Pakistan’s IDP Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities

Pakistan’s IDP Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities

Asia Briefing N°93
3 June 2009

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In the wake of a conceptually flawed peace agreement, the Taliban takeover of large parts of Malakand division, subsequent military action in the area, almost three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled to camps, homes, schools and other places of shelter across Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). The challenge for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government and international actors is to make relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts responsive to needs and empower local communities in Malakand Division. Failure to do so will reverse any gains on the battlefield and boost radical Islamist groups.

Related content

"Winning the Hearts and Minds of Pakistan’s Displaced", Samina Ahmed in GlobalPost, 27 May 2009

Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge, Asia Report N°164, 13 March 2009

CrisisWatch database: Pakistan

All Crisis Group Pakistan reports

The military’s use of heavy force in the ongoing operations, failure to address the full cost to civilians and refusal to allow full civilian and humanitarian access to the conflict zones has already been counterproductive. The public, particularly those directly affected, is increasingly mistrustful of a military that has, in the past, swung between short-sighted appeasement deals with militants and the use of haphazard force. While there is still broad public and political support for moving against the Taliban, it could erode if civilian casualties are high and the response to IDPs’ needs is inadequate. Indeed, it will not be long before the IDPs demand greater accountability from those responsible for their displacement and assurances of a viable return.

Almost four years after they responded poorly to the October 2005 earthquake in NWFP and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), overly centralised state relief organs remain ill-equipped to deal with large-scale humanitarian crises. Likewise, despite the transition to civilian rule in February 2008, the military continues to dominate key institutions, further undermining civilian capacity. Relief and reconstruction efforts must ultimately reestablish and strengthen the link between Malakand’s citizens and the state, severed by rising militancy and the military-devised accord between the Awami National Party (ANP)-led NWFP government and the Taliban-linked Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Moham­madi (TNSM) to impose Sharia (Islamic law) in the Malakand area, through the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, which President Asif Ali Zardari signed on 13 April 2009.

As they did in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, religious extremist groups, while opposing the military campaign, are exploiting relief efforts to advance their agenda. Communities displaced by a badly planned war may be especially vulnerable to jihadi indoctrination. The crisis, however, also presents an opportunity to win hearts and minds of millions of Pakistanis in NWFP, and more specifically in Malakand Division, who have suffered at the hands of the Taliban. Many of them fled the area even before the current operations began because of Taliban abuses, including murder and rape.

Mounting opposition from the religious lobby may give the military an opening to again enter into a compromise with the militants, as it has in earlier campaigns. The federal and provincial governments must resist any such efforts and assert civilian control over counter-insurgency policy, relief and reconstruction. Instituting civilian oversight and scrutiny is vital to retaining popular support for the struggle against violent extremism. The international community should help build civilian capacity to respond to the humanitarian crisis and also counsel the military against negotiating another deal that would again allow religious extremists more space to recruit and spread Taliban control.

The Pakistan government should:

The international community should:

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