Pakistan’s Worsening Displacement Crisis

Islamabad/Brussels, 16 September 2010: Pakistan’s government and international actors must ensure those in flood-devastated conflict zones are urgently granted the assistance they need to survive and to rebuild lives, without the military dictating rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.

Pakistan: The Worsening IDP Crisis , a new briefing on internally displaced persons from the International Crisis Group, highlights how the country not only faces an unprecedented natural disaster, but also confronts the twin challenges of stabilising a fragile democratic transition and countering violent extremism. The civilian government, already tackling an insurgency, and its institutions, neglected during nine years of military rule, lack the capacity and means to provide sufficient food, shelter, health and sanitation without international assistance. But all sides must ensure community-based civil society groups, credible secular non-governmental organisations, and elected representatives lead the process.

“Given the scale of the needs, there may be a temptation among donors to circumvent civilian structures and work directly with the military to deliver aid, but this would be a dangerous choice”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “The military should certainly provide logistical support, but only under control of the civilian government and in support of the latter’s objectives”.

Pakistan’s civilian administrative and humanitarian apparatus is now severely tested by the worst flooding in the country’s history. One fifth of the country and more than 20 million people have been affected, exacerbating a displacement crisis in the conflict zones of north-western Pakistan. Some of worst damage is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the largest numbers of lives have been lost and where homes and infrastructure are devastated.

Relief and rehabilitation efforts should be informed by recent history to be most effective. Following massive displacement in Malakand, including Swat, due to militancy and military operations in 2009, the military led the return process, leading to a discriminatory response, the precipitous return of displaced persons to areas that had not been stabilised, and the collective punishment of families allegedly sympathetic to the militants. Similar policies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas have caused 1.4 million to flee, most of whom are unwilling to go back, fearing they will be forced out again. The end result is anger and alienation — fertile ground for the extremists.

 There are very clear concerns, based on past and current practice, that if the Pakistani military were to lead the humanitarian response, beyond rescue operations and immediate emergency needs, it would again subordinate humanitarian concerns to military objectives, with the same security risks emerging as a result.

As the flood waters recede, the political leadership must lead the reconstruction phase, ensuring that local communities help identify priorities and strategies, and that projects are cost-effective and appropriate. The national and provincial parliaments should oversee these efforts, including maintaining accountability over donor and government funds through their public accounts committees.

 “If military objectives dictate rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, a population exhausted by conflict could become a soft target for militants, making stability in the north west even more elusive”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director.

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