The missing humanitarian element

11 Aug 2014
11 August 2014

In the wake of airstrikes in North Waziristan on May 21, 2014, and the following Operation Zarb-e-Azbthat started on June 15, at least 995,000 civilians, including more than 450,00 children and 280,00 women – were displaced.

There are accusations that the figures are being inflated by the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Disaster Management Authorityto secure funds and donations. However the fact remains that the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are in dire straits and are having their basic human rights violated on a daily basis. Thousands of IDPs are still facing abandonment as most of the major cities of the country refused to extend hospitality to them.

The reasons for this refusal varied from covert racism to misconceptions that the Pashtuns are terrorists and carriers of the polio virus. Many also claim that during the previous operation – Operation Rah-e-Nijatin South Waziristan – IDPs were permitted to enter cities which had resulted in infiltration by terrorists from FATA.

In Sindh, there is already a movement to restrict the IDPs’ entry, as nationalist parties like Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, Sindh United Party, Jeay Sindh Qaum Parast Party, and Awami Jamhoori Party have united against the uprooted people from North Waziristan.

Even the urban elite are not far behind.

Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a journalist and documentary filmmaker took to Twitterclaiming that theIDPs must be ‘contained’in camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

And contained they are. Despite Article 15 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan entitles its citizens to freedom of movement throughout Pakistan and “to reside and settle in any part thereof” the IDP’s are banned from doing the very same.

With the Operation Zarb-e- Azb, the Pakistan Army asked the tribesmen of North Waziristan to leave their homes literally in mere hours. No proper arrangements were made to look after the millions consisting of women, children, old age persons and people with disabilities.

The IDP’s sacrificed their homes, routine, life, land and whatever little savings they had, only to be met with hostility and abandonment. Relief began much later and displaced families endured unspeakable hardships for more than ten days without any indication of what the authorities were planning for them. This incident has led to critics describing the operation as an “ethnic cleansing” of the Pashtuns from the area, in the name of war against Taliban.

For the people of FATA, this discrimination, or some might say systemic oppression and unwelcoming attitude is not new. FATA borders Afghanistan, and is a semi-autonomous region touching Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the south and the east. Hence, it was one of the most strategic locations to gain access to Afghanistan during the cold war.

The region is directly governed by the central government as per theFrontier Crimes Regulations(FCR)- this robs the Pashtuns of three major fundamental rights – the right to appeal in the court of law against a conviction, legal representation and to present reasoned evidence. This system is founded on the Murderous Outrages Regulation (FOR) 1877 introduced by the British to counter the tribal agencies’ fierce resistance against colonization.

Perhaps it is time to stop using them (FATA residents) as a buffer along the Durrand Line, repeal the FCR and stop using ‘tribals’ as strategic assets in proxy wars and jihads.

Perhaps it is time to start treating all Pakistanis as equals who have the liberty to enjoy every right that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees.