Pakistan’s IDP Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities
Pakistan’s IDP Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Report / Asia 4 minutes

Pakistan’s IDP Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities

In the wake of a conceptually flawed peace agreement, the Taliban takeover of large parts of Malakand division, subsequent military action in the area, almost three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled to camps, homes, schools and other places of shelter across Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

I. Overview

In the wake of a conceptually flawed peace agreement, the Taliban takeover of large parts of Malakand division, subsequent military action in the area, almost three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled to camps, homes, schools and other places of shelter across Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). The challenge for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government and international actors is to make relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts responsive to needs and empower local communities in Mala­kand Division. Failure to do so will reverse any gains on the battlefield and boost radical Islamist groups.

The military’s use of heavy force in the ongoing operations, failure to address the full cost to civilians and refusal to allow full civilian and humanitarian access to the conflict zones has already been counterproductive. The public, particularly those directly affected, is increasingly mistrustful of a military that has, in the past, swung between short-sighted appeasement deals with militants and the use of haphazard force. While there is still broad public and political support for moving against the Taliban, it could erode if civilian casualties are high and the response to IDPs’ needs is inadequate. Indeed, it will not be long before the IDPs demand greater accountability from those responsible for their displacement and assurances of a viable return.

Almost four years after they responded poorly to the October 2005 earthquake in NWFP and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), overly centralised state relief organs remain ill-equipped to deal with large-scale humanitarian crises. Likewise, despite the transition to civilian rule in February 2008, the military continues to dominate key institutions, further undermining civilian capacity. Relief and reconstruction efforts must ultimately reestablish and strengthen the link between Malakand’s citizens and the state, severed by rising militancy and the military-devised accord between the Awami National Party (ANP)-led NWFP government and the Taliban-linked Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mo­ham­­madi (TNSM) to impose Sharia (Islamic law) in the Malakand area, through the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, which President Asif Ali Zardari signed on 13 April 2009.

As they did in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, religious extremist groups, while opposing the military campaign, are exploiting relief efforts to advance their agenda. Communities displaced by a badly planned war may be especially vulnerable to jihadi indoctrination. The crisis, however, also presents an opportunity to win hearts and minds of millions of Pakistanis in NWFP, and more specifically in Malakand Division, who have suffered at the hands of the Taliban. Many of them fled the area even before the current operations began because of Taliban abuses, including murder and rape.

Mounting opposition from the religious lobby may give the military an opening to again enter into a compromise with the militants, as it has in earlier campaigns. The federal and provincial governments must resist any such efforts and assert civilian control over counter-insurgency policy, relief and reconstruction. Instituting civilian oversight and scrutiny is vital to retaining popular support for the struggle against violent extremism. The international community should help build civilian capacity to respond to the humanitarian crisis and also counsel the military against negotiating another deal that would again allow religious extremists more space to recruit and spread Taliban control.

The Pakistan government should:

  • devise a blueprint for reconstruction efforts, including revitalising war-shattered agricultural and tourism sectors;
  • develop mechanisms that will enable IDP communities to hold officials accountable for the distribution of assistance;
  • prohibit jihadi groups banned under the Anti-Terrorism Law, including those operating under changed names, from participating in relief efforts;
  • prioritise police training and other mechanisms to enhance the capacity of civilian law enforcement agencies to maintain security after the military operation ends and bring militant and local criminal networks and allied serving or retired district officials to justice;
  • rescind immediately the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009, reaffirm the jurisdication of Malakand’s civil courts, the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court, and abolish the Frontier Crimes Regulations and the Nizam-e-Adl 1999; and
  • build on political and public support for confronting militancy in NWFP by implementing without delay long-term political and constitutional reforms in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), of which Malakand is a part, as well as in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), so as to incorporate their districts and tribal agencies, respectively, into NWFP, with full provincial rights.

The international community should:

  • urge a humanitarian pause in fighting to allow much-needed assistance to non-combatants in conflict zones, to permit them to flee and to account for civilian casualties, with the timeframe dependent on assessment of needs and available logistical and other resources and material support, as determined by the provincial government and international and local humanitarian agencies;
  • ensure that relief and reconstruction are civilian-led and empower displaced communities to determine their own needs and priorities;
  • prioritise the relief and rehabilitation of IDPs, particularly those living outside government camps, through cash transfer programs that provide income support, payment of school tuition and paid vocational training;
  • support Pakistan civilian-led plans for return of IDPs to their communities with reconstruction programs that incorporate support for the provincial government and help build the capacity of civilian police and advance justice reform with new training, equipment and mentors; and
  • encourage long-term political and constitutional reforms in PATA and FATA through support for comprehensive governance, stabilisation and rural development programs.

Islamabad/Brussels, 3 June 2009

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.