Kiran Omar



As was expected the controversial Peace Deal between the Taliban and the government came to an end in Swat valley, which has become a war zone within the boundaries of Pakistan. An estimated 2.5 million people have been displaced, the largest internal displacement since the division of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947.  The plight of these refugees needs urgent help from all quarters. At the same time the government and military must ensure the routing-out of the Taliban if the country has to march on the path of economic growth and prosperity.


Spring, the harbinger of hope and well-being, brought despair and broken promises to the beautiful vales of Swat. The controversial Peace Deal brokered with the Taliban by the Federal government and the Awami National Party (ANP) had a predictably short life span and fell apart after barely being in place for a month.  A deal brokered by non-state actors, individuals who have no popular base or legitimacy except for forced deference from the people of Swat and the Frontier, cowed by the threat of violence and terror, cannot be expected to be have any permanence or stability. The Zardari/Gilani government, again demonstrated its inherent weakness and inability to decisively address the problem of growing Taliban threats by agreeing to the Peace Deal. The Parliament, divided and disorganized, failed to prove its legislative and democratic strength and passively rubber-stamped the Peace Deal. There was almost no debate or discussion and dissenting voices were not heard.


As expected, the Deal was just as quickly broken as it was hammered together, by the Taliban and their supporters and the fragile peace in Swat valley and the Frontier areas was shattered. Civilians fled the violence unleashed by the militants, creating the second largest displacement internally, of  population. The first such massive displacement took place at the time of the Partition of India, creating the state of Pakistan. To date the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates 2.5 million people have been displaced, residing in makeshift camps in Mardan and surrounding areas. Their lives have been disrupted, and their future is uncertain. The government appears to be unprepared for this exodus, although the Taliban insurgency in FATA had already created a wave of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to a staggering 800,000, who were haphazardly sheltered in refugee camps that had been set up for fleeing populations from Afghanistan. These camps had been shut down and were in disuse.


The situation of the IDPs is bleak, basic facilities in the camps are at best rudimentary. The lives that these refugees left behind were already hard and impoverished, as Swat and the Frontier areas have long suffered economic stagnation and neglect. Now they stand to lose completely what little they had in terms of homes, livestock and most importantly, the small land-holdings that they have. The big source of anxiety and worry is the near bumper crop that is standing ready to be harvested in the fields of the Swat Valley and its environs. This crop is doomed to destruction with the lack of manpower to harvest it and from the heavy artillery being used by the army against the Taliban.


There is no deadline for the end of the army action, called “Operation Rahe-Rast” (The Correct Path), as it enters a crucial stage where the army is set to fight street by street to flush out the Taliban and their sympathizers. This sort of combat, fought in a guerrilla mode, takes time and patience. There is no way to set any timeline for the safe return of the IDPs, who are fleeing the Taliban and their atrocities and also the army action and heavy shelling. Many eye-witness reports suggest that their concerns are not so much with the wrongness or rightness of the stance taken by the Taliban, the populations of that area are mainly concerned with the restoration of their rights to fast and effective justice and economic prosperity that has been long denied to them. This is a fundamental reality that the government – any government – of Pakistan must recognize. Situations that w see unfolding today in Swat, Buner and other areas of the North Western Frontier regions, will not be wished away or bombed away. They have a potential to spread swiftly like bushfire to other parts of the country that have long and patiently faced severe economic malaise, deprivation and marginalization from mainstream economic growth and prosperity. These areas like Baluchistan and parts of rural Sindh, have long endured tall promises that have been woefully short on delivery by a succession of governments both democratically elected and military dictatorships.


There is a growing realization that if their basic problems like speedy justice, basic amenities, etc. are not met by the state, the people of neglected areas can turn to enlist the help of non-state actors who hold out the promise of seemingly fulfilling their aspirations.


The Zardari/Gilani government cannot afford to ignore the well-being of the nearly 2.5 million IDPs. It must ensure that their faith and confidence in the government is restored and that they can see themselves as equal participants within the state of Pakistan. This is indeed, as it is being labeled in most popular media, a war for the “hearts and minds” of these people. The responsibility of their welfare also rests on the civil society that has recently demonstrated its strength and determination in the restoration of the deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan and return the country to follow the path of strengthening the rule of law. The civil society must mobilize its resources and respond proactively to this humanitarian cause.


In certain quarters there is much criticism of the military action and the use of fire-power. There is a section in both within the country and internationally, that feel that this excessive use of force is uncalled for, and that mediation with the militants might be a better recourse and result in less human and material loss. The time for such negotiations and meditations has long past. The question of “negotiating” peace with non-state actors in itself poses fundamental problems. The act of negotiations in itself lends legitimacy to these groups and implies the weakness or failure of the state. Recent polls within Pakistan show that a healthy majority do wish to see the end to the growing influence and power of the Taliban and their supporters. There is a strong call for restoration of peace, law and order not only in FATA and the Frontier regions, but all over the country where there has been a sharp decline in the law and order situation. The question is not whether the use of force is correct or not, the need for such force is a reality that cannot be denied, for better or worse.


The onus on the government and military is to see this operation to its successful end and restore the confidence of not only the IDPs but the entire country. The routing-out of the Taliban and their cohorts has to be addressed definitively and decisively if the country wishes to resume its journey on the path of economic growth and prosperity. There are larger issues looming on the nation’s horizon – issues of economic growth and stability and navigating the country’s economy through the troubled economic waters of today; issues of negotiating an enduring peace with India which is crucial to any move towards economic growth and political stability of the South Asian Region; most importantly, there are unresolved issues of strengthening democratic institutions and processes, sowing the seeds for a just and equitable society to grow and prosper. The time to deal with these issues is now, so that the whole region can embark on a journey towards stability and harmony. The danger for Pakistan to become bogged down in a long drawn out guerrilla war with non-state actors, is great. It threatens the fundamental stability of the country that could implode as a possible fall-out.

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