KARACHI, Pakistan — It was no secret that Pakistan was planning to combat the Taliban in North Waziristan. However, the failure to provide for the people in the area has left hundreds of thousands refugees wandering the country desperate for food and housing.
Beginning on June 15, the Pakistani army launched an offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan in response to the June 8 attack on an airport in Pakistan’s largest commercial city, Karachi.
The North Waziristan region, a part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, is a remote, mountainous region that is said to be home to thousands of militants associated with the Taliban and other groups such as the Haqqani Network.
The military offensive displaced an estimated 466,000 people. Most displaced Pakistanis have headed to Bannu, one of the least developed regions in Pakistan and home to the Pakhtun population, a group of people noted for their old customs of accepting and supporting guests.
Once there, the displaced Pakistanis have found what may as well be nothing. With no shelter or food and restrictions to traveling to other areas in Pakistan, frantic crowds have instead received live rounds from soldiers.
The government has done little to help the refugees. Despite offering a small grant to families intended for a number of purposes, very few have actually received funds.
The meager supplies to be found in Bannu are supplied by the United Nations’ World Food Programme. Other humanitarian aid has also come from foreign government agencies and wealthy Pakistani businessmen.
Another area in the nearby “frontier region” was set up as a temporary camp, but very few have moved there, saying it is insecure and with many opting instead to occupy government schools and colleges.
Although many refugees are hopeful about returning to their homes in the near future, such a possibility is unlikely. People are still displaced from a massive operation in South Waziristan in 2009.
This most recent event is only one of many conflicts between the military and militants, all of which have contributed to increasing numbers of refugees.
As a result of ethnic politics, internally displaced people in Pakistan are restricted from traveling to certain parts of the country. These ethnic restrictions have caused resentment in the people as they are often between the conflicts of the militants and the military.
Problems in the area include historic marginalization, underdevelopment, high poverty levels, and most recently, a polio epidemic. Due to the Taliban’s bans on immunization citing “Western conspiracy,” approximately 160,000 children are vulnerable to polio. Government officials have reported 65 polio cases of which 50 were to be found in North Waziristan. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been attempting to contain the disease by vaccinating people along routes that leave North Waziristan.
As the situation worsens and the number of refugees continues to increase, the possibility of aggravation grows. The area is favorable for increased radicalization, especially due to its existing affiliations with extremist organizations.
However, the possibility for change also exists. With the military offensive, the Taliban’s influence is removed and the possibility of immunization for polio returns. In addition, the opportunity for political and administrative reforms to rebuild the FATA region and provide better rights could follow the military operations. A better future for the region depends upon a civil response to the military offensive.
– William Ying