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Who will bell the cat ? And How ?

Here are three pieces published in daily ‘The News’. These represent a cross section of views. Although they discuss the problem of Swat Operation and IDPs from different perspective, the common theme is ‘What needs to be done and how it should be done?’. However no one clearly comes up with the answer to the question ‘Who’ needs to do this. And if the government is failing, as they all say or imply, how the hell are we going to change this?

Is any one listening? Who will bell the cat?

On the other side of despair. by Ali Asghar Khan, 

No escape from hell by Noreen Haider    and     

Winning the peace by Dr Maleeha Lodhi

On the other side of despair. by Ali Asghar Khan

“Where does one go from a world of insanity? Somewhere on the other side of despair.” –T S Elliot

Amidst the insanity, the brutality, hate and intolerance, there remains an overwhelming desire for peace and security. In the face of daunting issues and powerful actors, many may doubt their ability to contribute to change and question the relevance of making an effort. The importance of raising citizen concerns individually or collectively for creating checks and balances is greater now than ever before. We as citizens must demand that the manner in which we resolve our problems reflects our reality and our interests. For ordinary citizens to abdicate this role under the present circumstances is simply suicidal.

Hypocrisy, fast becoming a national pastime, should no longer be tolerated. It must be exposed. Despite slow progress, if efforts continue for the establishment of a tolerant, equitable and just society, opportunities for change will definitely appear. There should be no doubt that the use of force, exerted by hordes or by the state, to define the national agenda is not an option. This must be resisted. The ruling elite must lead through example and sacrifice — the people will respond.

The nation today needs to feel that it is at least heading in the right direction on the long road to recovery. Ironically, most of our leaders have been found sadly lacking the will to engage with and guide the nation. Emotionalism and adventurism have been their tools using imageries of hate and destruction rather than tolerance, peace and development to motivate people.

Admittedly, in an environment of terror where the scale of exploitation and injustice is so great, it is not easy to focus on the causes rather than the symptoms. But with creativity, the issues that are causing the rupture of our social fabric can be expressed effectively so that people sit up and take notice. The lawyers’ movement over a two-year period proved this point effectively and rekindled hope. It brought back images of the nation uniting and responding to the daunting challenges it faced following the 2005 earthquake.

The spirit of sacrifice following that natural disaster was not fully tapped. By using parallel military-dominated structures the government missed an extraordinary opportunity to engage citizens in rehabilitation efforts. Even those that were directly affected were neither consulted nor heard. The begging bowl was brought out and policies, some to the detriment of survivors, were adopted on the advice of those not familiar with ground realities. After more than three years, survivors of the quake continue their daily struggles and many aspire for justice from the pain inflicted by unresponsive and cumbersome policies.

The present anarchy is an even greater challenge. Unlike the earthquake it may not allow an opportunity to pick up the pieces. If we as citizens across classes, political affiliations and ethnicity choose not to respond adequately, the hate and terror may not subside and the after-shocks may be felt for generations. Effective measures must be taken immediately.

The agonizing condition of those displaced by the ongoing armed conflict suggests that adequate arrangements were not in place for the anticipated exodus. And the displaced appear luckier than those still in the war zone left to face the consequences of a battle that is not of their making.
It appears that mistakes are being repeated. Yet again a parallel structure, the Special Support Group headed by a serving general has sprung up, side-lining existing governance mechanisms. In Mardan alone, there are nearly 1,000 female and male councillors. They have better knowledge of the situation and also have access to data. More importantly, they are accountable to their constituents. Many are making Herculean efforts despite limited resources to reach people and provide relief.

The government must respond, facilitate, and capacitate them. Make the union council offices the hub of activity, of collection and distribution. Give them assistance not only with relief but in terms of staffing and equipment. These are the investments that will and should remain to serve the area, its people and their guests. Instead of distributing food from centralized locations which not only create long queues and hardships for families, especially those headed by women, each union council should have its own distribution point. Accountability mechanism must of course be put in place and a monitoring agency established to confirm correct distribution. Exemplary punishments for corrupt acts and practices must be imposed. The writ of the state established in a manner that is meant to serve, not control, its people.

We need to prepare for the return of these families to their own homes and the structures of governance must be in place to respond to the situation that they will find themselves in. To rely on the military to play more than a supporting role to the civilian administration and governance structures will be self-defeating. We need to establish practices of good governance, ensure justice, and keep a strict control on exploitation and corruption. We must focus our attention on the affected areas and their surroundings. The law enforcement personnel must be selected carefully and be accountable. We have a shining example of the motorway police that proves that this is possible. The courts must be easily accessible and must work under emergency conditions. All respondents must be treated equally and special procedures set up for the more vulnerable. Provision of services, in terms of infrastructure, health and education must be put on the fast track and opportunities for livelihood created.

This must start today with the structures of governance and systems planned and put in place almost like a government in exile. All the government departments put on high alert to develop their strategies and to identify their teams. The government departments whether it is the police, the PWD, water and sanitation departments, public health, social welfare and so on must be asked to develop their response on a scale that is appropriate to the situation. The local government institutions must be brought on board, their strengths and weaknesses understood and measures should be in place to start work even before the families begin to return. Rather than asking people to return now, the advance party of the civil machinery must set up the systems needed to receive these families and respond to their issues prior to their arrival.

History teaches us that most tragedies develop where inequities exist. Inequities that lead to expression of rage and are exploited by vested interests. It is these underlying causes that we as a nation must seek to address through a more equitable model of development. It is time to raise questions, to debate issues, and to collectively define a new social order. The nation must set it goals, draw timelines; decide its own strategy. These decisions must not take place behind closed doors or in foreign capitals, influenced by the strategic interest of others. It should be developed in consultation with the people.

The way forward is not through exclusion, but through creating spaces for the marginalized andopportunities for them to interact with the state. The process of consultation needs to be empowering, the dialogue effective and the patron-client attitude discarded for a more equal expression of roles and responsibilities. We as citizens must get involved in the process. We must focus on better governance, access to information, and on accountability. We must question the use of resources and the manner in which the poor in our nation finance the privileges of the rich. We must review our foreign policy, question the rationale of aid and its utilization, the military’s budget, and, its role and relationship to a democratic dispensation.

The alternative to questioning and debate is to wait for conducive conditions that may in their own course bring about the changes we most yearn. History has repeatedly proven that these conditions seldom appear — they need to be created. Today, as citizens we need to go to the other side of despair, to create our spaces and most of all make sure that we are heard.

No escape from hell by Noreen Haider

Despite the clear indications of the oncoming crisis of mass exodus, which was but a logical result of a full-scale military operation in Malakand Division and adjoining areas, the government, as always, had the most sluggish response for any preparedness in its wake. The now exposed National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had nothing but empty words to offer and tried to underplay the crisis. The redundant Authority had four years to organise themselves, not to mention millions of dollars, but it is a great mystery as to why they still have a handful of staff, mostly clerical, and no real organisational or operational capacity. They have not been able to establish either the provincial or district disaster-management authorities they were supposed to set up and make them functional to form a viable and effective disaster-management system in the country.

In a country like Pakistan, facing many challenges like conflicts, violence, extremism, natural disasters and mass exodus of people from conflict zones this inertia from NDMA is inexcusable.

As an obvious result of the lethargy of the governments the IDPs started pouring in at an alarming rate in Mardan, Swabi, Peshawar, Nowshera and other districts before anyone was remotely prepared to receive them. The rest is the same story of ad hoc administration, piecemeal solutions and very inadequate management regarding the IDPs, both in camp and off camp. The Provincial Relief Commissioners and the DCOs were given the task of managing the IDPs, setting up camps with the help of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and handling the relief goods arriving from different sources. This task turned out to be way beyond their limited capacities and understandably resulted in chaos and eventual rifts between the DCOs and the District Nazims mainly on distribution of relief items.

After the poor response of the NDMA the prime minister constituted a Special Support Group to manage the operation regarding the IDPs headed by Gen Nadeem Ahmed. Later the minister for information and broadcasting was made the focal person by the government to steer the process of IDP management and coordinate its various aspects, as well as the working of the various actors involved in crisis-management, including international aid agencies and the UN.

So now there are a variety of departments, organisations and agencies working for IDP management. There is the SSG, the ministry of information and broadcasting, the ministry of states and frontier regions, the UNHCR, the WEF, UNICEF, the provincial governments, district governments and the Emergency Response Units set up by the NWFP government’s Provincial Relief Commissionerate.
The task of registration of the IDPs is also being done by four different agencies. In the NWFP the ministry of social welfare is doing the registration of off-camp IDPs and the Afghan Commissionerate is doing the registration of in-camp IDPs with the assistance of the UNHR.

In Punjab the UNHCR is doing the registration of off-camp IDPs through partner organisations which are local NGOs, namely, SACH and SHARP. SACH is doing registration in Rawalpindi and Attock and SHARP is doing it in Lahore and other districts. Other than the UNHCR the Punjab government is doing its own registration of IDPs through the Special Branch and the Police. (Needless to say, the data collected by the two sources does not tally at all.) According to UNHCR officials they are registering IDPs who came after July 2008, but there is no definitive mechanism to ensure that. NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) is doing the verification of the registration to prevent duplication and triplication.

Other than all these agencies the interior ministry and the home departments of the provincial governments are dealing with the security issues arising out of the mass influx in various districts.

The federal government is yet to announce the policy regarding the IDPs or to come up with any proposed plan for the three phases of disaster management. Federal information minister Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira has announced Rs25,000 per family but has not given any date for the commencement of actual distribution. As for the policy decisions, there have been conflicting statements of various federal ministers regarding the movement, registration and camp facilities for the internally displaced people. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has announced that the IDPs outside the NWFP will not be part of the relief package announced by the government in the short or medium term, but the minister of information and broadcasting has encouraged the IDPs to travel across the country and accommodate themselves wherever they please. It is a very important that the IDPs should be given clear and precise message and a single policy be adopted to be applied uniformly.

The WFP is the lead agency responsible for food procurement and distribution both on- and off-camp to the IDPs, but as of now there is no food being prepared in the camps because community kitchens have not been set up by the UNHCR. The food given in the camps is being catered by private contractors and the bills footed by the NWFP government. The wheat flour and other food items being sent by Punjab government are not yet being used for cooking in the camps.

The UNHCR is the lead agency for camp setting and distribution of non food items, NFIs both in and off camps. They have set up twenty three camps in NWFP which are now being managed by the NWFP government. The non-food items have been distributed to camp residents including jerry cans, utensils, mats, buckets and soap, but it has not started distribution of these NFIs to the larger off-camp IDP population. (The standard package contains the items needed by camp residents, but one wonders if the off-camp families need the same things on priority. All the items are locally purchased.) The UNHCR representative informed that the reason the distribution has not started for off-camp IDPs was that they had to have a critical mass of items before starting actual distribution which now they have and will start distribution soon.

There is very little coordination among the various agencies and provincial governments working for the IDPs. There is still a huge shortfall of the items actually required by the IDPs, especially those off-camp and their host families, but no one seems to have any exact data regarding that. There is some estimation from the Emergency Response Unit in Peshawar which they have posted on their website, but as that is not regularly updated there is no way of knowing the met requirements and the remaining shortfall. The Punjab government received a request for 10,000 pedestal fans but after dispatching 7,000 of them it again received the request after a week. This is an indicator of mismanagement and lack of coordination.

The UN aid agencies had requested $500 million from the international community in their donors’ conference but as yet they have received around $24 million. The federal government has also announced a sum of RsI0 billion for the IDPs but it is yet not clear as to where and how this money is going to be spent. There is also no information as to how much of that fund is already been spent if any and who exactly is authorised for the disbursement of that fund. There is also no planning for the actual spending.

One of the much neglected areas is the special needs of the newborn babies in the camps and their mothers. Temperatures in the camps is rising beyond 43 degree Celsius and it is heartbreaking that infants are forced to stay in appalling conditions unbearable even for adults. The government should pay urgent attention to the special needs of mothers and children, immediately shift them to better accommodation and provide them special care until they are able to return to their homes. UNICEF is the lead agency for mother-and-child healthcare and they should do better than this.

The response from the general public has remained lukewarm for a number of reasons but for people who want to help there is no information regarding the prioritised needs of IDPs. An awareness raising and educational campaign is urgently required for sending the right message to the public regarding relief.

Winning the peace by Dr Maleeha Lodhi

A spate of terrorist bombings has rocked the country in the past week. A day after the devastating attack in the heart of Lahore, multiple explosions followed in Peshawar’s historic Qissa Khawani bazaar and D.I. Khan. This wave of violent reprisals was widely anticipated in the wake of the increasingly effective month-old military operation in Swat.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was quick to take responsibility for the Lahore atrocity that targeted a police centre and an intelligence agency’s offices, claiming over 20 lives while leaving hundreds of people injured. Baitullah Mehsud’s deputy and Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud announced that the attack was in retaliation for the Swat operation. He vowed further attacks on government targets in other Punjab cities and Islamabad and warned residents to evacuate these urban centres.

The terrorist backlash is principally aimed at draining public support for the army offensive in Swat, even though it may have other objectives. The violent effort by militants to take the war to the country’s urban heartland indicates a number of possibilities:
a) That the bombings are acts of desperation reflecting the inability of the TTP to help its militant allies in the combat zone, in the face of the military’s use of massive fire power and its effective closure of supply routes into Malakand Division.

b) The terrorist attacks represent an effort to reduce pressure on the militants in Swat by widening the theatre of conflict.

c) The bombings aim to raise the stakes in order to deter the widely anticipated military action against Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan.

d) By upping the ante in the Punjab heartland the TTP wants to create a high impact while escalating and enhancing the “costs” of the Swat operation.

The retaliatory actions may well be seeking to achieve a combination of these aims. But central to all these objectives is to rattle the political and military establishments, weaken national resolve and erode public support for the anti-militancy campaign. The national leadership has responded appropriately, restating its commitment to stay the course. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has said the campaign will be taken to its logical end. Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has reiterated the army’s resolve to “defeat those out to destabilize the country”, and declared that the country will not be terrorized by such actions.

The public reaction, so far, indicates that the anti-Taliban sentiment is solidifying rather than fragmenting. The consensus behind the fight against militancy is holding, while the bloody mayhem in Lahore and the Frontier is reinforcing public anger at the wanton violence unleashed by the militants. For now it is the militants who are losing hearts and minds. If fear and ambivalence dictated the public mood before, outrage at the excesses of the militants appears to define it for now.

But public opinion can be fragile in the weeks ahead. The broad consensus that has emerged over the past month could fray under the mounting pressure of a prolonged bombing campaign of urban centres, accompanied by levels of disruption that can test the public’s patience. Fear and war-weariness can trump the public will to resist the militants. This makes it necessary for the government to complement its statements of resolve with political outreach to maintain and consolidate the consensus as it comes under increasing strain.
By spreading its terror tactics to the cities, the TTP has thrown down the gauntlet to the authorities. This presents the country’s security managers with the choice of either opting for a defensive or an offensive response. The former is evident in the tightening of security in major cities but a weak police and civilian intelligence apparatus sets sharp limits on this approach to deter further attacks, which can be expected to continue. An offensive response would involve striking at the TTP in its stronghold. But before securing Swat and consolidating control of Bajaur this response would risk military overstretch with all its attendant risks. The timing for opening another front would have to be determined very carefully by weighing several military and political considerations. They would include an accurate assessment of Mehsud’s capabilities and on whether his efforts to forge a broader front with other militants are foundering or gaining ground. A critical factor in this evaluation would be whether public opinion will support the expansion of military engagement into another, bloodier theatre of combat.

While these policy options are being weighed, the need to stiffen and sustain the public resolve will remain the key to defeating militancy. It cannot be assumed that the widespread antipathy towards militants will continue to translate into unshakeable support for the army operation. Fear and panic can inject a dynamic that can undermine the public determination to confront the Taliban in an unfortunate repeat of the past. The country’s leadership has to brace itself and also steel the public determination to withstand the shock waves of more urban violence by the militants.

Much will of course depend on the Swat operation being able to attain the core goal of disabling the top leadership of the Swat Taliban. This may not be quick or easy as these leaders appear to have escaped to hard-to-access mountainous hideouts. So long as these militant commanders remain at bay it will be difficult to reverse the climate of fear and insecurity that prevails even in the areas that have been cleared. Only by neutralizing the top leaders can a decisive blow be delivered to the strategic centre of the militant threat. This will create a demonstration effect that reverberates beyond Malakand, undermine the morale of the TTP and significantly diminish the space for militant activity.

Overall, sustainable success in Malakand has to be construed in civilian-governance rather than in military terms. The biggest question mark still relates to civilian capacity. With virtually no possibility of assembling or mobilizing a civilian ‘surge’ to fill the vaccum in the post-operation phase, an emergency or interim structure will have to be devised that can be expeditiously installed once the region has been cleared of militants
Tough challenges will be posed by the post-conflict situation. The battle zone has witnessed intense war fighting on a scale unprecedented in the region’s history, dislocating close to 3 million people and leaving more than 80 soldiers and over 1,200 militants dead. This adds up to a toxic environment of vast devastation, broken infrastructure and a shattered economy. To repatriate the internally displaced persons (IDPs) back to their homes will be an extraordinary task. To resettle them in an environment where basic services are functioning and law enforcement is assured will be an even greater challenge. The situation cannot realistically be expected to normalize so easily or speedily in the aftermath of so much destruction and disruption.

For these reasons and, in the absence of a viable civilian arrangement that can be fashioned in the near term, the army may have to prepare itself to remain in Swat longer than it may wish to. Establishing a cantonment in Mingora for a permanent presence in the heart of the region to prevent the return of militants and insure a secure environment for the residents of Swat now appears inevitable. This will allow time for the envisaged recruitment and training of the special 10,000 strong police force that can gradually take charge of law enforcement. This is expected to be mostly drawn from retired service personnel (estimated to be around 3 million soldiers).

The political and military challenges ahead are daunting but the effectiveness of governance arrangements in the war-torn valley of Swat will determine ultimate success. This will require a comprehensive plan, not a patchwork, ad hoc, fire-fighting response. Without this, winning the peace will prove elusive.

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