Lip service cannot rebuild shattered lives
By Sherry Rehman, Special to Gulf News
Published:June 08, 2009,23:22
There is nothing more tragic than being a refugee in one’s own homeland. Exile is no longer an imagined place or ambiguous choice.
It is a reality forced by the trauma of a natural or man-made crisis, sharpening the pain and loss of leaving home, of facing the unsaid horror of becoming a third-class citizen in one’s own country.
Yet despite the outpouring of public grief at the human deprivation distilled on television without interruption, and national discourse forcing many graphic realities out in the open, a few issues remain un-addressed, while others bear reiteration.
While Pakistani families have opened up their homes in theNorth WestFrontierProvince, the collective expression of support, both in terms of services and resources thatPakistanwitnessed in the 2005 earthquake effort is missing.
This is not to minimise or discount the heroic effort put in by NGOs or individuals, but simply to identify a macro trend. The element of national collective mobilisation as witnessed in the earthquake is sorely missing.
One of the problems stemming out of this tragedy is a crisis of management and credibility, not just that of governance.
The bulk of the public appears to be either removed from the reality of the crisis, or in a mild state of shock, slowing effective reaction.
Many insist that they want to help, as there is an increased stake by citizens in the state, but see no consistent or credible point of entry for themselves.
There can be no dispute that this exodus was expected. Yet just one look at the sheer scale and magnitude of the exodus of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) explains why even the most rigorous action based on existing models of planning would still have fallen by the wayside.
So while the government is indeed slow, it is absolutely clear that, like the earthquake in 2005, which displaced smaller numbers, given existing templates for crisis-management, the government alone cannot handle the tidal wave of humanity that outstrips the largest migration of refugees since partition in 1947.
While the government should certainly resort to better multiple-track planning, as the primary engine and capacity for coordination can only be resourced by official agency, it should use the space and opportunity to build trust with citizens and launch a public-private participation drive.
Now that an All Parties Conference is out of the way, and the Cabinet can work with the useful imprimatur of public consensus behind its military operation, there is no excuse for an IDP war room not up and running in the PM’s Secretariat.
This is needed for two reasons: the National Disaster Management apparatus does not exist in the provinces except on paper; secondly, the public can only rally around a coordinated national effort if it sees credible evidence of executive action from the top.
If the Special Support Group created for this purpose expects public buy-in, it will have to inspire broader confidence in its leadership, as a record of transparency and accountability by key members in past projects left much to be desired. Without transparency, no effort will be seen as either legitimate or effective.
The second broad theme that emerges in the dynamics of this refugee crisis is related to its political dimension. While a lot of the families streaming in on foot or borrowed transport from Buner, Swat and Dir are in a state of shock at the trial they are going through, nobody should expect them to give ringing condemnations of the Taliban that held them in thrall.
Many speak privately of the fear they lived in, but equally many speak of the possibility of social justice under the Taliban.
A recent visit to the IDP camps in Mardan was as harrowing as educational. Among the women, men, children and elders of the displaced population, nobody suggested that they wanted to stay on or take the side of the Taliban as the military moved in to encircle the hideouts.
The scorching heat of the tents, coupled with a lack of electricity and clean drinking water and mixed latrines is enough incentive to welcome any militants back.
The point here is as political as it is social. The country has made a collective choice that it rejects non-state actors that believe in extremism.
If it remains unclear about its resolve, or allows it to be confused with disagreements on military tactics, or is slow to mitigate the misery of the new IDPs, then it will lose the larger battle against extremism.
AsPakistanmoves past the figure of 2.2 million refugees (United Nations Report,May 19, 2009) their growing numbers is a reminder of the collective responsibility that rests withPakistanas a state and society.
Instead of protesting the ingress of refugees into all provincesPakistanshould all be worrying about ensuring food security, potable water, clothes, electricity, medical care, utensils and basic bedding.
The fight for re-installing the flag ofPakistanin lost territories will not just be fought militarily. It will be fought in the heat and dust of the refugee camps.
Success will only be construed as real ifPakistancan give them their dignity and their lives back.
Sherry Rehman is the former information minister of Pakistan