Pakistan: The Worsening IDP Crisis
Pakistan: The Worsening IDP Crisis
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
The Pakistani Taliban Test Ties between Islamabad and Kabul
The Pakistani Taliban Test Ties between Islamabad and Kabul
Briefing 111 / Asia 4 minutes

Pakistan: The Worsening IDP Crisis

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.


The monsoon floods in Pakistan have caused massive destruction and turned a displacement crisis in the insecure western borderlands into a national disaster of mammoth proportions. When the floods hit, almost all those displaced from Malakand had returned home and were struggling to rebuild lives in a region where much of the infrastructure had been destroyed in fighting; 1.4 million more displaced from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province. The disaster would have proved challenging under any circumstance. The fragile civilian government, already tackling an insurgency, and its institutions, neglected during nine years of military rule, lack the capacity and the means to provide sufficient food, shelter, health and sanitation without international assistance. The Pakistan government and international actors should ensure those in the flood-devastated conflict zones are urgently granted the assistance they need to survive and to rebuild lives and livelihoods. If military objectives dictate rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, a population exhausted by conflict could become a soft target for militants, making stability in the northwest even more elusive.

In July 2009, the Pakistani military initiated the return of an estimated 2.8 million people displaced by militancy and military operations in the Malakand region of KPK. Named Niwa- e-Seher (new dawn), this return process supposedly affirmed the military’s success against militant networks in Swat and other parts of the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA). The same principle is being replicated in FATA where some 1.4 million people have been displaced by militancy and military operations.

The humanitarian crisis in FATA has received significantly less attention than displacement from KPK’s Mala­kand region. Many have been unable to register or receive assistance due to the military’s tight control over access to humanitarian agencies in KPK’s Internally Displaced Person (IDP) hosting areas and continued security threats. In parts of FATA, most notably Bajaur agency, families have been forced to flee repeatedly because of a militant resurgence. Yet relying on the pace of returns as an indicator of success in anti-Taliban operations, the military has largely determined the humanitarian agenda, with scant objection from the international community. With the militants once again escalating their campaign of violence in the tribal belt, FATA’s IDPs must not be compelled to return home before the threats to their safety subside.

Deprived of resources, fiscal and human, during more than nine years of military rule, 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. Some of the worst damage is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the largest numbers of lives have been lost and where homes, schools, hospitals, agriculture, factories and the communication infrastructure are devastated, and crops and livestock lost. The state’s response has been slow as a result of multiple factors – ill-equipped and under-resourced state relief organs, the absence of civil-military coordination and ineffective civilian control over military-led efforts.

This inadequate response has angered and alienated hundreds of thousands of returnees, making them vulnerable to jihadi propaganda and recruitment. International assistance has begun to pour in but on a scale that is still far too modest to meet the enormous needs of urgent relief. In the months ahead, civilian-led mechanisms, which include the involvement of affected communities, credible secular NGOs, professional organisations and the provincial and national parliaments, will be crucial if the massive challenges of rehabilitation and reconstruction are to be effectively tackled.

Prior to the floods, the humanitarian community had prepared the draft of a major policy document, the Post-Conflict Needs Assessment (PCNA), to identify development needs, propose political reforms in Malakand and FATA, and devise a strategy for their implementation. As this document is being rewritten to reflect the challenges posed by the floods, any post-conflict plan must reaffirm civilian supremacy and recommend PATA and FATA’s integration into the constitutional, political and legal mainstream. The impact of the floods on Malakand’s returnees or on FATA’s IDPs is not yet clear, but as relief again becomes a top priority, all assistance, local and international, must be delinked from the military’s institutional interests and directives, even granting the importance of the military’s logistics capabilities during rescue and emergency relief operations. The civilian government and donors should also seize this opportunity to ensure that rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts meet the needs of their intended beneficiaries, and bolster civilian institutional capacity and authority at the same time.

The Pakistan government should:

  • Devise a rehabilitation and reconstruction policy in FATA and KPK based on broad consultation with representatives of conflict and flood-affected communities, credible local NGOs and professional organisations, and the national and provincial parliaments.
  • Develop a central role for the national and provincial parliaments in maintaining oversight over government and donor expenditure, through their public accounts committees, particularly for large-scale infrastructure projects in FATA and KPK, and award contracts for such projects through competitive and transparent bidding.
  • Revive assistance to FATA’s IDPs, suspended in response to the floods, and demonstrate commitment to the principle of voluntary returns by continuing assistance to those who choose not to return.
  • Ensure that registration and assistance for FATA’s IDPs and flood-affected communities is civilian-led and based on vulnerability rather than location; and permanently remove all restrictions, including No Objection Certificates, for humanitarian agencies, as well as all requirements for such agencies to share confidential data on beneficiaries with the military.
  • Implement earlier pledges to incorporate FATA into the constitutional, political and legal mainstream, with a robust and accountable criminal justice sector.

The international community should:

  • Help build civilian disaster management capacity at the national, provincial and district levels – including registration of flood-affected communities, the provision of assistance and the execution of large-scale reconstruction – and oppose a military role beyond rescue and immediate relief.
  • Ensure that relief and rehabilitation is non-discrim­i­natory and based on independent assessments of local needs, with representative community-level committees exercising oversight over the disbursement of assistance, with beneficiaries identified according to civilian rather than military-determined criteria.
  • Address urgent short-term needs of flood-affected communities in KPK and FATA, including shelter, health and education; revive the agricultural sector; and provide material assistance as well as cash transfers.
  • Develop effective oversight and accountability mechanisms over donor funding that include affected communities and national civil society organisations and elected representatives.

Islamabad/Brussels, 16 September 2010

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