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Pakistan’s IDP Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities
Pakistan’s IDP Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Calming India and Pakistan’s Tit-for-Tat Escalation
Calming India and Pakistan’s Tit-for-Tat Escalation
Report 93 / Asia

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

Students chant slogans under the shade of national flag, after Pakistan shot down two Indian military aircrafts, according to Pakistani officials, during a march in Lahore, Pakistan 28 February 2019. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
Q&A / Asia

Calming India and Pakistan’s Tit-for-Tat Escalation

Reciprocal airstrikes by India and Pakistan have been accompanied by shelling, troop reinforcements and small arms fire. In this Q&A calling for restraint between the nuclear-armed neighbours, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller notes that the airspace violations alone were the worst for 50 years.

What happened exactly?

On Tuesday, 26 February, India claimed that its air force had targeted “the biggest training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed … in Balakot”. The strikes – the most significant airspace violations in nearly 50 years – followed a deadly 14 February suicide car bombing in Pulwama in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which had been claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group. India said it launched a “preventive strike” based on intelligence that Jaish intended to attack again. At a press conference, Foreign Secretary VK Gokhale said Pakistan “failed to take any concrete action against terrorists” and that the strike on the training facility had “killed a large number”. In its official statement on the airstrike in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the Indian government said, “The existence of such massive training facilities, capable of training hundreds of jihadists could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities”.

Pakistan refutes Indian officials’ claims that more than 300 Jaish militants were killed in the attack. It acknowledges however that eight Indian Air Force jets had violated the Line of Control, which divides Pakistan’s Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Indian-controlled J&K. The Pakistan military’s spokesperson said that its Air Force’s “timely and effective response” had forced the Indian planes to retreat, dropping their bombs in an uninhabited area near Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, causing no casualty or damage.

On 27 February, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said its Air Force had conducted six strikes on “non-military targets” in India to demonstrate the country’s “right, will and capability for self-defence”. Pakistan downed an Indian jet that entered its airspace in pursuit of the Pakistani aircraft, leading to the pilot’s capture. India claimed to have downed one of the intruding Pakistani jets.

Resort to military force for political ends increases the risks of escalation, no matter how unintended.

Although it is clear that cross-Line of Control attacks and aerial skirmishes between the two sides occurred, it is difficult to verify both countries’ claims and counter-claims of targets and impact. Pakistani officials have provided evidence, also circulated on social media, of the downed Indian jet and the captured pilot, but claims of six successful strikes conducted in Indian-controlled Kashmir are more difficult to verify. Despite ample evidence of its cross-Line of Control attacks, Indian claims of killing hundreds in the airstrike on a Jaish training base and downing a Pakistani jet lack credence since New Delhi did not provide any evidence.

Why did it happen?

India’s and Pakistan’s latest skirmishes are as much aimed at assuaging domestic constituency concerns as they are at convincing each other of their capacity to strike and seriousness of intent. Still, resort to military force for political ends increases the risks of escalation, no matter how unintended.

In the Indian context, Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government felt compelled to react in light of the countrywide outrage in the wake of the 14 February Jaish suicide car bombing. With elections months away, Modi, responding to domestic opinion – particularly that of his hardline BJP constituency – vowed to avenge the dead in Pulwama, including at least 40 Indian paramilitary police officers. “We will give a befitting reply; our neighbour will not be allowed to destabilise us,” he said, giving his security forces “permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response”. That response came in the shape of the 26 February airstrikes across the Line of Control.

Within Pakistan, given a long history of distrust toward, and war with India, the powerful military establishment had to demonstrate to constituencies at home that India’s hostile designs would be forcefully thwarted. On 22 February, days before the Indian Air Force strikes, the military’s spokesperson warned that, if India were to attack, Pakistan would never “fall short of capacity” and would “dominate the escalation ladder”. The day of the 26 February Indian attack, reiterating these warnings, the spokesperson referred to a meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA), which oversees Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, saying to India, “I hope you know what the NCA means and what it constitutes”. 

What could happen next and why does it matter?

Both sides have left themselves room to climb down. Pakistani and Indian officials insist that their governments have no intention to escalate hostilities further. On 27 February, Pakistan’s military spokesperson said the Pakistan Air Force could have targeted a major Indian military installation in the strike area but chose to attack “in open space”, causing no casualties, so as to avoid escalation. The same day, speaking at a Russia-India-China foreign ministers meeting in Beijing, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said the 26 February strike, meant to pre-empt another terror attack, “wasn’t a military operation, no military installation was targeted”. India, she said, “doesn’t wish to see further escalation of the situation”.

For his part, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called for restraint and diplomatic engagement and at the same time vividly highlighted the risks inherent in the current situation. The same day as his country’s planes launched strikes across the Line of Control, Khan elliptically referenced the nuclear capabilities in a television interview and said, “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation? Shouldn’t we think that, if this escalates, what will it lead to?” He also offered to release the captured Indian pilot and to cooperate with India in investigating the Pulwama attack.

New Delhi and Islamabad should immediately and urgently revive the hotline between their Directors General for Military Operations, a crucial mechanism to prevent unintended and inadvertent conflict escalation.

Despite Khan’s acknowledgement of escalation risks, and Indian and Pakistani claims of responsibility and restraint, their armies are continuing to clash with artillery shelling and small arms fire along the Line of Control. Meanwhile, tensions are also high within J&K due to an Indian crackdown on Kashmiri dissidents, which could provoke more alienated youth to join militants. This apparently was the case of the 14 February suicide bomber, who came from a village close to the site of the Pulwama attack.

What should be done?

The international community, including China, the EU and European governments, have called on India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and prevent further escalation. In Washington, expressing U.S. concern about the tit-for-tat attacks, a White House official said, “The potential risks associated with further military action by either side are unacceptably high for both countries, their neighbours, and the international community”.

If the two sides are to step down from the brink, their leaders, civil and military, should resist the temptation to pander to domestic constituencies and tone down hostile rhetoric.

There is little foreseeable prospect, no matter how desirable, of the top Indian and Pakistani leaderships re-establishing direct communication channels and bilateral dialogue. These have been frozen since the 2016 terror attacks in Indian Punjab and Indian-administered Kashmir, which New Delhi attributed to Pakistan-based militants. Nevertheless, New Delhi and Islamabad should immediately and urgently revive the hotline between their Directors General for Military Operations, a crucial mechanism to prevent unintended and inadvertent conflict escalation.

In the short and medium terms, New Delhi should rethink its approach toward and within J&K, ending the heavy-handed militarised response that has contributed to growing local alienation and disaffection. Pakistan should rethink its longstanding policy of supporting anti-India jihadist proxies, such as Jaish, that – as this latest round of escalation shows – are far more of a threat to national security than an asset.

This article was corrected on 2 March 2019 to place Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, not Azad Jammu and Kashmir, as first reported by Pakistan.