"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity".
(surah Al-Imran,ayat-104)
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Still No escape from Hell.

Noreen Haider


The post operation footage of Mingora and other parts of Swat is now being shown by the ISPR in its media briefings and I honestly don't know what I am supposed to feel looking at the images of the now "cleared areas. The DGPR and the Information Minister sitting triumphantly declare that there are no militants left in the wake of a highly successful military action "Rah-e-Rast" and the area is now secure. Although I have very good reasons to doubt that but even if that is true the very sorry fact is that there is little else that is left either in the wake of the military operation in most of Swat.

I don't know if I'm supposed to feel triumphant and cheer for the army or feel horrified at the images of the totally ravaged towns reduced to rubble?

I have been a strong advocate of destroying the terrorist networks and crushing them completely. I was always for a decisive action against the militants and but the horrific fact is that in doing so the military action has totally destroyed the very area and people they were supposed to protect.

What has become of the militants is yet unclear. Have most of them been killed? How many of them were there to begin with? Have they run off to some other mountains or caves? What happens to their bodies once they are killed? Who identifies them with usually Arabic sounding names as "Abu something" or the other? We have not yet seen any proof of the number of dead militants or "bodies of the second and third level leadership of Taliban/militants" claimed by the army but what we have seen is the undeniable proof of the destruction and devastation of the people of Swat who have become displaced in millions.

The military operation is in full swing and the army is now pounding on the mountains and vallies of Swat with heavy artillery and Gunship helicopters in search of militant hideouts. Although It is true that the army has also suffered causalities and lost officers and jawans but it is also true that there has been immense collateral damage of the civilians which nobody is supposed to talk about. Does it really matter in the end whose rocket actually destroyed the home of an innocent civilian?

The armed conflict and resulting military operation has destroyed more than just the infrastructure of the towns; it has actually destroyed the very fabric of the society in that culture. It has destroyed whatever sources of livelihood that local population had. It has destroyed the homes, markets, schools, mosques, hotels, water sources, agriculture, standing crops, livestock and trade. The infrastructure might be rebuilt again but how would entire lives be build again from scratch is the million dollar question.

According to the latest UN report as of 27 May, there are now over 2.5 million IDPs registered in the six affected NWFP districts; 167,565 of them are living in established camps and 2.3 million in other accommodations. According to the NWFP government the figure is now three million. The IDPs in the camps are the most vulnerable who had nowhere to turn to and they are totally dependent on state help. The ones with friends and families are not much better off either.

Over the past week, over 100,000 IDPs have moved into some 1,800 vacant schools in five districts. The largest influx is in Mardan district. Water and sanitation conditions in the camps are deteriorating fast and urgent attention is needed to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases. The women and children are the most vulnerable especially the ones that are not accompanied by their men folks. These are almost always marginalized in terms of relief distribution and special needs. It is vitally important that camp mangers must be instructed by the government of focus on these vulnerable groups and give special consideration to their needs. It is heart wrenching to see that many of these unaccompanied women have actually lost their men folk in this conflict and they are in mourning but because of the situation befallen them they are not even able to grief for their loss. I met a mother of six at Jalala camp whose husband had died in front of her eyes twenty five days back before they could make their escape from Mingora but she was too shocked to even cry. She told her story dry eyed and asked for some lighter clothes for her children as it was so hot.

The host families of IDPs too are now at the ropes' end. The UNHCR has already declared that if the international community does not chip in very soon they will have to stop their operation in one month. The IDPs need assistance immediately. If the government doesn't speed up its sluggish relief efforts soon then it could precipitate an even bigger disaster. It is important for the government to remember that the IDPs did not leave their homes out of their sweet will; they were forced to leave by the policy and strategy of the government. Therefore the government is responsible to take care of them without a single moments delay.

It is absolutely awful that the government is still unclear about the IDP policy which they are yet to announce, they have made no plans to reach out to the off camp IDPs in an effective manner or announced the time table for cash distribution. The government is totally dependent on UNHCR for distribution of non food items to off camp IDPs but has no countercheck to monitor how effectively its being done, if at all. The DCOs of the host districts do not have any data of the quantity of non food items being distributed by UNHCR nor are they authorized to distribute any of the NFIs themselves. The result is that there are many relief items stocked in the government warehoused which cannot be distributed to in camp or off camp IDPs except by UNHCR who are taking their time in getting ready.

So it's again the IDPs who are at the receiving end of the operational hiccups and delays. I have seen the government warehouses in Mardan stacked with required items which the district government has to hold till it is distributed by UNHCR.

The sanitary conditions in the camps are getting worse by the day. The Tehsil Municipal Administration were supposed to provide sanitary workers for providing cleaning facilities but they are not deputed  in sufficient numbers with the result that the camps are stinking and the worsening hygiene  conditions could lead to disease and even epidemic like diarrhea and cholera.

Federal Minister for Infromation and Broadcast Qamar uz Zaman Kaira has announced that the government of Pakistan has received two hundred and thirty million dollars aid till date but the three phase plan for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction is still not ready.

The IDPs of Malakand and other areas are still waiting for any substantial help from the government. It is more than plastic buckets or flour bags that they need. The government must immediately chalk out plan fro their rehabilitation in their own areas. If the statements of the ISPR are correct and the parts of Malakand are actually secure then the IDPS must be moved back to their own home towns and provided assistance there rather than kept rotting in camps and makeshift shelters. 

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