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Archive for May, 2009

As the military offensive in Pakistan continues, an increasing number of people from the country’s northwest are left displaced, a topic I have consistently covered on this blog, [see this past CHUP post]. According to the BBC News last Friday, “The total number of people internally displaced within Pakistan over the past 12 months has risen to around 1.4 million,” and the UN reports that nearly a million have fled in the last two weeks. In order to gain further insight into the situation, CHUP interviewed Abdul Basit, who recently conducted an assessment of the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Swabi and Mardan with the Human Relief Foundation in Pakistan. Below, he discusses the on the ground realities he viewed first hand:

Q: You recently visited IDP camps in Swabi and Mardan with your organization, Human Relief Foundation. Can you tell us a bit more about your trip, and specifically can you address how dire the current situation is?

I have been working for Human Relief Foundation for approximately nine months now as the Media and Project Manager and our slogan is that when we do something, we do it 100%. As soon as the crisis erupted in parts of Swat, Buner and Dir, we knew the biggest losers out of this conflict would be the civilians and no one else. So, we rushed to Swabi and Mardan, where most of the IDPs are moving to, to understand their problems and then become the catalyst that will bring relief, peace and harmony into their lives once again.

The current situation is very treacherous for the IDPs. The number of people are increasing everyday, and people who think it is going to stop at the one million mark are erroneous. I want to tell them that there are many parts in Swat (such as Bahrain and Kalam) where people are still stuck, once they get a chance, they will move out too, and therefore the numbers will increase. I would also like to share an important point that people who are living in camps at the moment are just around 100,000, i.e. 90% of them are living with friends, families, schools and even in poultry farms! These people are wandering in the streets of Mardan and Swabi asking for help; certainly this crisis has made them beggars and they don’t like this one bit.

Image Credit: HRF, Shah Mansoor Camp, Swabi

Image Credit: HRF, Shah Mansoor Camp, Swabi

Moreover, the biggest threat I can foresee is related to health issues. The problems are plenty: way too many people in a single tent, pregnant ladies are under severe trauma/stress plus there are no proper facilities for delivery, food quality is under par, malaria threat is obvious, toilets are few and far between and most shockingly, there are no separate toilets for males and females at most of the camps. The list is long; action speaks louder than words, and it’s time for action.

Q: What completely surprised you during your visit? What inspired you?

The thing which astonished me the most was how the IDPs reached safer places. One person told me that he walked for few days to reach Daragai with his family, from there, he hired private transport and reached Swabi. I and most of us could never walk for days!

A little boy stirred me in Mardan. This boy is suffering from thalassemia [a genetic blood disease] and is living in shambles with his family. They have no mattresses, no pillows, and beyond that, they don’t even know how to provide treatment to their son! Yet this boy had a wider smile than me and was giggling all the time. It shook me and I was out of this world. It took me some time to come back to reality if I was not witnessing it in front of my eyes. That boy is a prime example of strength and belief.

One thing is for sure, these people are strong indisputably, therefore I know they will survive this catastrophe but there will be complications later on.

Child with Thalassemia in Mardan

Image credit: HRF, Child with Thalassemia in Mardan

Q: What is the current sentiment among the people you interacted with? How do they perceive their situation, and who do they feel is responsible for their predicament?

Everyone I met wanted to go back home. I can vouch for this; they stand for peace and not aggression. They cried to me that they don’t deserve this. In their areas, the harvest season of wheat arrives at this time, late compared to other parts of Pakistan, and this year they are going to lose their entire crop.

They allowed me to take photographs and none of them refused. I of course asked for permission, though I made a point not to take photos of their ladies. The impression in  the media that is spread wildly about them is that these people are extremists and live in the Stone Age – this is entirely wrong and I believe it’s high time this nonsense is stopped.

Personally, I think the residents of Swabi and Mardan deserve accolades. Most of them have opened the doors of their homes to accommodate the IDPs. I have met people who have left their jobs and businesses temporarily just to settle the IDPs down. Besides that, on their own expense they are providing them food and shelter – an outstanding display of nobility.

Q: In your opinion, is the government doing enough to address the situation? Are supplies reaching these camps?

On my visit to the camp in Chotta Lahore, i.e. Yar Hussain camp in District Swabi, I was lucky to meet with the Chief Minister of NWFP – Mr. Ameer Haider Khan Hoti. I told him that we, i.e. non government agencies, require your support and resources to help these people and he assured me that his support is on our side.

In addition, the District Government is providing food at many camps. The problem is that all the camps have surpassed their capacity. Sheikh Yaseen camp in Mardan was made for 900 families; four days ago there were 16001700 families. I am sure that by now it would have reached 2500 if they have not stopped accommodating more families. Therefore, the government is not able to work efficiently. The influx rate of IDPs is increasing at an alarming rate and is becoming too difficult to manage. I met Mr. Sikandar Irfan, MPA [Member of Provincial Assembly] Swabi, who is running an excellent camp in Ambar – a few kilometers from the motorway – he is running one of the best camps as he has got all items in good stock – medicines, food, etc.

Interestingly, I have witnessed many District Nazims taking charge of the situation without using any resources from the government. They have taken up the responsibility of some schools where IDPs are living and are collecting funds on the roads from the general public to run their camps. They are undoubtedly doing unbelievable work. I believe more time should be given to the government because it is not humanly possible to accommodate more than a million guests who come all of a sudden. But on the same note, the government should speed up the relief work, because if people don’t find government officials supporting them, I am sure feelings of hatred would occur. Most importantly, the best way I think the government can help in this crisis is by winding up its military operation immediately and proficiently.

Q: What more can the international community and Pakistani citizens do to help?

The international community, overseas Pakistanis and Pakistani citizens need to act instantaneously as their brothers and sisters are in distress. They are in dire need of the basic amenities required to sustain a life and most horrifically the high temperatures in Mardan and Swabi are exacerbating their injuries. I would appeal to everyone to please send in their donations as soon as they can. The resources of the government and non government relief organizations will not be enough as the IDP numbers increase. Plus, I would ask doctors in general, female volunteers & mid wives, and pharmaceutical companies to visit these people and try to control the spread of disease and to facilitate the traumatized pregnant ladies. We would be mobilizing ourselves to the area in a week inshallah [God willing] and would look forward at the community to help us by any means they can. Charity is kind and never fails; please help us to help them!

If you would like to contribute to HRF, click here. For a central website where you can view statistics on the situation and numerous ways to help Pakistan’s displaced, please visit the Wikia Pakistan website. Finally, there are several notable websites/blogs that are solely dedicated to this situation – please see The Swat Plea, as well as IDP-Relief.

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Image Credit: NY Times

Image Credit: NY Times

In the United States, talk of the rise of militancy in Pakistan has become synonymous with fears that the country’s nuclear arsenal will fall into the wrong hands. Recent articles and books, particularly from the NY Times, have further probed this topic, leading many to question just how much control Pakistan has over its nuclear weapons. Heather Williams, based in Washington, D.C., seeks to address these questions, and dispel many notions associated with the issue:

A May 4 New York Times article by David E. Sanger, “Strife in Pakistan Raises U.S. Doubts Over Nuclear Arms” sounded the alarm on the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal just prior to President Zardari’s visit to Washington. By contrast, U.S. officials continue to express confidence in Pakistan’s leadership, and President Zardari said in a recent interview with Wolf Blitzer that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was “definitely safe.” So where is the NY Times getting this story from? What is the status of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities? The facts about Pakistan’s security structure reveal the threat is overblown and there is no red button on Zardari’s desk waiting to be pressed by some sneaky scientist or tribal leader in the event he reaches Islamabad.

According to Sanger, the Obama administration is “increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.” Unidentified administration officials complain the U.S. wants information on three areas of concern:

  1. Location of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons
  2. Physical security of nuclear facilities
  3. Implementation of US assistance

It is difficult to navigate some of the assertions in the Times article, along with similar pieces from the Miami Herald and Fox News that jumped on the Pakistan bashing bandwagon. But despite complaints about a lack of transparency, the U.S. actually knows a great deal about Pakistan’s nuclear security. Pakistan has between 60 and 100 nuclear weapons. Immediately following the September 11th attacks, President Musharraf moved the nuclear weapons to six new underground locations. Most of these are south of Islamabad in Punjab province.

The assumption that the U.S. would know the exact location of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities is incongruous, since states are not compelled to share such sensitive information. In response to a question from David Gregory on Meet the Press on this topic, President Zardari retorted, “Why don’t you do the same with other countries yourself?… We have a right to our own sovereignty.”

Pakistan must play a balancing act of relying on U.S. assistance while maintaining its inherent distrust of U.S. intentions, particularly on nuclear issues. For example, the U.S. offered to help Pakistan develop a unique dual-key system for its launch codes, however Pakistan rebuffed the offer out of the fear the U.S. would sabotage its weapons in the process. Current fears run in a similar vein. Islamabad is reluctant to tell the U.S. the location of its nuclear weapons for fear the U.S. or India will strike those locations to eliminate Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent capabilities. The U.S. does know the nuclear weapons are in secure facilities nowhere near the areas of fighting in FATA and NWFP.

Concerns about physical and personnel security are also exaggerated. In a 2008 BBC interview, Brigadier Shaukat Qadir, a Pakistani nuclear expert, said “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are only as much at risk as those of the U.S. or India.” Pakistan’s weapons are disassembled (the weapon itself is separate from the detonators which are all separate from delivery systems such as missiles) and cannot be used by anyone other than the Pakistani government because of command and control security measures.

Sanger suggests that rogue scientists will supply militants with nuclear materials. This is highly unlikely. Also, the militants have different objectives than terrorist groups and are not as interested in acquiring a nuclear weapon. In breaking up the A.Q. Khan network, the U.S. and Pakistan jointly identified and removed questionable scientists and implemented a strict screening process. Security personnel are trained in the U.S. Also, the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] Illicit Trafficking Database has never reported a security incident in Pakistan.

Through various forms of assistance, the U.S. has helped Pakistan secure its nuclear facilities, including a $100 million program launched under President Bush. In 2000, President Clinton created a joint U.S.-Pakistan commission to develop Pakistan’s command and control system. In the process, the U.S. had insights into Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure. Along with financial assistance, the U.S. also made secret agreements to station U.S. personnel in Pakistan solely to guarantee the safety of the nuclear weapons.

Yet Pakistan’s security and future remain questionable to many Americans. The Obama administration must play a delicate balance in expressing concern for the security situation while not subsequently questioning the Zardari government’s sovereignty or ability to lead. The administration has been consistent in its message: general concern about Pakistan, but confidence in the security of its nuclear arsenal. According to National Security Advisor James Jones, Pakistan’s efforts to secure its nuclear weapons “are moving in a more positive direction,” but if the situation quickly disintegrates “obviously the nuclear question comes into view.”

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The NY Times’ Adam Ellick, who brought you the widely circulated Pakistan sex toy story, “Cracking the Whip”, reported on the presence of drug-resistant Tuberculosis in Karachi. The piece is both informative and telling of how cultural barriers can act as an impediment to tackling disease. The rise of drug-resistant TB has become a serious problem in the developing world, and health officials gathered in Beijing last month to warn against deadly drug-resistant strains of the disease.

According to the World Health Organization, “of nine million new TB cases annually, about 490,000 are multiple-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and about 40,000 are extensively drug resistant (XDR-TB) based on 2006 data.” Reuters noted, “People with XDR-TB, which has cropped up in 55 countries, have few treatment options and death rates are high.

In his report, Ellick specifically discusses MDR-TB [I believe], which he notes is “a disease of the poor,” affecting 900 people in Karachi. The strain of the disease is highly contagious, but it can be cured with antibiotics taken every day for two years. However, in Pakistan, most patients stop taking medication once they feel better. Ellick reported, “Others are embarrassed by the social stigmas of the disease and they hide it.” One woman who was interviewed said both she and her daughter have drug-resistant TB, but she refuses to allow her daughter to be checked because she’s worried word that she has TB will spread, and her daughter “already has a few marriage proposals.”

Definitely a powerful report that highlights the difficulties public health officials face when dealing with the cultural obstacles associated with the disease. Watch the story below:

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According to Dawn,  “…the [U.S.] administration is urging Congress to release $497 million of emergency economic assistance to Pakistan, hoping to make the lawmakers endorse the request as early as possible.” The UK has already pledged further aid to our country, promising £12 million for the increasing number of internally displaced persons. Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan spoke before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, and stated, “Frankly, I don’t really trust what I hear from a situation like that until the dust of battle has settled, but one thing is clear: 900,000 refugees have been registered with the UN in that area, and we have a major, major refugee crisis.” Dawn, in its coverage, reported, “Holbrooke told the panel during a hearing on the situation in Pakistan that senior Obama aides met at the White House on Tuesday to rush emergency assistance to Islamabad. The US, he said, had already provided over $57 million for this crisis from emergency funds.”

While it is significant that the international community is recognizing the gravity of the IDP situation, [see past CHUP post] I wanted to also highlight another part of Holbrooke’s hearing that I found extremely interesting. According to Dawn, “the White House has also discussed a proposal to counter radio broadcasts by extremist clerics in Swat and jam their transmissions. President Obama has already approved the suggestion to jam their broadcasts and to fund counter-broadcasts in Pashto and Urdu.”

Last month, the Wall Street Journal also reported on the Obama administration’s “broad effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent the Taliban from using radio stations and Web sites to intimidate civilians and plan attacks,” noting, “As part of the classified effort, American military and intelligence personnel are working to jam the unlicensed radio stations in Pakistan’s lawless regions on the Afghanistan border that Taliban fighters use to broadcast threats and decrees.”

The strategy is part of a broader counterinsurgency effort, specifically using information operations (IO) to achieve objectives, [for e.g., to decrease support and influence of the Taliban]. Radio jamming specifically pertains to the use of electronic warfare, a core element of IO, while the funding  and development of counter-broadcasts fall under another IO element – psychological operations (PSYOP), [read this guide for more information on IO]. A senior U.S. official in Afghanistan told the WSJ, “The Taliban aren’t just winning the information war — we’re not even putting up that much of a fight. We need to make it harder for them to keep telling the population that they’re in control and can strike at any time.”

Last week, Dawn’s Huma Yusuf commented on the recently unveiled U.S. strategy of radio jamming. She wrote,

In the past few days, the U.S. government has made alarmist statements about ongoing military operations and the fragility of the Pakistan government. Shoot-from-the-hip comments make it easy for Pakistanis to discredit the American understanding of ground realities. But an announcement in mid-April that American military and intelligence personnel are working to jam illegal radio stations in the tribal and settled areas indicates that they’re attuned to local dynamics. After all, winning the information war is a prerequisite to winning the war against terror.

Saesneg, on his blog, linked Yusuf’s commentary to the wider phenomenon of “hate radio,” particularly during the Rwandan genocide, noting, “These stations and how they were tackled by NGOs and locals on the ground could serve as examples for how the Pakistan government and military may be able to fight the voice of the FM Mullah.” And, although the U.S. has already begun jamming stations in FATA, the FATA Secretariat has worked to produce sterile community radio stations in their place.

While I agree that this strategy is a much-needed effort, my reading into the issue raised several questions I will try to address on this forum. First, why is the U.S. seen to be spearheading this effort and not the Pakistani military? Second, was the publicity surrounding the U.S. jamming efforts in effect damaging to its strategy? Finally, what exactly should “counter-broadcasts” entail?

Let’s tackle the first question. In February, the blog Grand Truck Road included an in-depth piece entitled, “Myths About Radio Jamming.” The post debunked the Pakistani military’s claims surrounding the “impossibility” of radio jamming, ultimately concluding the Army’s reasoning – from saying they might also jam their own communications to the Taliban constantly switching frequencies – were just excuses. While this conclusion makes sense given Pakistan’s ambiguous approach to the Taliban prior to the recent offensive, I wonder if this still holds true today. Is the U.S. counterinsurgency effort an attempt to support the Pakistani military’s offensive or because Washington is tired of the excuses and is finally taking the issue into its own hands?

Second question – Was the publicity surrounding the U.S. jamming efforts in effect damaging to its strategy? This is a continuation of the previous issue. Was it smart to publicly broadcast that the U.S. was spearheading the radio jamming effort? With anti-U.S. sentiment still high, it has been vital for the Pakistani state to brand the new offensive as our war. Obviously, foreign aid is greatly needed for these efforts as well as U.S. insight into COIN, but it also seems counterintuitive to have Washington so overtly involved in military matters, [overtly being the key word here]. It is a war of ideas after all, and perception management has been vital. What do you think?

Finally, what should the FATA Secretariat’s counter-broadcasts entail? According to Yusuf (and echoed by Saesneg), the current broadcasts “come saddled with programming restrictions that make the stations largely redundant…How can such a bland, disconnected mish-mash of programming compete with the drama of an FM mullah?” She instead advised,

There is an urgent need in FATA and the settled areas to fund and facilitate local radio programming that is secular, informative and culturally sensitive. The airtime that FM mullahs expend on hate speech and sermonizing, official community radio stations should utilize for hyper-local news reports generated by residents of the tribal areas for their communities. Instead of mobilizing the youth to wage jihad, community radio stations can help communities become civically engaged.

Ultimately, radio stations need to counteract the impact of Taliban propaganda. The messaging needs to be strategic, the content needs to engage the populace. Given frightening news today that only 38% of Pakistan’s northwest remains under full government control, we can no longer afford to be ambiguous or lazy in carrying out these objectives.

BBC News Map

BBC News Map

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Credit: Reuters, Children displaced from Buner Reach for Food at UN Camp

Credit: Reuters, Children displaced from Buner Reach for Food at UN Camp

As the military intensified its offensive against the Taliban, media outlets on Monday cited Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who announced that 700 militants have been killed in the last four days, although the BBC added, “it is impossible to independently confirm these figures.” The NY Times also noted the difference between this number and the figures cited by the Pakistani military,  reporting that Malik’s number was a “far higher figure. No official reason was provided for the discrepancy.”

The Times added in its coverage, “At the weekend, the military put the number of killed militants at around 140 and has reported additional militants killed since then. The Taliban have not commented on their own casualties since the start of the latest offensive, and the death toll cannot be independently verified because aid agencies and journalists are barred from the conflict areas.” Haji Muslim Khan, a Pakistan Taliban spokesman, did tell Al Jazeera that the military was “lying” about the number of dead fighters, “to impress the Obama administration, because that’s where they get their money from.”

According to the Associated Press, Pakistan has not revealed how many civilians have been killed in the fighting, but the offensive “has unleashed a stream of refugees looking to leave the valley for safer parts of Pakistan’s northwest.” In Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] provided more specific details about the growing humanitarian crisis, announcing that over 360,000 civilians in the past 12 days have fled from the fighting and registered with the agency as displaced people. The figure brought to over 900,000 the number of people registered as uprooted in successive waves of fighting since last August. Other statistics I have read have put the number at one million. An article in the Washington Post today included interviews with IDPs from two camps. The Post’s Pamela Constable wrote,

…There is a pervasive sense of loss and worry among the families that keep arriving in overcrowded farm trucks and rented vans. In interviews in two camps Saturday and Sunday, some refugees said their homes had been destroyed in the fighting. Others said they had to abandon their goats and cows. And some, in their rush to escape, even had to leave their children behind.

Taj Mahmud, a vegetable cart puller, told the Post, “When the shelling started, my wife and I ran out to gather the children. It was like a hell outside, and we just started running…I realized that my son and my smallest daughter were missing. She is only 3. But my wife cried and said the rest of us would be killed if we stayed, so we kept going. I have no idea what happened to them.” The truly disturbing development is not just the people who are displaced, but also those who have been left behind. This past Friday, I listened to a chilling interview with a man who was still with his family in Mingora. He told BBC World Service the Taliban had cut trees to block the roads so people could not leave by vehicles. While many who are left are too frightened to escape, some are trying to get out on foot, which is increasingly dangerous given the intensifying offensive.

Fortunately, reported the BBC, “Tens of thousands of civilians took advantage of the lifting of a curfew in parts of the valley on Sunday to escape the fighting and join those already flooding refugee camps.” The news agency recently spoke to Dr. Arshad Ahmed Khan, who is director of medical services for the regional center at Mardan, and spoke about the provincial government’s ability to handle the influx of IDPs. Although BBC’s correspondent said the authorities may not have the capacity to deal with the displaced, Dr. Khan did note, “For the time being, we don’t have any big problem regarding medical facilities, but we are anticipating and requesting for help from international NGOs…that they should come forward and help these people.” Although he said the NWFP government was “doing a great job” by providing free medical and food to those who are displaced, non-profit organizations need to step up as the numbers increase.

On Monday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed Samina Ahmed from the International Crisis Group, who also discussed what has been labeled Pakistan’s “largest humanitarian crisis.” While I found the entire discussion to be incisive and insightful, Jones asked one very pertinent question that I wanted to highlight. When asked, “Would you expect… countries like Australia, which have troops just across the border in Afghanistan, to be doing a lot more than they currently are for the IDPs,” Ahmed answered,

That is absolutely correct. It’s important to understand that when you have people who’ve left a conflict zone, as these IDPs have, they are deeply distrustful of the militants. They know they’ve been displaced because of them. Here is an opportunity to win hearts and minds, but on the on the other hand it’s also in the interest of countries such as Australia because if that assistance isn’t forthcoming, if it isn’t provided urgently, the only gainers will be the militants. You already see some of the jihadi organizations setting up relief camps in places where there is no other assistance, either from the Government or the international community.

While this crisis is heart-wrenching, the media attention and international response it has garnered does give some hope that our government will be held accountable for the million who are already displaced. We all for the most part agree that this military offensive should occur, [well, unless you’re Imran Khan], but that does not absolve any of us – not the government, not the international community, and not the citizens of Pakistan – of the responsibility of helping these casualties of war. [Click here to read CHUP’s past post on how to help the IDPs in Pakistan]

Billboard in Peshawar, Image credit: http://www.twitter.com/bilish

Billboard in Peshawar, Image credit: http://www.twitter.com/bilish

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If you insist, I might hug. No really.

If you insist, I might hug. No really.

On Thursday, Pakistani PM Yousaf Raza Gilani announced to the nation that the army was being called into Swat, “to restore the honor and dignity of our homeland.” He asserted in his nationally televised address, “We will destroy those elements who have destroyed the peace of our people and our nation.” According to the Washington Post, Gilani’s speech “signaled the final collapse of a fragile peace accord between the government and Taliban forces in the Swat region.” The address, a day of fierce air bombardment against militant positions, also marked the beginning of a ground offensive similar to the one already underway in neighboring Dir and Buner districts, where the army claims to have killed more than 200 militants in the past two weeks, reported the Guardian. In the wake of the address, army sources announced that a curfew from 8pm to 6am had been imposed in Swat to prevent Taliban fighters from escaping as wave after wave of attack helicopters and artillery shells pounded suspected militant hideouts.

The announcement occurred as the trilateral talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States came to an end in Washington D.C. yesterday. President Zardari further echoed Gilani’s sentiment at a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, where he stressed Pakistan’s commitment to defeating terrorism. When asked how long the operation in Pakistan would continue, Zardari responded ambiguously, “The operation will go on till the situation returns to normal.” He added, “There’s a realization in the world that it’s a regional problem, a worldwide problem. It is not an Afghan or a Tora Bora problem. It is not a problem secluded in the mountains of Pakhtoonkhwa…This realization brings strength to the fight.”

Although U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke said the main aim of the trilateral meetings were to develop “real cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan because without that cooperation success is not achievable,” the current offensive in Pakistan seemed to be the most pressing issue highlighted by officials and the media. In fact, noted the NY Times, “The timing of Mr. Gilani’s address was hardly an accident. He made it a day after Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, met with President Obama in Washington. American officials have expressed alarm that the Taliban militants are threatening the integrity of the Pakistani state. Mr. Zardari has asked Mr. Obama for more military and economic aid, and Mr. Obama has indicated that he intends to oblige him.”

“Oblige him” is a little easier said than done, though. Although Senator Kerry expressed “hope” that the U.S. Senate and House “would be able to overcome the differences between their bills for providing assistance to Pakistan,” BBC News reported that many lawmakers in Congress are wary of giving a “blank check” to Pakistan. BBC’s Mark Urban reported, “They [lawmakers] want ‘conditionality,’ linking the flow of dollars to Pakistani cooperation on everything from fighting the Taliban, to reining in the ISI, securing nuclear weapons and gaining access to AQ Khan.” Holbrooke, in response to these demands, said the administration “did not believe in conditionality but accepted that benchmarks are required to measure Pakistan’s performance.”

In my effort to understand this issue further, I spoke to Shuja Nawaz, the author of Crossed Swords and director of the Atlantic Council‘s South Asia Center. Although Pakistan does not want “upfront conditions,” he noted that it is understood among the Pakistanis that there have to be financial conditions. However, the indicators or benchmarks noted by Holbrooke must be an effort carried out by the Pakistanis. The government needs to “get their act together” like they did prior to the April Tokyo Conference, where international donors pledged more than $5 billion to help stabilize Pakistan. According to Shuja Nawaz, Pakistan’s finance minister Shaukat Tarin put together “an impressive framework” to show how the aid will be distributed and spent in Pakistan. A similar framework and effort must be made in order to garner much-needed U.S. aid and assistance.

In her testimony this week before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with RAND Corporation, also discussed this issue, advising:

It is essential that these processes and benchmarks be developed in concert with the Pakistani government. Both the United States and Pakistan must agree on how progress will be assessed and how remediation will be addressed. Pakistan must be a partner in achieving these objectives rather than an adversary being forced to acquiesce.

If Congress does approve the aid package for Pakistan, which will increase its civilian aid package to $1.5 billion annually, it is extremely important to know where that money is going so that aid can be more effective. There must be more accountability and responsibility, both on our part and the United States. Ultimately, we need more bang for our buck. In my conversation with Shuja Nawaz yesterday, he noted that USAID is appropriately named “because the aid seems to stay in the U.S.” He used U.S. aid to Afghanistan as an example, noting that only 10 cents of the dollar is actually spent on the Afghan people. Chris Fair, in her testimony, noted, “USAID’s business model relies heavily on layers of contractors to deliver services, something that likely results in much of the funding returning to the United States, suboptimal outcomes, and greater Pakistani and American disappointment with the quality and quantity of benefits delivered to Pakistani citizens.”

In my past interview with Samia Altaf, a public health physician who previously worked with USAID in Pakistan [and is penning a book on U.S. aid implementation], she noted, “It often comes down to program design and implementation strategies. Many of the donor supported programs are not designed with Pakistan’s context in mind. Also there is not much attention given to serious evaluations of mistakes and poor results. Nobody…asks why the program failed to deliver results.”

Although Pakistan drastically needs aid, not just for its military efforts but more importantly for education and development, we also need to learn how to help ourselves. According to Chris Fair, U.S. legislation, while providing military and economic assistance, must also enable Pakistan to “increase its ability to raise domestic revenue through tax reform and any commitment to collect taxes that are due.” Although this scenario is highly unlikely in the immediate future, in the long-term Pakistan’s capacity must be increased so that we are not as fiercely dependent on foreign aid.

For now, as the military offensive continues and the subsequent humanitarian crisis worsens, foreign assistance is increasingly needed. Let’s hope that this time, especially given the intensifying debate, we will actually see the benefits of this funding.

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NY Times: Residents Fleeing Mingora, Swat

NY Times: Residents Fleeing Mingora, Swat

Amid the onslaught of media reports on the current security situation, the status of Pakistan’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) should be cause for increasing concern. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Pakistan, there were 462,912 internally displaced persons (IDPs) outside camps in NWFP, and 93,627 at IDP camps as of April 28. In CHUP’s recent interview with Khalid Aziz, director for institution-strengthening with the FATA Secretariat, the number of IDPs living throughout Pakistan [with their families, in camps, etc.] was totaled at 700,000.

The military’s recent push against the Taliban means this number will increase at a rapid pace. According to a spokesperson at the UNHCR office in Islamabad, the organization had registered 4,000 more displaced persons by May 5. Moreover, media reports yesterday and today estimate that 500,000 more people in Swat Valley are expected to flee their homes as fighting between the military and Taliban militants intensify. According to BBC News today, “Officials say that more than 40,000 people have so far fled from clashes between the army and militants in Swat.” NPR, in its coverage, described the scene in detail, reporting, “Buses carrying the residents of Mingora, the region’s main town, were crammed inside and out. Refugees clambered onto the roofs after seats and floors filled up. Children and adults alike carried their belongings on their heads and backs — all of them fleeing the fighting they fear is about to consume the region.” CNN noted:

The militants are marching on the streets of the city, threatening the lives of civilians, local administrators, and security forces, according to the Pakistani military. Authorities in Swat lifted a curfew Tuesday between 1:30 and 7 p.m. to allow residents to leave the area, Swat District Coordination Officer Khushal Khan said. He noted that after Wednesday, “there will be no time” for evacuations.

Where can these people, these casualties of war, go for refuge? While many are housed in IDP camps, a larger number still are forced to live in cramped conditions with relatives in other cities. Aijaz Muhammed, a resident of Peshawar told IRIN,We live in a three-room apartment in Peshawar where 18 people are now crammed. My brother, his wife and their four children were already living here; now my family of eight and our younger brother’s of four has been forced to move from Swat and join them.” And although he lives in rather squalid conditions, Muhammed is wary of a peace deal between the military and the militants, fearing it may fall apart as it has many times in the past. According to IRIN, He said he was “too scared to move back.”

The NWFP government has announced they will set up six more camps for the influx of displaced persons, “in addition to existing camps in and around Peshawar,” reported CNN. Other NGOs like Helping Hands Relief and Development have also contributed to the efforts, telling local media that 500 displaced families had taken shelter in four temporary camps in Lower Dir based around school or college buildings. The United Nations, meanwhile, is increasing their efforts in collaboration with National Disaster Management Authority and other NGOs to provide humanitarian relief to these people. According to IRIN, “Around 1,000 families fleeing Buner and Dir districts for Jallozai camp near Peshawar have been given assistance. The camp currently accommodates some 7,800 families, most of them from the Bajaur Tribal Agency.

While the fighting has been inevitable, the government must do more to provide services to these internally displaced persons. Azam Khan, who with his family of six is based at the Government Degree College in Timergara [the principal city of Lower Dir District] with some 140 other families, told IRIN, “The situation here is just appalling. There is no clean water, no cooking facilities and a lack of toilets. We really need help. We have been turned into beggars and the fighting means we cannot go home.” The humanitarian news agency also reported that some IDPs from Dir and elsewhere have moved as far afield as Islamabad, where an IDP camp was set up in late 2008 by Mutahida Islahi Falahi Tanzeem (MIFT), a local NGO. Head of MIFT Khurshid Ali Khan said some 60 families were housed there, but more needed to be done to “provide basic facilities for these people.”

Recently, on March 25, news agencies reported that an incident occurred when “some 1,500 IDPs at Jallozai camp in Nowshera, east of Peshawar, staged a rally and blocked a main highway. ” The people were protesting the poor facilities at the camp. Malik Said, one of the IDPs who led the protest, told IRIN over the phone: “We initially staged a demonstration inside the camp because we want better food, regular supplies of basic items so we can cook, and compensation for families who have lost relatives in the conflict.” However, as the protest blocked traffic, police in Nowshera shot at the crowd killing a protester.

If you recall from CHUP’s recent coverage of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy‘s film Children of the Taliban, these camps have been and will continue to be recruiting grounds for the Taliban, particularly if services are not provided by the government, and especially after developments like the one noted above. Within this vacuum, if the militants can provide services and offer more viable options for IDPs than the state, that is a dangerous phenomenon. The government and international agencies must therefore do more to relieve the plight of the ever-increasing number of displaced persons in Pakistan, not just for humanitarian purposes, but because we cannot afford to let the Taliban win anymore.

As for us, it is important to remember that IDPs are not beggars living in tents. They are not just a statistic. They are people. And we must also play a role in helping their situation. I am currently compiling a list of methods for people to help, so please email me at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com if you have suggestions or leave a comment below.

  • A CHUP reader kindly informed me that several people, including Fauzia Minallah and Ghazalah Minallah, the wife and sister of Athar Minallah, a prominent Pakistani lawyer, are collecting donations of flour, sugar, rice tea, dry milk, daal, ghee, salt biscuits for the IDPs who have poured into Islamabad/Rawalpindi from Buner and the adjacent areas. To donate and potentially help with the distribution of these items please call Fauzia (0306 504 9852) or Ghazalah (0300 527 0330).
  • Thanks to a commentator who mentioned the Pakistani Red Crescent Society, who are supporting IDP’s in District Dir, Nowshera (now closed), Risalpur, Mardan and Swat. To make a donation or volunteer your time, call your provincial branch of the PRCS.
  • RIPORT, Khalid Aziz’s NGO [who CHUP interviewed two weeks ago] is also providing relief to the IDP camps. His email to me read, “RIPORT [based in Peshawar] is preparing an NGO response and we will be going in with a scheme called, “Lightening the Darkness,”where we are hoping to provide electricity to IDPs. The summer is coming and the heat and mosquitoes will make the life of the IDPs more miserable. We are also examining the relatively easier project of providing medicine to camps. Our initial survey shows large gaps in medicine supply. Of course we will need funds. The effort now is based on volunteerism; we are building up fast.” If you would like to volunteer/donate funds to these relief efforts, please call +92(91) 9211-8411
  • Thanks to another commentator who recommended Islamic Relief USA, who provided a lot of earthquake relief and are now currently providing medicine and other essentials to IDPs in and around Peshawar. For people in the United States who would like to help, this may be the best avenue. Click here to get the contact information near you.
  • Thanks to another CHUP reader who informed me that UNHCR has started a reliable online drive to collect funds, click here. There is a good breakdown on the website of what tangible items your funds will provide.
  • YellO.pk has begun the process of marking Aid Collection Points around Pakistan where clothes, food, tents and donations are being collected for the displaced people of Swat, Buner and Lower Dir. They need your help to mobilize the efforts of those around you and make them aware about how they can mark the Collection Points as “Events” on the yellO map. Click here to mark a Collection point on the map or email idp@yello.pk with the Collection point details (location, telephone, timings, what to donate etc). Please encourage others to do the same and pass this message on to as many as you can. You can search or add your collection points on the website.
  • In Karachi, Zehra Qadir is collecting goods for the displaced of Swat. Donate items like food (dry rations – rice, lentils, flour, powdered milk, ghee, sugar and tea), linen, mattresses, plastic utensils, coolers, buckets, and appropriate clothing, and deliver goods to A 23 Sunset Blvd. Karachi or contact Zehra at zehra_qadir@hotmail.com
  • In Islamabad, Mehnaz Ulmulk is collecting items like mattresses, bedding, mosquito repellants/coils, soap, plastic plates/cups, water coolers, etc. [not cash donations]. She has a friend who has been personally going to the camps to help out, so your items will go directly to the IDPs. Call her at +(92)300 5351887.
  • Definitely also suggest contacting your local Edhi Foundation center and donating money that way. Click here to receive contact information for a center near you.
  • The World Food Program (WFP) in Pakistan is currently reaching 650,000 IDPs, providing rations as the crisis worsens. Click here to donate money to their efforts.
  • A food drive wil be held in Karachi at the Carlton Hotel from Friday May 15 – Sunday May 17. Click here to visit the Facebook event for the drive and to view further details.

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