A looming threat from Al Qaeda & the Taliban militia and an in-flux of Afghan refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) has left Pakistan in a worst refugee crisis since the partition in 1947. US led drone strikes and Pakistan military’s onslaught against the Talibans has crippled a great mass of Afghan and Pakistani civilians. Why do states always carry out post-mortem reports on innocent war causalities, instead of ensuring civilians’ security prior to the attacks?
In view of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s corrupt governments and the rising number of people uprooted by the growing conflict in north-west Pakistan, can we trust these governments enough to tackle the fragile situation or is it a case of another humanitarian disaster? Perhaps another Kashmir, another Palestine. The victims in the end are always the civilians, who end up losing their only prized possession; their identity.
May 5, 2009: Afghan officials say up to 120 non-combatants were killed when US warplanes dropped bombs on two villages in Bala Baluk, a Taliban-controlled district in the western province of Farah.
May 11, 2009: UN estimates, over 360,000 people have escaped from the three worst affected areas of Dir, Swat and Buner.
May 12, 2009: A total of 501,496 displaced people from the new influx had been formally registered by authorities, with UNHCR’s help, since May 2.
May 13, 2009: The number of people who have fled the fighting in northwest Pakistan this month and been registered or recorded by authorities reached 670,906 on Wednesday, up from just over half a million the day before.
May 15, 2009: Almost 1 million displaced people so far registered this month by authorities and UNHCR are in addition to another 550,000 uprooted people who fled fighting since last August. According to the latest figures, 987,140 people have been registered from the current influx, including 907,298 outside camps and 79,842 in camps.
What will be the outcome of Pakistan’s face-off with the Talibans? Will success be measured on the battlefield in the Swat Valley and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border or will it be measured by the number of civilian casualties?
Refugee camps; like Chotha Lahore near Swabi are now housing a mass of IDPs fleeing out of the Swat Valley. This is in addition to the 360,000+ displaced people who have been provided shelter in the refugee camps in the northwest. Most of the camp inhabitants have not only lost their homes, but also their land and any other source of income, which was ensuring their livelihood. Will these people have the opportunity to re-start? Let’s take a brief overview of some of the past happenings:
An official at Iran’s Interior Ministry says the estimated 1.5 million Afghan refugees illegally living in the country could face arrest and detention for up to five years. He says Iranian officials now have legal authority to begin moving unregistered refugees into detention camps with prison-like conditions. Iran began expelling tens of thousands of Afghan immigrants last April by loading them on buses and dropping them off at the Iran-Afghanistan border.
Afghan refugees in Pakistan say that arrests of Afghans are increasing in the country’s eastern Punjab Province. Awami National Party spokesman Zahid Khan told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that what the “government is doing against [the ethnic] Pashtuns and Afghans deserves condemnation.”
Arrests have escalated since Baytullah Mehsoud, Pakistan’s Taliban leader, announced that he had sent suicide bombers into the province to attack a military school in Lahore. Pakistani authorities in Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad arrested some 800 Afghans after Mehsoud claimed responsibility for the attack.
Alongside the refugee crisis stands the threat posed by Pakistan’s extremist political groups and organizations, like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD); which was found to be linked with last November’s Mumbai massacre. The charity group has reestablished itself in the wake of the refugee crisis by providing relief to refugees under a new brand name; Falah-e-Insaniat (Human Welfare) Foundation.
Have a look at these interesting remarks by Congressman Ron Paul:
“We are bombing a sovereign country,” Paul said. “Where do we get the authority to do that? Did the Pakistani government give us written permission? Did the Congress give us written permission to expand the war and start bombing in Pakistan?”.
“Many, many thousands of Pashtuns that are right smack in the middle, getting killed by our bombs, and then we wonder why they object to our policies over there.”
“How do you win the hearts and minds of these people if we’re seen as invaders and occupies?” he also asked.
As Paul finished his remarks, a Pakistani in the audience commented, “This American lawmaker has defended Pakistan more eloquently than our ambassador ever has.”
Peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved with a flick of a switch or by waging wars; how much more bloodshed till the Talibans give in to gender parity and world peace? Pakistan and Afghanistan’s leaders might be shaking hands today, but how coordinated will their strategies be? And what if we find out tomorrow that the Talibans have now migrated to Iran, will that be the next target? How many targets are we going to chase; how many civilians are we willing to sacrifice?
While the clock ticks away, I pray for the lives of young girls and boys who are caught in this world of war and violence. May they not sleep to hunger and tears, may they get the opportunity to reach for their stars.