Hardships test the hidden and un-tested faculties of human beings but it turns into sufferings when they are imposed and forced against the will. The hardships of an adventurous Safari tour into the Arabian sands that presumably would bring joy to the traveler, undeniably incomparable with the suffering of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who might have bare-footed, loaded with household items, traveled under shadow of unpredictability of circumstances and loss of their property, honor and even life. Under any catastrophic situation, it becomes difficult to observe procedural requirements of executives due to weak institutional arrangements besides ignorance of victims. As per federal policy, more than 860,000 population had only three days, only during day light, to escape the wrath of jet fighters of Pakistan Air Force that aimed to curb the menace of militancy from North Waziristan Agency (NWA), tarnished for hosting militants from all around the world.
The people of NWA in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan are already correspondingly fearful and the left alone victim to decade long activities of die-hard fundamentalists, extremists and militants. Since the launch of operation Zarab-e-Azb against the militants in North Waziristan, official statistics reveals that more than 450,000 people have to become homeless ahead of a looming ground assault, with many reaching to the nearby district Bannu. Besides, many left their homes long before when the anecdote of failing of negotiations between the government and militants and resultantly expected military operation against militants roamed. The members of Jarga, who played their role in establishing cold-peace in North Waziristan refuse to meet Prime Minister, on his visit to camp for IDPs at Bannu, by agitating the policy of the government of commencing military operation before the declared deadline. Malik Gull Ramazan, the head of North Waziristan Jarga states, ‘we were given 15 days by the political administration to expel all the militant from the area, but the operation initiated before time’ leaving a little for negotiation or for people to evict’.
Despite the towering claims of authorities to support the dilemma of these tribal IDPs, who travelled from Mirali to Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and other adjoining districts, is unspeakable. They suffer between the devil and the deep see. ‘It’s not the first time, people of FATA displaced, social structures shattered, children starved, women unveiled and vulnerable die; it’s all happening in FATA for last one decade’, referring to the situation after previous military operations and militant activities, Fazal Saeed, an experienced social worker from Bajaur expounded on this situation. Nearly 37,000 families underwent registration process at exist points from North Waziristan. To receive the relief package announced by federal government and other aid agencies, being distributed with the assistance of Pakistan Army and World Food Program (WFP), these IDPs need verification of registration by National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA).
The observation at one of the food distribution points camped at a football stadium in Bannu depicts the sorry state of affairs of the people standing outside the camp, waiting for their turn to receive ‘relief package’. It was a hot day with 37 degree Celsius. People arrived from North Waziristan, where maximum temperature generally do not rise up to 30 Celsius have been standing for more than 8 hours in a messy-tight row ‘to be examined’ before receiving relief items. Imtiaz Gull Khan displaced and became homeless from North Waziristan registered as an IDP on June 22, 2014 cannot receive relief items only because he lacks NADRA verification of his earlier registration as an IDP. Azan Khan, another IDP in a queue with hope to receive food items for his family is returned by the military personnel at gate of the camp with the direction to ‘come again after two days’ because he does not have registration at all.
Azan Khan left his home with his family prior to the initiation of registration process, fearing the expected fight between militants and military. The conservative estimate shows that more than 40% among standing in queue cannot get ‘relief items’ because of their missing documents or lacking identity verification. “People have to prove they are human, to get necessary things to survive like water, food, shelters”, said an IDP while standing in queue. Hardly there is any organization works, outside the camp, to guide these tribal people to go through this ‘identity’ problem, fatal for their families to survive against ruthless weather and distribution process. Averring the agonies of travel from their homes to safe places, a tribal elder stated that 28 children died on way, what to talk about cattle and other belongings. A transporter who travelled some 30 kilometers between Mirali to Saidgai providing transport facility to the people, ‘witnessed’ a woman giving birth to child helplessly by road side. Many among the IDPs tell horrific stories happened during their travel. They all reach with the only hope to receive help from their relatives in settled districts, aid from the humanitarian agencies and relief packages announced by the government. It shatters and creates distress, disillusionment, and mistrust on the authorities when an IDP, who has already suffered a lot, cannot get even food because one lacks identity.
The presence of humanitarian wings of the political parties seem of a little help to alleviate the suffering of these displaced people. The camp established by National Youth Organization, having political views of Awami National Party, at Bannu outside the food distribution point with a slogan to help IDPs from North Waziristan was empty; though their facebook page has a cover photo with the title, ‘help, support the IDPs of N. Waziristan’. Cold water for IDPs was available at a camp having flags of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI); needless to mention that coverless water tank have a few insects in it. The workers of the US termed terror organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, distributing cooked rice, packed in plastic bags right at the gate of distribution point guarded by law enforcement agencies.
Inside the camp relief items were being distributed by two camps managed by WFP and Pak Army. Irrespective of statistics, huge pile of editable items are present at the distribution points. The relief items contains logos of Government of Pakistan, AusAID, USAID and Pak Army. Interesting, journalists were neither allowed to cover the food distribution in the Bannu Sports complex nor in the camp established to host IDPs’.
Outside the food distribution point, when IDPs form a queue peacefully with self-help, the scene was of no significance for the same media that covers live every gesture, word and demand uttered by a dramatic Qadri. The two media personnel who were covering the grief of these poor faultless people who suffer due others’ sins, actually belonged to North Waziristan and their families were among the affectees.
It is noticeable that only a limited number (18) families opted to live in IDPs camp established at Bannu. The hot weather and culturally unaccepted atmosphere of the camp forced majority of the IDPs to move to their relatives and other host communities.
People of Pakistan have to suffer many a times natural as well as man-made calamities especially after 2005 Earthquake. Resultantly disaster management authorities have been established and the state has now enough experience to deal with such emergency situation. Repetition of similar mistakes that state authorities make pastes questions’ upon their credit, capacity and credibility. In the persisting situation, the state authorizes are well aware that they would have to host nearly 860,000 displaced people, though official statistics are relatively less. National and international humanitarian are also pledging to support IDPs in this crisis. Marie Harf, the US State Department Spokesperson says that, “We’ve long supported Pakistani efforts to extend their writ of government throughout their country and to increase internal stability.” The spokesperson comments on the issue of IDPs that “We stand ready to assist the IDPs in any way we can,” Shahid Afridi, Pakistan cricket legend plans a Twenty20 match to raise money for the displaced people of Waziristan.
All such efforts to support the suffering humanity is appreciated and applauded. The ardent need of the hour is to provide edible items, live saving drugs and shelter without any further delay by relaxing the registration process and opening more distribution points along with providing timely guidance and awareness to these mostly illiterate tribal people in the process of seeking relief.
The author holds MS degree in Development Studies and is an advocate by profession.