Posts Tagged ‘Swat’

The Status of Swat Valley


AP Image

Last August, while visiting a skill-building center in Pirwadhai (outside of Rawalpindi), I met a group of women from Swat Valley. Following the Pakistan military’s operation against the Taliban in Swat, these women and their families had been displaced from their homes, choosing to live with host families rather than in relief camps, falling through the aid cracks as a result.

Prior to the operations, there were numerous stories detailing the deteriorating situation in Swat Valley, from the bombings of girls’ schools to the rising influence of the Taliban. The women I met last year mirrored the fear encapsulated in those pieces. One mother told me how her 16 year old daughter had not been to school in the past two years because of the bombings. Another woman related her fear that someone – militant or soldier – would bang on her door in the middle of the night. These women, bound by their collective plight, were also connected by another fear – they were all afraid to go home.

It’s been over a year since I met those women on that dusty afternoon in Pirwadhai, and although Swat has since slipped from the news headlines, I felt it was worth updating readers on the current situation in the region. Last month, the NY TimesAdam Ellick, who has done several pieces on the situation [chronicling one girl’s journey in Swat to the camps and back home], noted that people felt a surge of optimism after the military declared last year that they had cleared the area of the Taliban. However, he noted, “more than a year after millions of residents returned home, the absence of virtually any government follow-through has turned that hope into despair.” The government has yet to rebuild any of the 150 schools destroyed by the Taliban. Ellick reported,

Running water, electricity and school supplies are widely absent. The floods that ravaged the country this summer, and hit Swat especially hard, have only compounded the hardships and diverted money and attention away from reconstructing war-torn areas.

The government, he argued, may have cleared this area of the Taliban, but their lack attention in rebuilding this area means “they are losing a bigger battle” – with Swat’s youth and schoolchildren. Jamaluddin, a 17 year old student, told the NYT, “Our youth will end up as Taliban. Our Pakistan will not progress because of lack of education…I don’t have any more faith to become a doctor. I don’t even believe I’ll become a bus conductor.”

The government, for their part, have defended this lack of progress, “saying that hiring engineers and architects to ensure that schools would be safe from earthquakes was a time-consuming process that was delayed two months by the floods.”

In its coverage, the Associated Press spoke with Saira Bibi, who was publicly flogged by the Taliban last year [see this past post for more about another woman whose public flogging was caught on cell phone], and echoed much of Ellick’s reporting. Although life is “starting to resemble normal in Swat,” the AP noted,

But not everything is as it was. Soldiers now stand on street corners and at checkpoints. The jagged mountain trail leading to Bibi’s village of Ashar Band is strewn with the rubble of damaged buildings. Some 300 schools the Taliban burned in the region have not yet been rebuilt. Occasional attacks — a raid on a checkpoint last month wounded one soldier — remind residents that militancy is still a threat.

One positive is that people like Saira Bibi are coming forward with their stories, sharing the brutality they suffered under Taliban control in Swat. These stories are significant because they provide a humanized perspective of life under the Taliban, a painful reminder of what women, children, and families endured, and what could occur again if we do not pay closer attention. Regardless of whether Swat is a headline tomorrow, or the region is a distant cry from Pakistan’s major cities, these stories show how important it is to restore dignity and honestly help rebuild lives.

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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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Redefining Success

There were a series of notable arrests this past weekend in Pakistan. On Sunday, media outlets reported that Shah Abdul Aziz, a former MP with the MMA, was detained in connection with the murder of Piotr Stanczak, a Polish engineer decapitated by Taliban militants in February. The AFP reported, “On July 16, Pakistani police arrested another man, Atta Ullah Khan, in connection with the killing and on Sunday arrested three other people suspected of links to Stanczak’s murder and of plotting militant attacks in Islamabad.” Speaking in a court in Rawalpindi, Attaullah said the Polish engineer was killed on the orders of Aziz, “after negotiations for the release of captured Taliban members broke down.”

BBC: Sufi Muhammad

BBC: Sufi Muhammad

Speaking of collapsed peace deals, news agencies reported that Sufi Muhammad, the head of TNSM [Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammad] who negotiated a deal in February, was also arrested Sunday. Provincial information minister Iftikhar Hussein told a news conference the cleric had been detained “for encouraging terrorism and violence.” The BBC quoted him telling reporters, “Instead of keeping his promises by taking steps for the sake of peace, and speaking out against terrorism, he [Muhammad] did not utter a single word against terrorists...He has been involved in activities which help militancy and militants and sabotage government efforts to combat them.”

Meanwhile, The News reported yesterday that the banned TNSM has “almost been eliminated” in Malakand, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that Muhammad’s son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah (also known as the “Radio Mullah”) has been injured and “security forces will be able to arrest him in a few days,” adding that, “Now there is no danger of the terrorists regrouping.”

The arrest of Muhammad and the impending capture of Mullah Fazlullah will be significant in not only disrupting the power structure of the Swati Taliban, but also in raising the confidence of returning IDPs. Zahid Hussain, in the piece, “Swat – It’s too Early to Declare Victory,” wrote, “The biggest failure of the army operation has been the escape of the top militant leadership. [The] Army claims to have eliminated second and third tiers of Taliban commanders, but the top leadership has so far survived, raising fears of insurgents regrouping once the operation is over.” Shamsher Khan, who is in the hotel business in Swat, told Hussain, “Everyone here dreads that Taliban could return any time.”

Although the military dismisses such fears, asserting the Taliban’s “capacity to regroup and launch major attacks has been destroyed,” militants, not surprisingly, issue statements that portray a different reality. Last week, TTP spokesman Muslim Khan told journalists via phone that the entire Taliban command “was intact and had pulled back as part of a strategy.” Khan also played to journalists a purported recorded audio message from Fazlullah to dispel military claims that they had critically wounded the militant leader in an air strike on his hideout.

So who to believe? While there is not enough information to really separate fact from fiction, it is clear that we are far, far away from the zero-sum game of conventional warfare. According to the Christian Science Monitor on July 17, despite the military “clearing” areas in Buner and Swat, “Early reports point to a resurgence in Taliban activity there.” The Monitor’s Ben Arnoldy noted, “Returned residents and local journalists say that Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah has been heard on FM radio [reports also said his sermon was jammed within several minutes]. In Buner – the first region that the military moved in to clear – the Taliban are setting up fresh checkpoints, pressuring refugees for money, and have burned the home of an outspoken journalist.”

Several families that returned home to Buner nearly two weeks ago reportedly fled after finding militants still in the area, claiming that 250-300 Taliban remain. Arnoldy added in his coverage, “The militants were threatening people and demanding payments of 25,000 rupees ($305), which happens to be the amount the government is giving displaced people on ATM cards as they head home.”

What is important, though, is that the military seems to understand the necessity of staying in these areas this time around. According to the Monitor, the government has been recruiting 25,000 retired Pakistani soldiers for police duty in order to protect returning residents, ultimately tripling the number of police stations and bolstering the force above levels present before the Taliban drove them out. This strategy seems to echo policies advocated by Hassan Abbas and Christine Fair, who both emphasized that a strong police is key to defeating an insurgency. Abbas in his report, “Police & Law Enforcement Reform in Pakistan,” cited Kelev I. Stepp’s Best Practices in Counterinsurgency, who emphasized the police should be “in the lead” with “the military providing backup support and strengthening the police with diversified training capabilities to help meet the security needs of the at-risk population.”

The retired soldiers who agree to be police in these areas will be paid significantly more than their old salaries, and will undergo a training that will last a week to 10 days. And, though critics say there are major differences between soldiers and police work, “former soldiers do bring some built-in skills, including physical toughness, basic education, knowledge of how to patrol, and experience with firearms.” According to Dawn, the government will also introduce the concept of community police which would be more integrated with the local population, and allow for more ownership of this process.

Therefore, it seems the major difference between this offensive and Pakistan’s past military operations is a deeper understanding of what constitutes a “success.” In counterinsurgency warfare, success is defined not by victories in the battle space, but the ability to maintain security in its aftermath. In Gen. David PetraeusField Manual 3-24 on Counterinsurgency, the trinity must be achieved – clear, hold and build. This credo, originally devised for the Iraq “surge,” will be a lot harder to apply to Pakistan, where tribal loyalties, the military’s past relations with militant groups, and conflict fatigue make the situation far more complex. It will be vital for the government to not only strengthen local police forces but also provide sustainable basic services for local residents. And, given the fact that many of these services cannot even be provided to the rest of Pakistan’s population, it seems we’re in for a long road ahead.

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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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On Wednesday, the LA Times reported the most ridiculously absurd story about the Pakistani Taliban. According to the news agency, juice bars in Lahore have been bombed after claims by militants that they are “dens of immorality” because men and women can meet and talk to one another (oh my!). The LA Times wrote, “Attacks on fresh juice bars in Lahore late last year centered on the Garhi Shahu neighborhood,” where many Afghans and Uzbeks have settled. The owner of Dasko Juice told the Times, “Basically it’s just a place where girls and boys come and drink juice. These people try and portray us as immoral, but it’s not true. They’re just sitting and talking, but that’s a threat to them.”

The story conjured up many other examples of how Islamist militants have used their convoluted interpretation of Islam to overpower Pakistan – from the Lal Masjid “moral policewomen” wielding batons and publicly burning DVDs to the public flogging of young girls and banning of women from the marketplace in Swat. A recent poll by World Public Opinion.Org, though, shows that most Pakistanis disagree with such views. According to the poll, which surveyed 1,000 people across the country from May 17 – May 28, 2009 [margin of error is +/- 3.2%], 75% said they believe Sharia law allows women to work, [only 24% said this was not allowed under Islam]. An even larger 83% said Sharia permits girls’ schooling. In comparison, 81% of respondents felt the Pakistani Taliban, if they were allowed control over an area, would not allow women to work, while an equally overwhelming 81% believed they would not allow girls to go to school, [see the graph below].

Picture 6

The results above ultimately show that the majority of polled Pakistanis disagree with the Pakistani Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia. In fact, 81% now see the activities of the Taliban as a critical threat, compared to 34% of those polled in September 2007.  Moreover, reported World Public Opinion, Pakistanis “show far less confidence in the potential for the Pakistani Taliban to govern effectively than they do for the government,” [for example, 56% felt the government would provide timely and effective justice in the courts, versus the 14% who chose the Taliban]. At the same time, the poll showed that many people also have low confidence in the government, [26% voted both/neither to the above question]. Therefore, although many Pakistanis don’t prescribe to the same brand of Sharia as the Taliban and most feel they don’t have the competence to govern, this does not necessarily mean they feel the government will do a better job in its wake. The state must therefore work to not only instill confidence in the public, but improve governance all together.

I went to an event yesterday where World Public Opinion’s Clay Ramsay presented these findings and RAND Corporation’s Christine Fair and Brookings’ Stephen Cohen commented on the results. Fair also provided a provincial breakdown of the results, but noted that in Pakistan, “there is more variation within provinces than between provinces.” She also related several anecdotes from when she trained the enumerators in Pakistan [those who carried out the 1,000 face-to-face interviews for the survey]. Her and her colleague’s goal, she said, was to eliminate the “don’t knows” that often crop up in survey results, especially with questions related to Al Qaeda. According to Fair, most enumerators didn’t even know what Al Qaeda was, [one woman in a training even thought it was a group associated with Hamid Karzai‘s government] so the training of the enumerators was important in order for them could to properly communicate questions to the respondents.

Fair’s talk was significant because she contextualized the results of the World Public Opinion findings, noting the survey was taken [May 2009] soon after Taliban militants had moved into Buner, just 60 miles from the capital. She said the development ultimately changed the view of people in Pakistan, especially the NWFP and Punjab, and more began to view the Taliban as a critical threat. The survey, therefore, was a reflection of this evolving sentiment, with most supporting the military’s campaign against the militants, [see below chart].

Picture 7In a related email exchange with Fair, she indicated to me that the World Public Opinion sample was not drawn to be statistically representative at the provincial level, [a new poll, which will survey 6000 people, she said, should be more reliable in shedding light on these inter-provincial differences]. She noted the inter-provincial differences she discussed in her talk “were not meant to dilate upon any point estimate in particular, rather to remind folks that we can’t think of “Pakistani public opinion” because there are many publics.”

The issue of Pakistani public opinion was also raised by Stephen Cohen, who felt that there is no such thing as “Pakistani public opinion,” a point that I feel is important to debate on this forum. Do you think a national Pakistani identity exists, or is it something created or forced by these polls? And, if you don’t agree, are identities formed in Pakistan along provincial lines? In terms of young Pakistanis, do you think that new media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs can be instrumental in forming nationalist sentiment?

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Image Credit: NY Times, Soldiers on patrol in Swat

On Tuesday, news agencies cited a militant spokesman from Hafiz Gul Bahadur‘s group in North Waziristan, who said they were “scrapping” their peace deal with the government because of U.S. drone strikes in the region. The Taliban faction had initially agreed to stay on the sidelines during the offensive against Baitullah Mehsud in neighboring South Warizistan.

However, Bahadur’s spokesman Ahmedullah Ahmedi [who spoke over the phone from an undisclosed location] told reporters, “Our leadership has decided that as long as U.S. drone attacks continue and security forces stay here, there will be no peace agreement.” The BBC also cited him adding that the  group “would now carry out attacks on military targets in the region until the army left and U.S. drones strikes were halted.”

In the past, reported the Wall Street Journal, the rivalry between the two militant commanders and the peace deal  had helped Pakistan’s military focus on Mehsud. Now, noted the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan the end of the agreement “leaves the army facing a near impossible task – no one has ever defeated a combined insurgency in the Waziristan area.” The Pakistani government on Tuesday sought to quell such speculation, claiming the peace deal had been signed with the tribal elders and not with Taliban militants. In an interview with BBC World Radio yesterday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik further insisted that countering Bahadur’s group would not be “that difficult,” affirming, “we will take over” [the Waziristan area].

Pakistan’s ongoing military offensive has garnered a continuous stream of news headlines. However, given that journalists have largely been denied access to the frontline, media reports are often a regurgitation of contradictory information provided by both military and militant spokesmen. The difficulty is always extracting the “truth” from what both sides want us to believe. For example, noted the NY Times, “For the past month and a half, the Pakistani military has claimed success in retaking the Swat Valley from the Taliban, clawing back its own territory from insurgents who only a short time ago were extending their reach toward the heartland of the country.”

However, the news agency on June 28 offered a rare glimpse into Swat’s aftermath, noting, “…from a helicopter flying low over the valley last week, the low-rise buildings of Mingora…now deserted and under a 24-hour curfew, appeared unscathed. In the surrounding countryside, farmers had harvested wheat and red onions on their unscarred land.” The NYT added, “All that is testament to the fact that the Taliban mostly melted away without a major fight, possibly to return when the military withdraws or to fight elsewhere, military analysts say.”

This snapshot of Swat, coupled with the fact that the military has failed to kill or capture a top Taliban commander, makes the idea of “success” all the more abstract, and the new push into “the far more treacherous terrain” of South Waziristan worrisome. Are we essentially going down the same inconclusive path of military offensives past? Rehman Malik, in his talk with BBC World Radio, reassured the skeptics by simply noting, “measures have been taken to prevent these militants from regrouping,” (he would not specify the measures so as not to compromise the secrecy of the mission).

This is not to say the military has not made gains in this new offensive. In fact, in the perception management side of the war, the Pakistani Army has indicated a new resolve in countering militancy, most interestingly demonstrated by the names of these military offensives. In a recent study by Shuja Nawaz entitled, FATA – A Most Dangerous Place, he wrote, “In the Swat district, the first operation by the regular army was named Operation Mountain Viper, not exactly a name that inspired participants or local residents or drew them into the task for fighting Islamist militants…” However, the new commander of the troops in Swat, Maj. Gen. Janjua in 2007 “launched a fresh operation named Rah-e-Haq or the Path to Truth (i.e., the true Islamic faith), aimed at wresting the Islamic ground from the insurgents by claiming to act in the name of the true Islam.”

The army’s recent offensive titles indicate a further evolution of this trend. On May 16, 2009, the military announced that Operation Rah-e-Haq (4) in Malakand would be renamed Operation Rah-e-Rast, or the Path to Righteousness. Most recently, Rah-e-Nijaat, or the Path to Salvation, was attached to the military’s operation in South Waziristan. Last week, COAS Gen. Ashfaq Kayani told reporters, “We are conducting this operation to bring misguided people back on the right path…They are not fighting for Islam. Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and we know how to protect it.”

What seems to be occurring therefore, is an effort on the military’s part to reframe the war in a language digestible by the public. They are challenging the convoluted interpretations of Islam and Sharia espoused by these Taliban-linked militants, and are no longer allowing them to hijack and leverage this space. However, while certainly a part of unconventional warfare, winning will still take more than just good PR. As Shuja Nawaz noted, “Troops, training, and equipment are one part of a two-part approach to counterinsurgency. The other, and some might say more important part is the underlying political dynamic and governance, without which military actions will fail to gain traction or produce a lasting solution.” In our case, it means we once again concede to the militants.

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Image Credit: NYT, IDPs line up for food rations

Despite news of violence continuing in Karachi, there was still a stream of positive news from Pakistan, particularly among Western media outlets. According to news agencies, hundreds of tribesmen got involved in the operation against the Taliban. The three-day offensive followed the bombing of a mosque Friday that killed 38 people in Upper Dir district. BBC News reported, “Villagers blamed the bombing on Taliban fighters.”

The Associated Press, in its coverage, reported “as many as 1,600 tribesmen joined a citizens’ militia in Upper Dir.” The news agency cited local police chief Atif-ur-Rehman, who said tribesmen “attacked five villages in the Dhok Darra area which are thought to be militant strongholds…The citizens’ militia had occupied three of the villages since Saturday and was trying to push the Taliban out of two others on Sunday…Some 20 houses of local tribesmen suspected of harboring Taliban fighters were destroyed.”

Rehman told the AP, “It is something very positive that tribesmen are standing against the militants. It will discourage the miscreants.” His statement was echoed by military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, who told a television news network, “Citizens should ponder upon the way of life they are introducing, if that is acceptable to us…If not, they have to raise a voice against them. They have to rise against them.”

Although the long-term benefit of tribal militias, or lashkars can be debated, [see my related analysis on this topic], the development is still significant, and  is demonstrative of a wider trend. Last week, a NY Times piece entitled, “Taliban Stir Rising Anger of Pakistanis,” reported, “after months of televised Taliban cruelties, broken promises and suicide attacks, there is a spreading sense — apparent in the news media, among politicians and the public — that many Pakistanis are finally turning against the Taliban.” The news agency added,

The shift is still tentative and difficult to quantify. But it seems especially profound among the millions of Pakistanis directly threatened by the Taliban advance from the tribal areas into more settled parts of Pakistan, like the Swat Valley. Their anger at the Taliban now outweighs even their frustration with the military campaign that has crushed their houses and killed their relatives.

This anger against the Taliban can be an “important turning point” for Pakistan, but it is still a small window of opportunity. Javed Iqbal, NWFP’s Chief Secretary, told the Times, “This is a profound moment in our history…My greatest fear is whether there is sufficient realization of this among people who make decisions.”

One way this opportunity can be squandered is if the government fails to take care of the nearly 3 million people displaced by the offensive. Last week, Pakistan’s foreign ministry told news agencies, “Less than a quarter of the $543 million the United Nations has requested for refugees has arrived,”  and Pakistani IDPs cited the Pakistan Humanitarian Situation Report, which noted “funding remains a serious challenge for all sectors.”

According to UNHCR, as of June 5, people continue to flee Swat for safer districts, and 260,000 IDPs now reside in 21 camps in NWFP. Camps in Mardan are currently at full capacity, and newly displaced are directed to camps in Charsada, Peshawar and Swabi districts. On Tuesday, GEO News reported that UNHCR has set up two new camps to accomodate the growing number of displaced Pakistanis, but noted “the organization hit a shortage of funds” and may not be able to provide the required relief.

The health and food dimensions of the crisis are also worrying. Currently, the World Food Program [as of June 4] has distributed monthly food rations to 2.65 million displaced people in camps and host communities. 35 Humanitarian Hubs, or centers where IDPs can register for assistance, receive food and critically needed shelter and cooking utensils, and be directed into available shelter within the local communities, have been set up, [see map]. However, despite these efforts, the Situation Report notes the pipeline of food “cannot be sustained and is expected to run out in late June or early July.” According to the WFP website, the UN has appealed for $162 million to meet basic food needs of IDPs for two months.”

Image Credit: AP/Dawn Two boys carry Food Back to their tents

Image Credit: AP/Dawn Two boys carry Food Back to their tents

The Sit Rep also asserted, “Current stocks of essential drugs will be depleted as of June.” Urgent funding is required to cover health costs for those who are displaced, noted the report. Moreover, according to Dawn on Monday, Pakistan’s “rundown” health care system is in danger of collapsing. Hospitals have been overwhelmed by the refugee influx, and the resulting crisis “has exhausted doctors, used up limited supplies of medicines and buried hospitals in a mountain of red tape as they try to get money and medicine for the crisis.” Although the government has allocated one million rupees for medicine for the refugees, Dawn cited Dr. Arshad Khan, the Health Ministry’s “top man in Mardan,” who said “it will be months before the refugees see any because of bureaucratic hurdles attached to the money.”

Reading these assessments, it seems evident that the problem in tackling Pakistan’s humanitarian crisis lies not just in funding but also the allocation/delivery of resources as well as coordination. The News columnist Noreen Haider wrote last Tuesday, “There is very little coordination among the various agencies and provincial governments working for the IDPs. There is still a huge shortfall of the items actually required by the IDPs, especially those off-camp and their host families, but no one seems to have any exact data regarding that.” Haider, in her piece, also noted that Pakistan’s emergency assistance body, the National Disaster Management Authority has failed “to set up the provincial [PDMA] and district disaster management authorities…supposed to deal with crises on this scale.”

A new report released by the International Crisis Group echoed these assertions, quoting PML-N General Secretary, Iqbal Jhagra, who said, “The institutions that were set up after the earthquake [PDMA & NDMA] should have pre-planned for this [crisis]. We knew this option [of a military operation] was there. So when you know this, what do you do?” De-centralized relief efforts have further exacerbated the problem, added ICG. The organization further noted, “By other accounts, the civilian bureaucracy, cumbersome and unresponsive to IDP needs, has become a hurdle in relief delivery.”

Ultimately relief should not only be supplied to those displaced by the conflict, but also those shouldering the burden of this crisis. Given that the majority of IDPs are living outside camps with relatives, these people must also be provided support. Families once housing and feeding five to ten people are now providing refuge to double or even triple that amount.

Moreover, the doctors and nurses providing health care to those in crisis must also be taken into consideration.  According to the World Health Organization, “There are only 12 doctors to every 10,000 people in Pakistan and 10 hospital beds to every 10,000 people.” Dawn reports the outpatient unit at Dr. Khan’s 213-bed district hospital used to see 100 people a day before the war. “Now it is up to an average of 500 a day.” Dr. Khan from Mardan told Dawn, “Our staff is disheartened. They are not motivated, the pay structure of doctors and paramedical staff is terribly low and under government rules we can’t hire more people.”

While the recent upsurge against the Taliban is positive, it is important to remember that sentiment is tenuous. The government must properly addres the growing humanitarian crisis in the country to ensure this small window of opportunity does not completely vanish. **Because I don’t want to leave this post on a completely tragic note, here are some other positive pieces related to Pakistan’s Rising Tide Against the Taliban:

For CHUP’s past coverage on Pakistan’s displaced, click here. For ways to help, visit the Swat Plea or Pakistani IDPs.

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Image Credit: Wash Po, Child Being Checked in an IDP Camp in Mardan

Image Credit: Wash Po, Child Being Checked in an IDP Camp in Mardan

According to UNHCR, the number of displaced people formally registered by local authorities since May 2 following the military’s offensive in Lower Dir, Buner, and Swat, has surpassed 1.7 million.  About 200,000 of this number are in camps, while the rest are staying with their families and friends or in schools and other communal buildings. According to the front page of the Washington Post yesterday, the crisis is the largest exodus since the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan.

As the crisis worsens, numbers of the displaced are shifting into Pakistan’s provinces and main cities. However, while PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif announced today [just prior to the Supreme Court lifting his election ban] that IDPs from Swat “would be welcomed in Punjab,” adding, “Prohibiting affectees to enter another province is a violation of basic fundamental rights and national interests,” the influx has become an increasingly politicized issue among Sindh’s nationalist parties. Yesterday, shops in Karachi remained closed after members of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), a movement that promotes the cause of natives of southern Sindh province, called a strike to protest the arrival of IDPs in Sindh. It was the second strike called by the JSQM. A similar protest also occurred on Saturday.

While leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement [MQM] did not specifically back Monday’s strike, they had announced support for the Sindh parties protesting the entry of “outsiders” into the province this past Friday. The MQM’s Dr. Farooq Sattar demanded the government register all displaced families entering Pakistan’s provinces. According to the Daily Times, “He said the Taliban had entered the settled areas along with the IDPs and had set up their operational points in Karachi and others cities of Sindh for suicide attacks and other terrorist activities.” Dawn quoted him adding, “Therefore, we demanded that the president, the prime minister, the interior minister and high-ups of the security agencies declare mandatory the registration of all migrating families arriving in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan and lodge them at special makeshift camps so that the Taliban cannot enter the cities in disguise.”

Although the “Talibanization of Karachi” has continuously been cited as reason for these strikes and demands, the underlying issue goes far deeper, relating also to the power politics of the province. While ethnic tension between Pashtuns and Sindhis is not a new phenomenon [riots between the groups began in the mid-1980s], the recent rise of immigrant Pashtuns into the province, particularly in Karachi, have sparked increased violence and unrest. In November 2008, more than 40 people were killed and hundreds were wounded in two days of ethnic-related killings, [see related post by CHUP’s Karachi correspondent].

In February, BBC News cited Aminullah Khattak, secretary general of the  Awami National Party (ANP)’s Sindh Chapter [the party heads the NWFP provincial government and is mostly Pashtun-based] who said the issue has recently become exacerbated by other factors, particularly since Pashtuns living in Sindh “have progressed economically.” The BBC added, “The ANP argues that “Talibanization” is not a problem in Karachi, but just a ruse for a movement against upwardly-mobile Pashtuns.” Ismail Khan, a member of the ANP provincial executive committee, contends that the MQM, which has its power base in Karachi, is behind this movement, asserting, “We are the only threat to their power, and that is why they have used the specter of Talibanization.”

This is not to say the Taliban threat in Karachi is not an issue. In fact, the rise of Taliban influence in Pakistan’s urban areas, particularly in Karachi, is something I recently wrote about, and should be cause for concern. For the MQM to request that the IDPs be registered is both a legitimate and responsible demand. However, given Karachi’s history of ethnic tensions and violence, the MQM’s stronghold in the city, as well as the recent statement  by Abdul Wahid Aresar, head of the JSQM, who asserted, “We don’t see it as just an issue of helping the displaced people. The motive behind their arrival in the southern-most part of Pakistan from the north is to marginalize the native Sindhis, which we will resist,” the matter is far from simplistic.

What is sad to me is that the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan is Pakistani. It’s the result of an internal war within our country, and the victims are our people. The collateral damage should therefore evoke a unified, national response. And to be fair it has, at least among the civil society [see Deadpan Thoughts on Pakistan’s civilian response to the conflict as well as Teeth Maestro’s inspirational journey to the camps]. But the devolution of the issue into a politicized power struggle is indicative of the broader reality that exists in our nation – that, at the end of the day, many will allow provincial, ethnic and religious divisions to cloud their judgement of what is humane, what is right, and what is good for Pakistan.

Good related post: Saesneg’s “IDPs: Condition Check.”

For CHUP’s other posts on the IDP crisis, [including ways you can help] click here.

Also: Many, many thanks to the Karachiites who allowed me to pick their brains on this issue on Twitter.

Finally: A small note – the BBC mentioned CHUP today in their coverage of Pakistani blogs mobilizing for Pakistan’s refugees. Teeth Maestro was also mentioned, which is fantastic. There are so many other blogs that are doing so much to raise awareness on the crisis (Deadpan Thoughts, The Swat Plea via Teabreak, Chowrangi, the list goes on), and it’s been incredibly inspiring to be a part of this community.

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