The ‘other side’ of the existential war | Pakistan Today

The ‘other side’ of the existential war

The balm to sooth the wounds of the IDPs


The budget for FY2015-2016 once again threw the spotlight on the war on terror and its collateral damage i.e., Zarb-e-Azb and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). While the operation itself got another Rs 45 billion, the IDPs were luckier at more than twice that amount with Rs 100 billion. The interesting part is how the IDPs were allotted a budget two times the size of the war itself.

Safdar Dawar, the general secretary of the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ) spoke to Pakistan Today about the year that’s gone by for the IDPs. “It wasn’t supposed to last this long. When the people were rounded up to be moved to camps they were told they were going for two weeks… and it’s been more than a year now,” he said.

More than a million IDPs were borne of the Zarb-e-Azb operation. “They want nothing except to go home,” Dawar said wistfully and added, “According to the ISPR more than 80 per cent of the areas have been cleared, so why can’t these people go home?” he asked.

When the IDPs first settled into the camps they were told that they would be given cash, food, educational and health facilities. Only after a short while, all these promises began to fall apart.

Hurmat Ali Shah, a researcher whose family was affected during the 2009 Swat operation, has worked in IDP camps as a volunteer. He sums up the problems being faced by the IDPs in one sweep, “Bearing with the summer in the open, water scarcity for bathing, consumption, etc, long queues for collecting food – which given the size and inadequate utensils that an IDP family has is not enough, general hygiene problems, shelters are not proper, a lot of load shedding in camps, lack of health facilities, no education or schooling for children, sub-standard quality of food, and so on,” he says sardonically.

Muhammad Rasool, a journalist who worked closely with the IDPs, says that a great humanitarian crisis is at play and the casualties are numerous. “The people that are registered with the government get help and the others get nothing,” he said.

“When the people were first shifted to these areas their children were told to go to government schools that were not really close to the camps. The Bannu area is mountainous itself and those tents have been settled into literal mountains. Most children are not getting any access to education, and the ones that do have access are learning nothing,” Rasool told Pakistan Today.

“Youngsters attend a college that has no teachers and study on their own. The only time they see an educator is when time comes for them to be given their exams, after that they either pass or fail,” he said.

The healthcare facilities are no better. “Three months after the operation began the hospitals began to improve but since then things have gone downhill. Children have been dying because of either lack of healthcare or extremely poor quality healthcare – the issues being faced by women are another issue altogether,” he lamented.

But what of the promises the government made?

“What promises? Their tents are too hot and they only have one fan. Do you think they can survive in such conditions? The children have no shoes, they roam around barefoot. The conditions are worse than a slum,” Rasool exclaimed.

The government has said that it will provide aid to those that return to find their homes entirely destroyed. “They are saying that around Rs 300,000-Rs 400,000 will be given to people who have lost their homes. Just a gate costs that much in that area, how are people supposed to rebuild an entire home?” he asked.

Rasool spoke at length about the markets and businesses in Miran Shah. The area supposedly had goods worth billions when people were evacuated for the operation. “But we’re now hearing reports that all of it has been bulldozed,” he said.

Dawar reiterated Rasool’s claims. “Miran Shah is in ruins. That place didn’t have thousands or millions worth of goods, it had billions. All of that is gone, we have no idea what happened to those the things in the markets there. The homes that these people want to return to, the lives that they want to return to, may be found flattened,” he said.

When the people were first shifted to these areas their children were told to go to government schools that were not really close to the camps. The Bannu area is mountainous itself and those tents have been settled into literal mountains

The reality is that the families that are desperate to return to their homes might find nothing when they get there. “The actual fact is that the area they have to return to have no homes and no businesses. Everything is gone. They pulled out in such a hurry that they had made no provisions to bring more things along. A lot of people left most of their valuables back home,” Rasool said, before adding, “No matter how much money you can come up with how will you substantiate all these people?”

The money trail

Since the last four to six months the designated money that was meant to be distributed as a stipend has been stopped without a word from the government. This is despite a substantial influx of aid for the IDPs, and promises made by the government repeatedly that they will be taken care of.

But few know where the aid comes from and where it goes. “IDPs have no concept of aid and have no idea where it comes from, who is using it and where it is going,” Rasool informed.

“They get two things, the Rs 12,000 which they haven’t been given since the last few months, and free treatment, which hasn’t been given to them. They were also promised free education – which is but a joke,” he said.

“All of the money [from aid] does not go to benefit them. The money is shown to be providing for the food etc, but the cash which is required for the people is never provided and their income sources have been cut, imagine living without money for a year,” Shah said speaking of his experience in the camps.

He points out that getting the numbers may not be as simple as it sounds. “The rehabilitation process is led by army, so one can’t ask them how much have they spent on actual rehabilitation and how much on their operation. Money given to the returning families for reconstructing their homes is too low, in case of Swat it was Rs 400,00 for a completely demolished house. How can a person re-build a house of seven to eight rooms with that money?” he exclaimed.

“Moreover, the income generation for the returnees in not something anyone is even thinking of. Swat got a lot of attention which helped it only a little bit – in this case there is no such hue and cry. In the case of NWA, where displacement has become a routine matter, no one will think of how they, the returnees, can have an income. When they return they’ll be given a few thousand rupees… and that’s it,” he said.

Dawar feels that the situation  just needs a little bit of an effort.

“A lot of money has been ‘set aside’ for the IDPs. Even the annual development program has money for the IDPs. The Rs 100 billion fund in the budget is just another addition. But it needs to be spent on things that can help,” he said, and the IDPs already know on what: “Time and time again the people here have asked for educational and health facilities to no avail,” he added.

“All the elders of the tribal areas and the people of these areas want basic health, educational and infrastructure facilities. Yes, the Rs 100 billion would be more than enough. If they use even 50 per cent of it things would improve here – but they won’t,” he said.

On whether he feels that the whopping Rs100 billion allocation in the budget will make a difference, he said, “Pakistan doesn’t have many stories of good things happening to people, I don’t see anything heading in the IDPs direction either.”

“We have been investigating why the foreign funds that are sent for the people here never reach them,” he said while explaining the mystery of where the funds go.

Rasool pointed out a key problem in the entire scenario. “There is no IDP committee which can scrutinise such funds, no watchdog who knows what is happening with them. What should have been done is that the IDPs should have been put in control to some extent,” he suggested as a means to bring in some transparency.

“Even people like us, who follow the news, don’t know where this money has gone or what it was used for, so what would the IDPs know?” he asked. “Dollars do come in, but by the time they reach the IDPs they aren’t even as valuable as a rupee,” he added.

A voice from the inside

A source from within the government spoke to Pakistan Today about what goes on in the IDP camps. After the work that he’s done, the source expects very little that’s positive for the IDPs.

“For the past four to six months they’ve really been given no money,” he confirmed. “Originally the army had a food distribution setup but that was abolished and they were given cylinders to work with and they’re surviving on that. The only food they have is basic things like wheat, pulses and oil, etc,” he said.

“The living conditions are terrible, there are no washrooms, the population is too high and the facilities provided aren’t nearly enough,” he added.

The area is known to attract NGOs that are willing to lend a helping hand. The source feels that they, too, are completely useless, at addressing the core issues being faced by the people in the camps. “They keep working on what they think are ‘gradual improvements’ and their efforts are below anything that is required. For instance, they will distribute a few towels amongst the people and pretend that it’s a huge step forward… that doesn’t really help,” he said.

The government official doesn’t know where the aid goes, either. “There is no real output to show for all that aid. No one knows where the money is going, I don’t see it being used anywhere to help people here. The aid is a big question mark,” the source said.

Just like Swat, these people too will be given small funds and sent on their way. “I think they’ll be given Rs 15,000 for transportation and another Rs 10,000 as token money. And food for about six months will be given to them,” he said and added that the repatriation process will take around two years to complete according to the official schedule.

“Very few families have gone away,” he said and added: “The problem is that people when they go there, due to security reasons and other problems they aren’t able to move around freely. They get stuck in the places that they go back to.”

Meanwhile, the government’s attitude over the situation doesn’t help. And where there’s governmental involvement, corruption seems to soon follow – the camps are unfortunately no different.

“There’s the PDMA and the FDMA, now they’ve even started asking for money to register people. They’ve started asking people for Rs 18,000 as ‘fee’ to register people in the Bannu camps. So corruption doesn’t care about IDPs,” he said sarcastically.

On whether he feels that the whopping Rs 100 billion allocation in the budget will make a difference, he said, “Pakistan doesn’t have many stories of good things happening to people, I don’t see anything heading in the IDPs direction either.”

However, trouble maybe just around the corner. Protests and anger have started to become a recurring theme at the camps. Darwar said that the situation needs to be tackled properly and people need to be allowed to go back home.

“The youth has been protesting for the conditions that they have been subjected to. They’ve been given a timeframe over and over again after which they will be sent back to their areas, however, after each lapse nothing happens,” Dawar said.

Whether the Rs 100 billion will be the balm to sooth the wounds of the war torn IDPs is yet to be ascertained. What’s clear, however, is that the year they have spent in camps was no less than one spent in hostile captivity.