardian by Declan Walsh that one of the first refugee camps to be set up at Sher Gur, a few hundred meters from the Malakand Division boundary, is being run by the Falah-e Insaniat Foundation, the renamed relief wing of the Jama’at-ud Dawa. According to this story, the FIF camp is conspicuously well funded and organised, “particularly in comparison with the chaotic efforts of the government”.

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