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The battle for hearts and minds



By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, July 25, 2014


The army, the federal government and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government should devise a centralized coordination and distribution mechanism for the IDPs

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, three major stakeholders – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Army find themselves caught in an unprecedented point-scoring contest over the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from North Waziristan. This also underscores absence of willingness to work jointly for a national cause even in crisis.

The army, beside its anti-terrorist drive through Mir Ali, Miranshah and Boya sub-districts, is also busy in manning the entry points as well as relief and cash distribution centres in and around Bannu. It is also mobilizing food supplies on its own as part of an effort to win hearts and minds.

But the real competition is between the federal and the provincial Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, which is doling out Rs 8,000 for every IDP family. The federal government has offered a package worth Rs 32,000 (this includes a special Ramzan package too that would be valid only until the end of the fasting month), while the Punjab government – the younger Sharif didn’t want to be left behind – has chipped in with Rs 7,000 each.

An additional incentive is the 80kg of wheat per family plus other items such as edible oil, sugar and rice being distributed by the World Food Programme. Other UN-affiliated agencies are also active, though other national and international NGOs have so far not been allowed to get involved in the relief work altogether.

Cash compensation has, however, turned out to be biggest incentive for residents of North Waziristan.

On the face of it, all three stakeholders attribute this to their commitment to the helpless and hapless IDPs.

These payments are being made through mobile phones after verification of the IDPs through the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA). NADRA uses the national identity card to electronically verify the existence of the IDP. Additional NADRA mobile registration units were also rushed to Bannu to a) provide electronic national identity cards to those male and female IDPs who did not have one, and b) verify the IDPs through national identity cards.

Over four weeks since the operation got underway the authorities have yet to devise a joint mechanism for registration, verification, and information on compensation.

Because of apparent anomalies, the entire registration process came to a halt mid July when the numbers of IDPs from North Waziristan soared to nearly a million, a figure disputed by many (the population of North Waziristan, according to 1998 census, was close to half a million).

Field visits to Bannu, one of the twenty-four districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and a gateway to North Waziristan, reveal disturbing facts. Its population stood at 677,346 (according to 1998 census), and may well be over a million. Bannu is approximately 192km south of Peshawar. It borders North Waziristan to the northwest, Karak to the northeast, Lakki Marwat to the southeast and South Waziristan to the southwest.

This southern district is already stressed, restive and poorly-equipped with health and education infrastructure. For almost one million people today, there are only about three major hospitals – all of them under-equipped to deal with a population that has officially doubled up with the influx of the IDPs.

Now the additional, realistically half a million, IDPs are likely to add to the social, economic and administrative strains that the city is already facing.

That is why complaints of multiple registrations, delays and irregularities in cash payments, particularly by private cellular company outlets, and lack of coordination among federal and provincial government agencies accompany the ongoing relief operations.

Cash payments through mobile phones for instance, is confusing for the IDPs, many of whom are not familiar with the technology. During the day they receive multiple messages for compensation from National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), and FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA).

Complaints of inadequate shelter for IDPs, particularly women who have opted to take shelter with friendly families rather than living in camps abound.

Diseases (diarrhea, sun-stroke, dehydration etc) among the IDPs, in children in particular because of sweltering heat are on the rise. The provincial government is dispatching doctors and paramedics from other districts to reinforce services but local medical officials complained that such teams must spend at least two weeks at a stretch there rather than coming on a flying visit of a few days.

The military operation has affected a number of senior students who were in the middle of their exams. Tens of thousands others, who were about to enroll themselves in colleges, had to move out of North Waziristan and are now waiting for education opportunities.

During an interview in Bannu, Abdul Khalil, Chairman, and Nisar Ali Khan, the president of the Committee of the Affected (Anjuman-e-Mutaasireen North Waziristan), conceded that the number of people registered was bloated due to multiple registrations.

Although the operations were restricted to just three of the eleven sub-districts of North Waziristan, people from all over the region as well as those settled elsewhere have also flocked to Bannu for registration.

Khan and Khalil admitted that even those residents of North Waziristan who had left the region long ago and settled in other parts of Pakistan such as Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, have also rushed to Bannu to get themselves enrolled as IDPs.

That is why the government has for the time being halted the registration process until a complete electronic verification of those already present in and around Bannu.

Abdul Samad, President of Teachers’ Association, confirmed having met people as IDPs who still live in NW but have rushed for registration in anticipation of getting cash and food. “We have seen people from villages next to Bannu and even those from Karachi and Islamabad who have come here to get registered,” he said.

Officials and school teachers told the CRSS round-table about the existence of about 1,200 schools and colleges in North Waziristan. The region also has one girls college and two boys colleges.

Displacement, said Professor Fazal Rehman, is an extremely serious setback to education in North Waziristan. All students need to resume their studies as soon as possible, he said.

The presence of Taliban and frequent curfews in the last few years have already had a disruptive impact on education, Abdul Samad, a local teacher pointed out.

Liaqat Ali, an IDP from North Waziristan, argued that a lot of people may have gone for registration “because the Army had urged that all those who belonged to North Waziristan should get registered.”

He pointed out that because of unpreparedness, confused approach and uncoordinated cash compensation from multiple sources (federal, provincial, FATA, and Army) have prompted many from North Waziristan to line up for cash and food. This, he said, deprived the deserving people of the help.

With goodwill and commitment, all the stakeholders, including the federal and provincial governments and the Army, could have done much better through a centralized coordination and distribution mechanism for the IDPs.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk