Posts Tagged ‘IDP’

Photo by Ali Khurshid

If you follow the international news (or at least read this blog somewhat regularly), then you are well aware of the increasingly dire situation in Pakistan. Over 20 million Pakistanis have been affected by weeks of flooding, as the rains continue to displace families from their homes, fan dangers of cholera outbreaks, and destroy livelihoods. Pakistan’s senior meteorologist Arif Mahmood told reporters that floodwaters “won’t fully recede until the end of the month, and existing river torrents were still heading to major cities such as Hyderabad and Sukkur in the south.”

Mahmood’s prediction essentially means that the floods will continue for two more weeks, making it difficult to quell the damage of this disaster and for relief agencies to provide adequate responses on the ground. As we all encourage others to dig into their pockets and help the millions in need (Relief4Pakistan, the campaign we launched last week, has so far raised over $30,000), we also need to remain cognizant of the realities that can hinder this relief. Here are some:

  1. The continuation of the rain, even if it’s less heavy this week, makes it difficult for relief teams to reach the people in need. Last Friday, I attended a USAID discussion on the situation in Pakistan, where the speaker noted that there are now 15 American military helicopters in Pakistan. The State Department website notes, “U.S. helicopters have evacuated 5,912 people and delivered 717,713 pounds of relief supplies.” However, noted the USAID official last week, helicopters can’t exactly fly when it’s raining. So relief teams have to rely on four-wheel drives, trucks and even donkeys, often delaying delivery time.
  2. The floods have devastated infrastructure, further complicating the delivery of aid. Countless numbers of bridges and roads have been destroyed, washed away, or blocked by landslides. If bridges aren’t repaired more quickly, than aid and food will fail to reach the hundreds of families cut off from relief. (Again, if it wasn’t raining, helicopters could be instrumental in food drops, but their efforts are hampered by the continuing rains).
  3. Because the floods are not over, we still don’t know the full extent of the devastation. Remember when news agencies said over 14 million had been affected by the floods, “more than the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined”? Yeah. That was last week. This week, the number is over 20 million. And as the rains continue, more land will be submerged by water, more families will become displaced, and the overall impact will be larger.
  4. Pledged aid does not translate to aid delivered. The United Nations today announced that international aid is arriving too slowly, while some organizations are running out of resources. According to Al Jazeera, “The World Food Programme has warned that it needs more money to support Pakistan’s food supplies, which are “under significant pressure.'” So two issues here – first, not enough aid. Second, the aid that has been pledged by governments can take weeks of lead time to trickle into the system. Daniel Toole, the South Asia regional director for Unicef, told Al Jazeera, “We cannot spend pledges. We cannot buy purification tablets, we cannot support Pakistan with pledges.” Ted Itani, from the International Red Cross & Red Crescent, echoed, “I can only spend cash that is in my budget. Although donors have pledged millions of dollars it has to filter down into my account so I can order things before the onset of winter.”
  5. Again, pledges. They aren’t tangible. According to the BBC News’ Mark Doyle, the United Nations launched a “Flash Appeal” for $459 million to cover the first 90 days of the disaster. Nearly half of this appeal has been raised – $208 million – with a further $42 million pledged but not yet earmarked for specific projects. But, noted Doyle, “Rich “donor” countries often double count their contributions to make themselves look more generous to voters at home, or to curry political favor with particular parts of the world.”
  6. Relief agencies and the Pakistani government aren’t operating in all the affected areas. Much of the current emergency first response relief seems to be concentrated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (particularly Swat Valley) and Sindh provinces. However, very little aid has been delivered to Balochistan, which has also been impacted by the floods, mainly because international agencies can’t operate in those areas. According to ARY Television (via @mirza9), a Balochi official today said only the army are operating in the province. The NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority), provincial government and the federal government are completely missing on ground.
  7. Emergency first response relief aside, the public health and economic ramifications will be much more severe in the long-term. Dirty flood water and rain = lack of clean water. Lack of clean water = high risk of water-borne diseases like cholera, etc. Relief agencies on the ground, like Mercy Corps (the recipient of the Relief4Pakistan donations), are working to provide clean water, water filtration units, and hygiene kits to not only address the immediate need, but also to prevent future outbreaks of diseases. Mercy Corps, working in Swat and Sukkur (Sindh) is attempting to serve 10,000 people a day with a 20-person team on the ground. Moreover, noted TIME, “Last week, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said the floods had destroyed crops worth around $1 billion. By conservative Pakistani estimates, the figure is at least double that.”
  8. Finally, the millions affected by the floods aren’t just suffering, they’re pissed off. And justifiably so. News agencies today noted affectees’ anger at the government, which they say has not provided enough aid to the people who deserve it most. This was not helped by President Zardari‘s Europe visit or the fact that PM Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly visited a fake relief camp on Wednesday, one that was allegedly erected “hours” before his arrival. Residents of the camp, which was also “wound up” after his departure, told Dawn that they had been “living out in the open, with no shelter.” Zardari recently acknowledged that the government response has so far been inadequate, noting, “Yes, the situation could have been better. Yes, the arrangements could have been made better. Yes, everything could have been better.

For those who want to continue to do more and fill in these gaps, you should continue to donate to vetted agencies working on the ground. I’ve provided a list here, and have plugged my own campaign, Relief4Pakistan in my last post. Donations can go a long way, further than pledges that can get caught in bureaucratic red tape. More importantly, you can raise awareness about the situation, particularly if you live overseas. If you live in Pakistan, you can and should take part in the PakRelief Crowdmap, which creates a dynamic map of the flood emergency and directs relief agencies to those area. This effort is vital in an environment where efforts are often duplicated, or for certain areas don’t receive enough attention. To submit your own observations to the Crowdmap, text about the disaster to 3441, beginning the message with “FL” for flood relief. See here for the website, and here for the Facebook page.

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Turning Grief into Action

AP Image

The news from Pakistan has been heartbreaking.

We have been engulfed with images of flood affected citizens wading through what was once their homes, fires from the violence and targeted killings in Karachi, and smoke billowing from cars destroyed by a suicide bombing in Peshawar, an attack that killed the chief of Pakistan’s Frontier Constabulary.

And that was just the last few days.

According to news agencies, Pakistan has issued new flood warnings, “as heavy rains are expected to inflict more misery on areas where at least 1,500 people have already been killed and 980,000 more have lost their homes,” reported Al Jazeera English. According to Nadeem Ahmad, chairman of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, about three million people were now affected by floods in the country – 1.5 million in the northwest and the same number in Punjab. While the disaster, labeled as “the worst flood in Pakistan since 1929,” had been focused in the country’s Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhuntkhwa provinces, media outlets reported that the flood began spreading to Punjab on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders), say the receding water is allowing more access to previously isolated areas, though the new flood warnings “could cause renewed problems.”

Spokesmen from the United Nations World Food Program have also told reporters that workers were “urgently trying to reach flood areas in the northwest cut off from food supplies.” Dawn quoted WFP’s Amjad Jamal noting,

You can imagine for five or six days floods have caused havoc in these areas. People have lost their food stocks. The markets are not up and running. Shops have collapsed. People are definitely in the greatest need of food. That’s what we fear. The need to rush to those areas which have been cut off for the past week to provide them with life-saving food.

The long-term impact of the floods on issues like health and livelihood are also significant. According to Dawn, authorities fear a breakout of water-borne diseases like cholera that could subsequently trigger a health crisis. And as the floods sweep away farm land and devastate livestock, farmers in the affected provinces stand to lose “millions of dollars,” noted Dawn. Moreover, the displacement of numerous Pakistani citizens caused by the disaster further compounds the country’s pre-existing Internally Displaced People (IDP) issue, [in March, I wrote that a million people remain displaced after the military’s operations against the Taliban last summer].

Given this enormous devastation, [as well as the wave of targeted killings in Karachi that have killed 47 people after the assassination of MQM’s Raza Haider], it is no bloody wonder that the country is pissed off at President Asif Ali Zardari, who is off on a jaunt around Europe while Pakistan is drowning. Regardless whether Zardari is needed to make decisions related to disaster relief or he is merely a figurehead, the decision to press forward with his tour comes across as callous and disconnected, and does not bode well for his already dismal popularity ratings (according to Pew Research Center’s poll, only 20% of those polled have a favorable view of Zardari, compared to 71% for PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif). In a piece for Dawn entitled, “While You Are (Perpetually) Away,” Shyema Sajjad emphasized,

Yes, so while I clicked on some pictures of you smiling with Nicholas Sarkozy, your children along your side, I also happened to come across pictures of some other families. They weren’t well-dressed and neither were they in France. They were crying, sitting in various parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. But then again, they are just a statistic right? I am not sure what the death toll was when you left but it has now crossed 1,400, with over three million affected. I understand discussing diplomacy and terror strategies are important but what about these people, sir? Are they really just a statistic for you? People with homes swept away and children drowned, can’t just be statistics.

Even British-Pakistani politicians Khalid Mahmood (from the Labour Party) and Nazir Khan have refused an invitation to meet the Pakistani President, who arrived yesterday for his five-day visit to the UK. Mahmood told Al Jazeera, “I just don’t feel I could bring myself to a meeting with somebody who has no ounce of respect for his own people, when these people are in dire straits.”

While this is certainly a time to be angry at our leadership, or lack thereof, it’s also a time to concentrate our energy towards helping the many people in need. And this is how you can do so [feel free to add more suggestions in the comments section]:

  • My company, ML Resources Social Vision, in partnership with Pakistani Peace Builders, launched Relief4Pakistan on August 13, a global grassroots donation campaign that leverages social media platforms to raise money for the flood affected families in Pakistan. See the R4P website here to donate (donations go directly to Mercy Corps’ first response relief efforts on the ground), or this blog post for more background.
  • [If you live in the United States] TextSWAT” to 50555 to donate $10 towards Pakistan’s flood victims. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has partnered with mGive again to allow mobile contributions for those affected by the disaster. Every $10 helps provide tents and emergency aid to displaced families. When prompted, reply with “YES” to confirm your gift.
  • Donate to Save the Children, which is on-the-ground and responding to the flood by preparing to distribute plastic sheeting for shelters and other household supplies and hygiene kits to families affected. At the request of the Pakistan Health Department and the World Health Organization, Save the Children has also deployed mobile health teams and ambulances to provide emergency medical treatment in the worst affected areas. Click here to donate directly to their efforts.
  • The International Rescue Committee‘s emergency team are currently working to serve Charsadda, Nowshera, Lower Dir and Swat. They are also conducting assessments in Kohat and Hangu, to better understand how those populations are being affected and what assistance they may need. In addition to providing these essential items and services, the IRC are also planning on providing livelihood activities, so as to help families get back on their feet as soon as possible. You can donate to the IRC by clicking here, or if you call 1-877-REFUGEE (1-877-733-8433), you can specifically earmark your donation for the Pakistani relief efforts.
  • Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, has a team on the ground and is providing emergency medical services. To donate to MSF, go to their website.
  • Oxfam International is also on the ground and hopes to raise $6 million for their immediate and long-term response to the disaster. You can choose to make a donation to your nearest Oxfam affiliate, (though Oxfam Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands and Spain all currently running direct appeals for the Pakistan floods). Click here for information.
  • As noted in the above post, the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing food to those affected by the flood. To donate to their efforts, see here.
  • The Edhi Foundation has a stellar reputation in Pakistan and provides emergency services to those in need. Click here to find and donate to your local Edhi office.
  • CARE International is also working on the ground in relief efforts. 90 cents of every dollar goes towards the cause, see here.

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Displaced by Nature

If you haven’t been following the news on the Hunza Valley landslide and the potential floods from the lake in Attabad, this photo from the Boston Globe’s Big Picture series may inspire you to learn more:

Reuters Image

The caption on the Globe reads, “A girl cries while sitting with others to protest against the government’s failure to announce compensation for those displaced by a lake created after a landslide …in Hunza district… on May 22, 2010.”


The development has created a new wave of people in Pakistan displaced not by violence but by nature. The landslide in Hunza Valley occurred on January 4, 2010 and buried Attabad Village, destroying 26 homes, killing 20 people, and damming up the Hunza River. In the five months since the landslide, authorities have struggled to evacuate residents living in dozens of villages by the lake formed by the disaster, which is now over 300 feet deep and 16km (10 mi) long, “submerging miles of highway, farms and homes.” Last week, the lake reportedly reached the top of the natural dam currently in place, and began to spill out, causing rapid erosion of the landslide debris.

According to news agencies, water levels are now considered critical (and rising, in part due to glacier melting) and if it “bursts its banks,” experts fear it could inundate more than 39 villages in the Hunza and Gilgit region. According to Al Jazeera, army engineers had created a canal late last month in an effort to drain the lake, but “a rapid breach” could still lead to massive flooding, which “could affect about 50,000 people downstream and sever a road serving as an important trade link with China.”

So essentially, we should all still be on flood watch, (despite some reports claiming a decrease in water flow).

The human impact of this situation is even more tragic. So far, about 20,000 people living in villages downstream have been evacuated and shifted to IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. The News yesterday quoted a special adviser to the Prime Minister, who told reporters that so far 23 camps have been set up for the affected families, and promised a compensation package for those who have lost their homes or are displaced. This announcement followed a protest two weeks ago, when residents claimed the government was “apathetic” and “indifferent” to their situation, and relief items and compensation had not come soon enough.

In an interesting news package yesterday, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder also reported on the impact of the landslide on the region’s tourism industry, which was of course already affected by the security situation. Despite the violence, some travelers still made the trek to the Hunza and Gilgit areas. However, the January landslide and the formed lake have cut off the Karakoram Highway, blocking the road link between Pakistan and China. This could prevent visitors from traveling into the area and may add “further loss to an already threatened business.”

As someone who has traveled the Karakoram Highway to the Chinese border and has seen Pakistan’s natural beauty firsthand, I think this development is not just a loss for the tourism industry, but also for the many travelers who made the trip to Pakistan’s northern areas despite the violence and instability, [see here for a Q&A with my friend Roland, who led a kayaking expedition down the Indus River last year]. As for the numerous people displaced from their homes, I can only pray that the situation is somehow controlled.

In the meantime, if you know of good and credible organizations for people to donate to support those affected by the disaster, please leave your recommendations in the comments and I’ll add it to this post.

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AFP Image

AFP Image

According to news agencies, about 130 relatives (25 families) of suspected Taliban militants have been expelled from their homes in Swat Valley and are currently “living in a camp guarded by the military.”

Here’s the interesting part – the families were not “banished” by the Pakistani military. They were ordered to leave by Swat’s local jirga (council) “because their relatives failed to surrender” to security forces, reported the AFP on Tuesday. Colonel Akhtar Abbas, an army spokesman in Swat, told reporters, “A jirga expelled these people because there is a fear that they are still providing support to the militants and targeted killings started in the area.”

According to BBC News, “The military has put them up at a camp previously used by Afghan refugees in the Malakand area.” After guards at the camp reportedly stopped reporters from talking to people there,  Col. Abbas told the BBC, “We are not hiding anything, we will take media persons to the camp when the time is right.” Although Abbas said the Army is providing these families “food, drinks, and other necessities,” news agencies noted there are “unconfirmed reports that people in the camp have had their mobile phones taken away.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have condemned this development, claiming it was unlawful to expel militants’ families. The organization asked the government to take action against the tribal council, telling reporters, “We are against the law of collective responsibility. If someone becomes a militant, his family should not be punished. No lashkar (local militia) or tribal council has the authority to expel or punish anyone and the government should take action against it.” HRCP, in the statement, added, “If anyone is suspected of wrongdoing, he or she can be kept under observation in their own areas as well.”

This situation is interesting because it delves into issues of collective responsibility and guilt by association. In Israel, for example, the country’s military (IDF) has used a house demolition policy since 1967, ultimately destroying Palestinian homes “to deter Palestinians from acting against Israel and its citizens.” According to the organization Diakonia, “[I]t appears that the main motivation behind these demolitions, referred to as punitive demolitions, is to punish the Palestinian society for acts committed against Israelis. The demolished homes belong to families of Palestinians that have either carried out or are suspected of having carried out violent actions against Israelis.” Such actions are essentially in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed, and ‘collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.'”

In the case of the Swati families with alleged associations to Taliban militants, here are some interesting questions:

  1. Should the expulsion of 130 individuals from Swat Valley to a military-administered camp be considered collective punishment, if all families refused to surrender their Taliban-linked relatives? Is this action then ultimately a violation of international law?
  2. Even if the families didn’t give up their relatives, should they be banished to refugee camps and made IDPs? Or could the situation have been handled without this expulsion?
  3. Now that they are in these camps, how long are they expected to stay there? Will they be welcome to return home in the long-term?

The development raises important questions that should be asked in an asymmetric war where the lines between good and bad are more blurred than polarized. Moreover, given Pakistan’s still-pertinent IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) situation, it seems problematic to actively add more people to camps, seemingly without a strategy to return them home. Although many IDPs have since returned to Swat since last year, numbers of people in the country continue to be displaced due to military operations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated last month that there are roughly 1.24 million IDPs in Pakistan, (The recent landslide in Hunza has displaced more people, and about 1300 people are currently housed in a camp in Altit village).

For the now displaced relatives, the ramifications of this perceived collective punishment should also be taken into consideration. Such actions are certain to fuel more discontent among these populations, which is problematic. Moreover, although the military has said the decision was made at the hands of the local jirga, it is likely they at least had some influence in that policy. Ali Dayan Hasan, the South Asia researcher with the NY-based Human Rights Watch, told me that there has been “a pattern of abuse by local jirgas and militias at the request of  the military,” a phenomenon HRW has been tracking in Swat Valley. He added, “The state authority should ensure that these people can return to their homes in safety and remain secure upon return.”

I wonder though whether the damage has already been done.

(Many thanks to Gregg for background help on Israel’s house demolition policy!)

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AP Photo from Boston Globe's Big Picture (Oct 2009)

Last summer, the plight of Pakistan’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) garnered constant news attention. However, once the government announced the phased return home of these people last July (beginning with IDPs from Malakand province), the coverage all but came to a halt. The IDP situation was just not news worthy anymore. But the sad reality is that it never stopped being an issue. Just last month, news agencies reported that an estimated one million Pakistanis remain displaced, adding, “Most of the refugees are staying with host families, but tens of thousands are in relief camps.” According to the organization’s news release, “UNHCR has also rushed relief supplies to help an estimated 135,000 people who fled their homes to escape a security forces operation against militants in Orakzai Agency in December 2009.” A  humanitarian update released February 5 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) further reported that since December 2009, the number of IDPs from Orakzai has risen nearly tenfold to over 23,000, [ReliefWeb also has an interesting read on Shia IDPs from Orakzai and their situation].

There are also around 250,000 IDPs from Bajaur, who have been displaced since 2008. In Jalozai, the site of one of UNHCR’s largest IDP camps, around  74 percent are from this tribal agency. So, although a large number of IDPs have returned home in the past year (almost 1.7 million people, mostly to Swat and other districts of Malakand Division), a significant amount remain displaced.

As for those who have gone back, their return was the easiest part of the journey. Yesterday, Al Jazeera English had a very interesting story [see below] on the current situation of Swat Valley, nearly a year after the military regained control of the area. In the report, correspondent Hashem Ahelbarra noted that IDP returnees in Swat feel that progress and rebuilding has been too slow “and not enough.” In order to tap into the government funds for these people, Swati families have to open a bank account and get an ATM card, from which they can withdraw $12 at the end of every month. With that meager amount, they can only buy a bag of flour and four kilograms of “low-quality rice,” hardly enough to feed their entire family.

As someone who works in the philanthropy field and, more specifically, with development issues in Pakistan, I find the issue of handouts, even if it’s via more innovative ATM cards, to be problematic. In terms of short-term emergency response, it does provide immediate relief to families in a more organized way than straight cash distribution. However, from a long-term lens, handouts foster a deeper dependency between donor and recipient. It is not a sustainable solution and, at the end of the day, doesn’t address the root causes of the problem, especially if food prices continue to rise and the security situation remains tense, (13 were killed and 40 were injured in a suicide attack in Mingora last month).

Therefore, there needs to be further efforts to build local capacity in Swat in order to develop these communities and lessen their dependence on government and international agencies for basic necessities. This week, the UN World Food Programme announced it has contracted eight mills in Swat Valley to produce fortified wheat flour, “in a bid to boost the local economy and make food more easily accessible to families in the area.” Not only will this initiative ideally provide jobs and generate income in the area, the locally produced flour is also expected to stabilize prices. According to the UN, “They will have the capacity to produce more than 2,000 metric tons of wheat flour daily. That capacity will be increased as the security situation improves.”

All of this is a lot easier said than done, especially given that peace is still a tenuous notion in Swat Valley. However, it is nevertheless important to view reconstruction from a more long-term perspective in order to achieve more sustainable and lasting solutions.

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Adam Ellick doc: Swat in the aftermath of the offensive

Adam Ellick doc: Swat in the aftermath of the offensive

Yesterday, the NY Times posted a documentary by journalist Adam Ellick that chronicled the journey of a family who were displaced from their home in Mingora following the military offensive in Swat Valley, [click here to see Part I of the film, “Class Dismissed,” released back in February]. The short film, entitled, “A Schoolgirl’s Odyssey,” follows Ziaudin Yousafzai, owner of a girl’s school in Mingora that was closed by the Taliban in January and his daughter Malala, who were given three hours to flee their homes when the offensive began. Ziaudin, who lived in Peshawar for three months during the displacement, “fought for Swat” by scheduling press conferences and protests to pressure the government to take the area back from the Taliban. Ziaudin told Ellick, “A mother won’t give her child milk unless it cries…You have to scream for everything.”

Meanwhile, Malala, her two brothers and her mother lived in four cities in two months, residing with different host families during the offensive. Although she told Ellick in February that she wanted to be a doctor, her time as an IDP changed her mind. “I thought I must be a politician to serve this country…I want to remove the crises…”

Perhaps the most significant part of the documentary was the family’s return home to Mingora, after three months away. Upon their return, Ellick narrated, “Swat doesn’t look like home,” noting the Taliban corpses rotting in the sun. Ziaudin’s school was infiltrated by the Army, who used the building as a bunker during the offensive. Malala commented, “I was very proud of the Army that they protect us but when I see my school in this way I am very shameful.” The military also left a letter for Ziaudin, blaming citizens like him for allowing the Taliban to control Swat, noting, “We have lost many lives…and that is due to your negligence.”

In the last frame of the film, Ellick wrote that sporadic murders and bombings still occur in Mingora, and the Taliban “are still present in the Swat countryside.” With the South Waziristan offensive about to begin, “A Schoolgirl’s Odyssey” shows how endless the war appears to be, and the impact it has on everyone – from families living in the villages to the soldiers sacrificing their lives on the front lines.

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Hum Ek Hain, Pakistan


Image Credit: Omar Ul Haq http://omarulhaq.wordpress.com

Yesterday, I visited an IDP resource center run by a local non-government organization in Rawalpindi. There, I met several Swati women and children who were still living with host families. In Pakistan, many of the people displaced from the offensive have already returned home, but some remain, wary of the tenuous security situation up north. Waqar, a man displaced from his home in Buner and who acted as a translator for me [since I don’t speak Pashto], explained to me that many of these women have stayed behind, despite living in poor conditions and having little or no money, because they constantly fear for their safety while at home. At least here, he told me, they don’t have to worry about a militant [or even a soldier], banging on their door late at night.

As a Pakistani woman from a progressive, moderate family, my life is relatively worry-free [mash’Allah]. And yet, 45 minutes away in a small skill-building center in Pirwadhai, women my age and older live such drastically different lives. One mother told me her daughter couldn’t attend school for nearly two years because of the Taliban. Another said they didn’t have enough money to pay their electricity bill, let alone come up with rent for her and her ten family members living in cramped quarters.

It is easy to forget that we are all Pakistan. A politician from an affluent family, a child selling flowers on the street, a prominent fashion designer, a soldier fighting in an ongoing military offensive, a young woman displaced in her own country. Our lives exist as different planets, orbiting around one another without ever touching. We are too often caught up in our differences rather than in what makes us all the same.

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of our country, said on August 15, 1947:

The creation of the new State has placed a tremendous responsibility on the citizens of Pakistan. It gives them an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how can a nation, containing many elements, live in peace and amity and work for the betterment of all its citizens, irrespective of caste or creed. Our object should be peace within and peace without.

August 14th, Pakistan’s Independence Day, should be a time to reflect on such a statement – to consider our mistakes and what still unites us as a nation. In the 62 years since Pakistan’s birth, we have been torn apart by violence, civil strife, political turmoil and intolerance. And yet, in the face of such adversity, we continue to be resilient. Sitting across from those women yesterday, their courage brought tears to my eyes. Their story taught me how important it is to reach outside one’s comfort zone to help fellow citizens in need, regardless of their caste or creed. At the end of the day, we must remember that we are all Pakistan. Hum ek hain, [“We are one.”].

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The Question of Return

This past Thursday, Prime Minister Gilani announced that a “phased return home” for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of Malakand Province will begin today, July 13. According to Dawn,

Speaking at a news conference at the PM house (his third in as many days) Mr. Gilani said the government had achieved the targets of military operation started some four weeks back in the restive Swat valley and other troubled areas Malakand division, and the IDPs will now start returning under a plan to be chalked out by Special Services Group (SSG).

Gilani’s announcement was echoed in statements by other political and military officials, including Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira and head of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, who stated that security forces “successfully completed military operations in Swat and Buner, clearing out militants and making the area safe for return…”

According to media outlets, the return will take place in three phases. Dawn on Monday reported, “Under the first phase of the three-stage repatriation plan, the displaced people from 11 officially designated camps will return to the [Swat] valley from July 13 to July 20.” The news agency added, “This would be followed by the return of off-camp IDPs, which would continue for about 10 days.” Ultimately, a total of 23,040 families are slated to return home from camps in Mardan, Swabi, Nowshera and Charsadda. According to Abbas, the provincial government has restored services like electricity, gas, petrol stations and banks. Moreover, noted the BBC, General Nadeem Ahmad, who is coordinating the operation, “said every family leaving the camps would receive cash support from the government.”

While this appears to be positive news, some have warned the shift is premature, suggesting the IDPs may not be the only ones returning. According to CNN’s Nic Robertson, the Pakistani military has claimed they have killed more than 1600 Taliban militants, “but many more had fled the fight and may now be filtering back home.” In a BBC News piece, correspondent Syed Shoaib Hasan reported that some militants managed to escape the military aircraft and artillery fire during the Swat offensive by, “using passages they had dug connecting the mines to wells inside the nearby houses.” He added, “The passages were built to take take away the emeralds safely, but ended up providing an unlikely escape route for the Taliban…Subsequently, the army was able to quickly oust the militants, who did not put up much of a fight.”

BBC News reporter Zubeida Malik spoke to Jamal Nasir Khan, the district nazim of Swat, who said many displaced were wary of returning home because neither the leaders nor the secondary level of commanders have been “taken care of.” He noted that many residents feel these leaders, like Beitullah Mehsud, Muslim Khan, and Sufi Muhammad need to be arrested or killed or they will “come up again after two months.” A Mingora resident told the BBC, “The army may have seized the region, but it still does not control all of it. The Taliban…are still very strong…After all that has happened, this is our greatest fear – the Taliban can still return.”

It is not that the millions displaced do not want to return home. In fact, many have expressed their desire to travel back to their towns as soon as possible. Their caution, therefore, seems to be based on a lack of trust in the government to ensure services and security, as well as an overall fatigue from living with host families or in camps. In fact, noted the BBC’s Zubeida Malik, of the two million people displaced by the current conflict, only 280,000 actually reside in the camps. The rest are living in schools or with families. And, while many IDPs in camps receive aid from NGOs and international agencies, those residing with hosts are for the most part unregistered, relying mainly on the goodwill of local citizens. Many of those “off-camp” IDPs have already returned home to Buner, but, noted the Daily Times, received no government support.

If the government can ensure safe travel and basic services for the returnees of Swat Valley in this upcoming shift, great. But their responsibility does not end there. The Swat economy is based largely on agriculture and tourism. Given that the first crop has already been lost, and there is not a single tourist to stay in the 600 Swat hotels, the issue of long-term survival must be addressed. How can these citizens maintain a livelihood within this vacuum so that, even after their return, they are no longer dependent on hand-outs?

Ultimately, the government needs to strike the balance of ensuring not just a safe but also a sustainable return home. Pakistan is a nation fatigued by conflict, and while the offensive has placed a tremendous strain on the nation’s infrastructure and people, it should not be sped up just to capitalize on the public’s support for the war. It should not be put on turbo speed just because Ramazan [the Muslim month of fasting] is fast-approaching, or because the 3,700 schools currently occupied by IDPs need to be re-opened for the upcoming school year. The displaced people deserve far more than false hope or a repeat of past operations. And, frankly, we all do.

Note: This piece was just republished in the Huffington Post! Very exciting!

For CHUP’s past posts on the IDP situation in Pakistan, click here.

Map, courtesy BBC News

Map, courtesy BBC News

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Reuters: Afridi celebrates after hitting the winning runs.
Reuters: Afridi celebrates after hitting the winning runs.

Today, chants of “Pakistan Zindabad” resounded throughout the country, as Pakistan defeated Sri Lanka by eight wickets to become the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup Champions. It was, as Dawn noted, the first major title Pakistan has won in 17 years, and it comes at a time when the country faces a multitude of burgeoning problems. Pakistan’s team captain Younus Khan told reporters after today’s victory, “We were the underdogs and had less pressure, but we came good in the big games. It’s a credit to the country and to the team…This is a our gift to our nation. Hopefully, it will help cheer them up.” Cricket is the sport Pakistanis bleed for, and the team, [especially Shahid Afridi] are undoubtedly national heroes. Congratulations to Sri Lanka as well for an incredible game! Below, Shaheryar Mirza, a journalist based in Rawalpindi, further discusses today’s victory:

It’s true. A four hour cricket match can raise a nation out of the doldrums of war and economic despair. If only temporarily, the Pakistani nation can unite and bask in its glory on the global stage. In a trip around the streets of Rawalpindi, a microcosm for other cities around the country, there was a zeal and fervor only recently seen at political demonstrations. Only this time, there were song and dance to replace anger and frustration. As Pakistanis waved flags and pulled wheelies on their bikes it was reminiscent of what this country used to look like, and what it should look like more often.

In the last few weeks, Younus Khan has proved that he can raise an unpredictable, isolated yet talented team to the top of the sport. Many may argue that it is just 20/20 cricket and not a One Day or Test Series. But to counter these arguments one can just point back to the time that One Day’s were thought to be an aberration or a passing trend. Under the coaching of Intikhab Alam, Khan managed to extract a performance from the Pakistan cricket team that has not been seen for at least a decade. Pakistan’s last great triumph was at the 1992 World Cup and since their embarrassing loss in 1999 to Australia, the team has never looked the same.

What more can one say but BOOM BOOM. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase in the last few weeks I’d be a rich man. Shahid Afridi dazzled the cricketing world with his drifted yet pacy leg spin. Googly’s, the quicker ones, pure leg spin and the flipper, you name it, it was part of Afridi’s bowling arsenal. As cricket commentators would put it, he bamboozled the batsmen in this tournament and made many a top order batsman look amateurish. Through the first few matches, Afridi struggled to find form with the bat until his promotion up the order. The captain told him to play his natural game and Afridi’s natural game is exactly what makes his fans love him, but it is also his greatest weakness. Fortunately, once he was promoted, the cries of BOOM BOOM from the crowd were justified by the bat.

Afridi displayed a previously un-witnessed maturity, patience and class to his approach between the wickets. Gone was Afridi’s trademark: close-your-eyes, swing and just pray. He played deft cuts, quick singles and doubles and built his innings like a master batsmen. Yet he still managed to entertain the crowd with big hits, and with the crowd already on his side he could do no wrong. Afridi’s performance cannot be mentioned without highlighting the running catch he took against New Zealand to dismiss Scott Styris and what seemed to be a turning point in the match and Pakistan’s T20 campaign.

It would also be unfair to go on without highlighting Umar Gul’s effect on the tournament. Gul’s 12 wickets in five matches with a record-breaking performance of 5 for 6 were truly phenomenal. Batsmen seemed defeated before they even faced him. His reputation built during the first few matches preceded him, and in cricket, mental advantage is key to winning the battle between bat and ball. Gul managed to get the ball to start reversing by the 12th over, a feat apparently never seen by most of the cricketers participating in this tournament. Gul showed that it was his skill and superior bowling action that achieved the reverse swing and not ball tampering. No other team had a bowler that could match the consistency and lethal nature of his Yorkers.

Credit goes to the whole team as Younus Khan, after experimenting in the opening matches, settled on an opening pair in Kamran Akmal and newcomer Shahzaib Hassan. Akmal was consistent in providing Pakistan with a steady start in each innings. Shahzaib failed to make an outstanding impression, but he is young and shows promise. Younus Khan consistently put on 20 to 30 quick runs with a couple fifties throughout the tournament. Shoaib Malik played out his role as an orthodox batsman that could anchor Pakistan’s innings at any given time. Malik proved useful with the ball to fill up some of the middle overs and dry up the runs.

Saeed Ajmal turned out to be the silent hero for Pakistan. One of the leading wicket takers of the tournament, he was overshadowed by Umar Gul, but his performance with the ball contained the opposition’s runs and took wickets at regular intervals. He has proved to be a standout off-spinner for Pakistan with an impeccably disguised “doosra.”

Lastly, Abdul Razzaq proved to be Pakistan’s psychological trump card. His admission into the team re-energized the squad and made believers of a team which at the beginning only looked like they half-believed. He bowled disciplined spells that can only come with experience. Razzaq was that extra spark that the team needed to finish the job.

Pakistan’s number one weapon, though, was the heart and will to win. They played with a passion that had been missing from the team for years. This passion seemed to be fueled by their desire to uplift a bruised and battered nation. They had the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on their shoulders, and they carried it proudly. A team without a home-ground showed that they can turn any ground into their home territory.

It goes without saying, but this win was a gift for the Pakistani people and most importantly a gift for those internally displaced people of the Swat Valley. The sons of their land were the heroes of the Pakistan team. The people of the NWFP have been thrust onto the world stage for the wrong reasons, and now they can hold their heads up high and display their talent. Thanks to Younus Khan’s gift, the displaced people may have something to smile about, if only for a short while.

As Pakistani’s sing and dance throughout the night they can once again feel proud to be Pakistani. Cricket is after all, just a game. But in a country like Pakistan it’s a game that serves as an ambassador that every Pakistani can be proud of. Shahbash boys…shahbash.

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Honoring World Refugee Day

Image Credit: UNHCR

Tomorrow is World Refugee Day, dedicated to raising awareness on the situation of refugees throughout the world. The commemoration of the world’s refugees and displaced came after the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 55/76 in December 2001. The resolution, aside from calling for World Refugee Day to be celebrated on June 20, also noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which defined who is a refugee, and what rights they are provided under international law.

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend an event sponsored by UNHCR for World Refugee Day. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and actress Angelina Jolie and UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres were among the speakers, and Rose Mapendo, a Congolese refugee who started her own NGO, Mapendo International, received the Humanitarian of the Year award. The event also included a live feed from a Darfur refugee camp in eastern Chad, where a UNHCR staff member and a young refugee spoke to the audience. The speeches, videos, and photos were incredibly inspirational, and I have to admit I teared up several times.

Very awful photo taken by my phone at the event [Apologies]

Very awful photo taken by my phone at the event

Jolie’s speech occurred soon after news broke that she and Brad Pitt had donated $1 million to UNHCR to aid the over 2 million people displaced in Pakistan. The actress has traveled to Pakistan three times since becoming a goodwill ambassador for the agency in 2001, including after the 2005 earthquake, when her and Pitt visited survivors of the disaster.

During her World Refugee Day speech, Jolie emphasized the need to see refugees as individuals, as more than just a statistic. She said,”I know the strength that diversity has given my country – a country built by what some would now dismiss as asylum-seekers and economic migrants – and I believe we must persuade the world that refugees must not be simply viewed as a burden. They are the survivors. And they can bring those qualities to the service of their communities and the countries that shelter them.” Although she related several personal stories of her time with refugees around the world, she also provided some statistics, noting,80% of the world’s refugees are hosted and have been for years. Pakistan still hosts 1.7 million Afghan refugees.”

Although many of the day’s speakers discussed the plight of refugees in countries throughout the world, the concern over Pakistan’s displaced was voiced numerous times. In his speech, Guterres spoke of the two UN workers who were killed last week in the Peshawar hotel bombing. Although he noted, “Humanitarians are becoming more and more a target,” and this poses a terrible dilemma for international agencies, he asserted, “But UNHCR staff never ask me how to leave. They always ask me how to stay.” In fact, on June 12, a press release affirmed the international agency will not be pulling out of Pakistan:We are committed to helping the millions of displaced people in the region. Our operations have continued this week, and we have been working with our partners to register new arrivals in camps and to improve conditions – installing fencing, shades over tents and privacy walls. We intend to remain responsive to humanitarian needs and flexible in how we deliver them.”

Following Thursday’s main event, I attended a luncheon hosted by USA for UNHCR, which featured a talk moderated by Ann Curry with Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, and Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. The smaller and more intimate event focused solely on the plight of refugees in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson, whose non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute [CAI] has established dozens of schools in both countries, was truly impressive in person and during his remarks, noting that security and development can be addressed at the same time, particularly if we engage local communities. He asserted, “The greatest fear of the Taliban is not the bullet but the pen.”

According to Mortenson, there needs to be a greater effort to understand the needs of Pakistan’s displaced by actually engaging the refugees, rather than just blindly shuttling in funds. The IDPs, he noted, must be empowered to become self-sufficient,  whether that means providing them the tools to produce their own canvas tents or the skills necessary to rebuild their homes. This is a fundamental point, particularly given a statement today by Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar that the “operation in Swat Valley has almost ended and people displaced from the region will start returning to their homes from Saturday.”

Regardless if the resettlement of the IDPs takes place tomorrow, in the next month, or the next year, they must not be treated as the hapless victims being shuttled between camps and war-ravaged homes. They can be empowered to rebuild their communities, to essentially take control of their future if we give them the skills and resources needed to do so. As Angelina Jolie said in her interview with Ann Curry following the event yesterday, [click here to watch the video], “We desperately need them to contribute. We should be relying on them more and more there. They are a tough, smart bunch of people. And they are the future of their country.”

Although the plight of Pakistan’s displaced is a cause very important to me, I walked away from yesterday’s events struck by the global nature of this crisis. About two-thirds of the world’s forcibly uprooted people are displaced within their own country. In fact, according to the latest figures released by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), “there were 26 million IDPs around the world in 2008, unchanged from 2007.” And those numbers refer only to those internally displaced, not those who are technically considered refugees under international law. In honor of World Refugee Day tomorrow, we should not only remember the toll of conflict on nations, but more importantly their impact on individuals – mothers, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends. They are not just the victims of war, but they are the survivors. And that should inspire us all to get involved.

Below, is Jolie’s speech yesterday, [on a side note, I did not get to meet her, but I did, quite literally, bump into her, as I tried to navigate the crowd]:

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