Support IDPs wholeheartedly 

IDPs of NWABy S.M. Hali 

Operation Zarb-e-Azb has the backing of the entire nation. Every component of the Pakistani society, including the masses, political parties, media and opinion builders has fully upheld its support for the military operation against terrorists and their bases in NWA. The progress to-date on the full fledged military action based on air and ground attacks is encouraging despite hiccups in the political theatre with protest rallies stealing the limelight.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb is aimed at smashing the terrorists’ safe havens in NWA after moving the innocent civilians to IDP camps. Whereas the military operation may have been meticulously planned with all options and hypotheses having been taken into consideration, before the execution of the selected course of action but the civilian administration’s arrangement for the IDPs leaves a lot to be desired. Planning may have been made for providing shelter to the over half a million IDPs registered so far but the camps lie deserted since most of the displaced persons prefer to head for their relatives’ houses or rent temporary residences at exorbitant rates, if they can afford it. The reason for their refusal to inhabit the camps has a lot to do with the government’s obliviousness to local customs, traditions and mores. Some of the IDPs interviewed, state that women and children, could not be expected to live in a camp where there were no firm divisions to segregate them from outsiders. According to the strict social codes that govern life in Pakistan’s ultra-conservative tribal areas, the women are strictly purdah observing and would not be expected to face strangers let on dwell in the shelters, which offer little in terms of preserving their cultural sensitivity.

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A second dimension to this abstinence from the government provided shelters is the threats by the TTP to the local population of NWA to stay away from the military or government provided shelters and threatened to target those who take aid from the state, and especially from the military. The sway of the TTP is still mighty enough for the IDPs to take the threats seriously. Unfortunately, by remaining away from the designated IDP camps and staying with their relatives, the IDPs are not only stretching the limited resources of their benefactors but also endangering their relatives, friends and acquaintances to the danger lurking from terror attacks by the TTP.

The need of the hour is for the government is to redesign the IDP camps keeping tribal customs in mind as well as providing security to ensure that the camps do not become targets of the TTP. A number of miscreants tried to escape the dragnet by posing as IDPs. Some were apprehended but a few managed to trickle through the system and will strike at opportune moments.

One would expect the government to do everything in its power to make the lives of the IDPs as comfortable as possible. They have descended from the mountains and are likely to be in extreme discomfort of the heat in the plains especially in the holy month of Ramadan. It is imperative that the Pakistani nation, which is known for its benevolence, generosity and sense of being charitable, should come forward to support the IDPs. Philanthropists, political parties, NGOs and media houses, all have their work cut out to garner support for the plight of the IDPs. The exodus of the IDPs from NWA has not only added to their misery, but also exposed them to the vagaries of life, which is likely to be exploited by the terror mongers, the TTP. They will propagate that the Operation Zarb-e-Azb forced them out of the comfort of their homes, displacing them in the sizzling heat while the government did little to allay their problems and soothe their discomfort. Such misinformation can play on the fragile minds of the IDPs and enable their recruitment by the terrorists, negating the very spirit of the military operation, which is to combat terrorism and eradicate it from Pakistan. That is why it is essential to reach out to the IDPs in their hour of need and try and win their hearts and minds to make the military operation a success in the real terms.

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The IDPs require tents, food, drinking water, medicines, clothing, kitchen utensils, transportation and cash. Past experience with IDPs indicates that women and children require more support. Every effort must be made to allay their suffering. The shock and awe of the aerial attacks on the terrorist camps in NWA has caused serious trauma for the children. Along with material and physical support, mental care should be provided. Psychologists, who can help reduce the aftereffects of the trauma and shock should endeavour to provide support to the children. The nation as a whole must come forward to support the IDPs wholeheartedly for they have been fighting our war.