Saturday, May 9, 2009


The flood of refugees escaping from the Pakistani army assault on the Taleban in Swat will soon increase as the military tries to take what it should have secured before their assault on Buner. This does not bode well for the future of Pakistan. This is clearly a situation where the military is attacking the citizens of its own country. This is not East Pakistan redux, but the parallels are there. The military attacking the citizens has never redounded in favor of the military. And there will be consequences, both short term and long term, for the status of the military, and hence its ability to wield power. This increased flux of refugees, apart from being tragic by its very existence will weaken the government both directly and indirectly. Directly, by exposing their incompetence and their lack of empathy for the people they supposedly represent. This will leave the door open to those who present themselves as an alternative.
However, the Government’s inability to cope with the flood of refugees is now angering many people — and opening another window for Islamist political parties and illegal militant groups. Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamic political party, which has openly opposed the army operation against the militants, is most active in all the camps, providing the refugees with all kinds of help. Members of banned radical groups are also reported to have been seen working there.
And indirectly by exacerbating the existing tensions within the country. The economic impact of a million displaced people trying to find some way of replacing their likelihood is going to be another hit on a fragile economy. The NWFP and the economic center of Karachi will be further destabilized by the influx of refugees. The danger is not exactly lost on the Pakistanis. This from an editorial in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
PEOPLE are pouring out of Swat and they must be housed and fed without delay. Refugees who have fled other conflict zones in the country’s northwest also need to be provided with basic necessities such as tents, food, water and healthcare. At the risk of repeating ourselves, we urge the government to help the displaced who have been scarred for life by both the Taliban and the security establishment’s response to militant activities. Having a home is something one takes for granted, and it is perhaps impossible from this remove to relate to the plight of people running for their lives clutching a few possessions. The agonies suffered by a trader, farmer or labourer who may now have to beg for bread can never be fully comprehended by analysts tapping on keyboards, however furiously. The internally displaced have paid a heavy price for the policy failures of successive governments. They have seen the brutality of the Taliban from close range. Practical measures are needed now to assure the dispossessed that the state is on their side and will not let them down, come what may. If the refugees are not afforded a semblance of dignity, the battle for hearts and minds is as good as lost. A hungry child, if he or she lives, may one day be a bitter adult willing to lend an ear to the voice of obscurantism.
The problem though will not wait until that hungry child grows up. And the likelihood of the government responding with any level of competence is remote. The President is widely seen as a crook who is willing to sell out the country to the US in exchange for their support of his criminal enterprise. The columnist Ayaz Amir in the News:
With the skeletons in his closet, Zardari can be expected only to look out for himself. He is already indebted to the Americans for helping him to come to power. He knows that if the US pulls the rug from under his feet he is lost. He mumbles rehearsed words which sound worse than platitudes. It is too much to expect that he can stand up against the odds and court, where necessary, American displeasure.
The Dawn editorial writer is a bit, (but only a bit) more circumspect.
Given the track record of a bureaucracy known for its incompetence, lethargy and dishonesty, the government should perhaps consider the option of channelling at least a portion of relief funds through reputable private-sector organisations.
The refugees are a harbinger of much instability. If, as seems very likely, the Pakistani army's assault on Swat was in response to our pressure, we really did not do ourselves a favor.

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