Sunday, May 17, 2009

Swat’s worst humanitarian crisis by A Z Hilali

The people of Swat have ultimately got what they wanted and thanks to the Pakistan military that finally they have conducted operations against militants for their permanent relief in Malakand region of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where at least 1,800 people have been butchered by brutal actions of Taliban.

In the military operation around 15,000 security forces are battling against 4,000 brutal militants, including a small number of foreigners and hardened fighters from the South Waziristan tribal region, who are greatest threat to the national security of Pakistan and the world at large. It is a worst human crisis in the modern South Asian history since the "war on terror" (2001) in which around 2,000 soldiers have died in battles with militants. By every account Swat unleashed the worst humanitarian crisis in the US-led "war on terror". Thousands of civilians have fled from Swat and neighbouring districts in the fighting between the army and militants and hundreds of thousands are unable to move and could be caught in the crossfire. Swat is a partly urbanized area, making civilian casualties a near-certainty. There are fears of a bloodbath if residents are unable to evacuate from the main city (Mingora) and other parts of area. Although thousands fled southwards as skirmishes broke out between Taliban and the army but according to Social-Aid (NGO), desperate people in Swat and particularly from the upper areas are trapped and most residents north of Mingora, such as Matta and Bahrain, have still problem to move for safe shelter. It is estimated that many people have died due to violence, starvation and disease. According to UNHCR, approximately 660,000 people have been displaced from Swat, Dir and Buner areas and predicted that displacement could confront Pakistan with its second largest disaster of the 21st century since the incident of 2001. The country is facing the largest displacement in its own history, and many are now living in camps lacking adequate food, shelter, sanitation, and health care and there is growing exponentially for the staggering countless people who continue to stream out of the Malakand region. Strategically, the Swat valley is surrounded neby the semi-autonomous tribal areas (FATA) on the border with Afghanistan, as well as where Taliban and the Al-Qaeda have strongholds. The military launched the offensive operation after the militants in Swat used a peace deal to impose their reign and continue their genocide of innocent people which was bloodiest and most brutal act of contemporary history. By then more than hundreds of people had been murdered (average of around 18 deaths per day) including men, women and children. In addition, there was a systematic rounding up and shooting of people, either for immediate mass-murder or detention of people in Taliban concentration camps and more than 1,500 are missing and feared dead. Indeed, Pakistan has declared war against US trained extremists and there is a possibility that the military action could trigger a wider conflagration. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a televised address to the nation mentioned that Pakistan has launched a full-scale offensive against Taliban guerrillas who have seized control of the vast Swat valley, and other parts of the NWFP. The Prime Minister categorically declared that Pakistan will no longer "bow its head before the terrorists," and called upon the nation to rally behind the armed forces. In fact, the federal government has given task to the military command to "eliminate the militants and the terrorists" once and forever for the greatest interest of people and the country. So, there should be no doubt that military is not fully aware of the gravity of internal threat and they are determined to employ requisite resources to ensure a decisive ascendancy over the militants as well as the forces are also fully prepared to meet the conventional threat from the arch rival of India. Moreover, it is interesting to note that the bulk of offensive against Taliban is being carried out by the military and other forces such as Frontier Corps and paramilitary forces are equally assisting the regular army. But the US media has created wrong perception that there is no indication that the army was pulling any major combat formations off the border with India and preparing to dispatch them or other major ground units to the battle in and around Swat. Furthermore, everyone seems to agree on the severity of the crisis and urged that military command should take decisive action against Taliban because the whole nation has realised the brutality of Taliban and believes that their real agenda was to seize territory and power not the enforcement of Islamic Sharia. Thus, after a long time, the people see a ray of hope in the conflict region and military also realised that majority of people are against the Talibanisation and desire to snub religious extremism for the largest interest of country. The people of the area emphasized to the federal government to focus on a response based on humanitarian aid, while human rights and civil society groups are calling for urgent protection for needy and helpless displaced people. A leading humanitarian group and Social-Aid (NGO) has called on the federal government and UNHCR to take additional measures for the help of over one million displaced people who have been rendered homeless by the ongoing armed conflict in the country. The civil-society groups have also urged the military to carry out operation carefully in the concerned areas and avoid civilian casualties in the strife-torn region because the civilian population is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the devastating impact of bloody violence. Moreover, the government and military both should establish mechanism to avoid gross human rights violations, including the indiscriminate killing of innocent people. In fact, no military can fight war without the help of people because war is not a military activity conducted by soldiers, but rather a social activity that involves entire nation. In this regard, the passions of the people are necessary to endure the sacrifices inherent in war because people supply the blood and treasure required to prosecute war and if this spirit is not available then there is a difficulty in achieving short- or long-term objectives. So, the people have urged that the planning and implementation of military operations in Swat and other parts of region must take into account the safety of the civilian population. Whoever caused the loss of innocent people must be held accountable as General Ashfaq Kayani has instructed the army that the safety and protection of people must come first in the planning and implementation of any military operation. He also ured the army to make precise strikes against the militants and adjacent areas to ensure minimum collateral damage even at the expense of taking risks. Thus, it must be clear that civilian casualties are unacceptable and every effort should be made to protect the civilian population. Moreover, the communication system, including mobile phones, have been disabled due to security reasons and the government workers and the military personnel must provide services to the needy people who are searching for their missing family members. In the same way, there is an utmost need of coordination with other IDPs camps in other parts of NWFP which would help people reduce their panic and dissociation. In general, "International law" does not recognise IDPs as refugees because the International Refugee Regime defines as refugees only those who have crossed a country border within the two sovereign countries. Because of this lack of international legal recognition, IDPs remain without international protection and live out of sight in appalling misery at the socio-political margins of their countries. However, the IDPs are direct victims of "war on terror" and the world community is responsible to develop a comprehensive plan to address their emerging problems and must take action to improve their living conditions, including strengthening the health care system among a population suffering recurrent illnesses such as anemia and acute malnutrition. The aging camps are also in need of new, improved sanitation systems and better refugee housing. For this purpose, additional funds are also needed for protection complementary and supplementary feeding; and access to basic services. Nevertheless, the people of NWFP and the rest of Pakistanis are happy that military has taken action against the atrocities of Taliban who are responsible for gross violation of human rights abuses and the displacement of people in Swat has made it among the world's worst situations in the political history of Pakistan. In fact, militants are responsible for committing or assisting war crimes and genocide of innocent people and their leaders must be treated like Slobodan Milosevic (Former Yugoslav President), Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic (Serb leaders) under the severe charges of genocide. So, the militants are killers of innocent people and solely responsible for mortal threat to the security and safety of country and the world.

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