Internally Displaced People (IDPs) of Swat
“If this is Pakistan’s war , then why is only a part of Pakistan bearing the burnt “ asked Aman Gul currently resident of an IDP camp. Aman Gul traveled with eighteen family members for two days on foot to get to the camp. Fourteen of the family members were females and according to Aman Gul ,“ I would shudder at the dangers that lay in front of us particularly for the females “ With feet swollen for walking for hours Aman Gul and his family asks why are people playing politics over them ?
Aman Gul is not alone. Whether one talks to the Swat operation affected in Islamabad hosted by families there or Peshawar , Mardan or in the camps this anger and confusion is what one is confronted with. They ask ,“ why is it that we are not welcome in Sindh? Why is that that is previously our friends the Sindhi nationalists are now observing strikes against us? “ If the MQM raises their voice against us , we understand as there is a traditional hostility with them. The MQM does not want to let go of Karachi and if the Pathans further settle there then they will have political problems. But why the Sindhi nationalists? Why is Jeay Sindh Quami Mahaz (JSQM)
observing strikes all over Sindh?”
There are no easy answers. While it is rather simplistic to reduce hundreds of thousands of people to an acronym the IDPs the situation is far from simple.
Sindhi nationalists declare that they are right in demanding that the IDPs should not settle in Sindh. Talking to nationalists in Hyderabad and Thatta they asked me ,“ Till when will we bear the mistakes of the Pakistani establishment? When they launched an operation in Baluchistan killing Nawab Bugti the Bugtis and Marris flowed into Thatta and adjoining districts taking over the mining labor. In previous years we had to host the mahajaris from India who now stake a claim on our provincial capital, Hyderabad and now are reaching into Nawabshah and other parts of the province. Now we have to host the IDPs too. What is in it for the Sindhis? We are underdeveloped with all the resources going to the Center and now we have to look after the orphans of a war that we have nothing to do with . When Zia ul Haq along with other Mahajar and Pushtun key establishment people was reaping the benefits of Cold war and enjoying the jihadi dollars , did we get a share? When Mushraff and his government were reaping the benefits of post Sep 11th and the aid flowing in , did Sindh get a share? The decision to when to wage a war against militants and when to end it has nothing to do with us. We were never consulted never taken on board. So why should we pick up the pieces? “The more passionate members of the JSQM declared, “ we don’t want autonomy. We want independence from Pakistan. So why should we bear the cost of Pakistan’s problems?” When I pointed out that it was their leader G.M .Syed who introduced the resolution for Pakistan in the Assembly and now they are talking about independence from Pakistan isn’t it a dichotomy they responded,“ We accepted Pakistan according to an agreement that was violated. What happens to us is best explained as a boy is shown a beautiful young woman as a prospective bride but on the wedding night he finds that that was a trick and instead his bride is an old woman.We wish the IDPs well but our primary concern is our own people. If Sindhis could afford it , if we were developed enough we would have shared our resources . We would have helped them. But when we ourselves are in no position to help, why are the IDPs forced on us ?
The Sindhi nationalists also ask as to how many refugees is Sindh excepted to host. The Mahajaris, the Afghans, the Baluch, the Bengalis and now the IDPs too? They also point out that the development that has taken place over the years in not to the advantage of the Sindhis. After the construction of Kotri Barrage, it is a matter of record that most of the newly arable lands were given to retired or in service army officers and civil servants. So much land has been allocated that there are whole chaks that are popularly known as “Punjabi Chak “or “General da Chak.” Unfortunately the negative effects of the Kotri Barrage downstream flow that has rendered whole acres of land uncultivable has been borne by the local Sindhis. This further adds to the grievances of the Sindhi.
A question that everyone asks in Sindh whether rural or urban is why doesn’t Punjab host them ? Punjab in the past has shied away from hosting the Afghan refugees and there are not as many economic migrants in Punjab as there are in Sindh.
The Punjab government in its defense has declared that the IDPs have their support. However, initially the message wasn’t that loud and clear. Infact according to media reports it was decided that, “ “The IDPs can cause trouble for the province just like the Afghan refugees. So, we have decided not to permit their entry or setting up of camps for them in the Punjab” , There was also the decision of raising a new border force to protect the Punjab borders from the entry of the Taliban under the guise of the IDPs. The need to safeguard against violence and break down of security due to the Taliban is valid but then critics ask that if the IDPs are such a threat ,then why are the people of NWFP being exposed to this threat ? Due to the threat of the Taliban is it fair to ban the entry of the IDPs to other parts of the country? This is unconstitutional for Article 15 of the Constitution holds that “every citizen shall have the right to remain, and subject to any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the public interest, enter and move freely throughout Pakistan and to reside and settle in any part thereof.”
The Punjab government declares that it wants to help the IDPs. It has formed an inter-provincial coordination committee (IPCC), after consultation with the ANP-led Frontier government, to provide aid to the IDPs at their camps in the NWFP.
The IPCC comprises two members each from the Punjab and the NWFP. “The NWFP members will inform the Punjab government of the requirements of the IDPs.” The director general relief and the district coordination officer (DCO), Attock, would coordinate with the NWFP members of the IPCC as representatives of the Punjab.
“If it becomes mandatory for us to accommodate the IDPs any way, a computerized registration system would be set up to ensure strict check on their activities till their return,” the Punjab official sources said.
The Chief Minister Mr. Shabaz Sharif has openly declared all support to the IDPs but the question is how many are they hosting in Punjab? If the IDPs are being housed in Attock , then that is because of the natural flow of the migrants since most of them have families in Attoack . The Sindhi nationalists ask, “ Why not in Lahore? Why not in Kasur? Why not in Southern Punjab? If we are being forced to host them in camps along the Super Highway why can’t this practice be in Punjab? Is it because Punjab is scared that the Pathans numbers will rise and cause political problems to them since the adherents of Greater Pukhtunistan stake claim over some districts of Punjab also ? ‘
The Punjab government begs to differ. The Central Information Secretary of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz declared, “ we are willing to render any and all kind of support to the IDPs. We even offered to the NWFP government that we’ll manage some of the camps for them in their province but the NWFP government wants to mange all the camps in a uniform manner. We did not insist for we do not want to create unnecessary problems between the governments as we merely want to help our brothers.”
The problem is not just of who will host the IDPs .It runs deeper. The political and ethnic dissent over the IDPs is a good example of the state of Pakistan’s federalism. It is because that cooperative federalism is not defacto in the country that the provinces feel that they have not been consulted when it was time to make decisions. Therefore there is no sense of ownership of the problem and thus no planning. For one has to own the problem in order to plan a solution. It is important that Pakistan be governed as a federal state where provinces are consulted on important decisions. For instance, has the Council of Common Interest ever had a meeting to discuss as to what needs to be done?
As we struggle with our present, one shudders to think of the future. For do we really expect the IDP child of today to own Pakistan tomorrow when today he perceives that he is being avoided like the plague ? With the mismanagement of the IDP issue today, are we sowing the seeds of further discontent?
Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
The author is a free lance consultant based in Islamabad.
This article has been published in the June 2009 issue of Newsline magazine.