Mardan (Pakistan), May 25 (ANI): The Pakistan Government appears to be hard pressed in trying to contain the refugee crisis emanating from the military offensive against the Taliban and other extremist groups in the country’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
According to the Washington Post, the government has been overwhelmed by the human tide that has washed over the northwest, as about two million people have fled fierce clashes in the Swat.
With Pakistan experiencing its largest exodus since the nation’s partition from India in 1947, only a fraction of the displaced civilians are receiving assistance in government-run camps, says the paper.
The rest are fending for themselves or getting help from private charities, including some that are allied with the very forces the Pakistani army is fighting in Swat.
Refugee camps in Pakistan have been prime recruiting grounds for militant groups ever since the Soviet invasion forced millions of Afghans to cross into Pakistan in the 1980s.
Now, concern is growing that this latest wave of displacement will create a fresh crop of Pakistanis with grievances against the government and loyalty to groups that seek to undermine the state through violent insurgency.
The government says it is aware of the peril, but appears incapable of mustering the resources it needs to provide shelter, food, water and medicine to so many people.
“If people are not looked after well, they tend to become extremists. It hasn’t happened yet, but we’re very conscious of it,” said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari.
“It’s a big task,” Babar added.
Critics say the government has badly mismanaged the crisis.
“They should have foreseen this, but they didn’t plan for it,” the paper quoted Aftab Khan Sherpao, an opposition lawmaker and former interior minister who comes from the northwest.
Mardan city is studded with refugee camps consisting of endless rows of tan canvas tents that bake under 110-degree skies. Schools are packed to capacity with families sleeping on concrete classroom floors, with each classroom housing 40 or more people.
Local residents say that virtually every spare bedroom in the city is being used to host displaced civilians, who may have to wait months or longer to return home.
Save the Children, an international aid organization that is providing assistance to the displaced families, estimated late last week that more than 80 percent of the people who had fled were living outside the camps, which number about 25. More than half the refugees are children, the group says.
The Pakistani government, already battling economic troubles before it launched its offensive in Swat, is heavily dependent on international aid for its support programs.
The United Nations said Friday that it was seeking 543 million dollars in additional donations to help those displaced by the fighting. The United States has announced 110 million dollars in aid, which includes tents, radios and generators.
In the camps, there is seething resentment toward a government that residents say has let them down many times before.
Swat, which was once a major tourist hub and is considered among the most beautiful regions of Pakistan, has long been known for its moderate-minded population. But the Taliban in recent years has capitalized on weak and corrupt governance in the valley, offering locals an alternative form of justice that is swift and severe.
The militants have controlled Swat off and on since late 2007.
The government’s offensive, which was launched nearly a month ago after the collapse of a peace deal and amid intense pressure from the United States, is aimed at retaking the valley once and for all. (ANI)