Thursday 28 May 2009

Victims of War in Swat - don't take away their dignity

It can only happen in Pakistan…

On May 3rd 2009 Pakistani authorities stopped cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan travelling to the southern city of Karachi on Sunday because of fear his trip could trigger violence in the commercial hub. Stopping opposition politicians from travelling and forcibly confining them to one city has been a common ploy used by various governments of dictatorial leaning in Pakistan. Imran is not the first person who has not been allowed to travel from one part of his country to another. Now the same draconian tactic is being used against 2.4 million victims of military action in Swat.

Imran Khan, when stopped from travelling reacted "Under what law can they stop a Pakistani citizen going to Karachi? Isn't Karachi a city of Pakistan?"

I ask the same question on behalf of my brothers and sisters from Swat. They are not refugees from another country. They are in their homeland and the constitution of Pakistan gives them freedom of movement to go anywhere they can find shelter and security in the country. Camps should be an option for those who do not have relatives and friends in other parts of the country to host them in their hour of need.

Number of people displaced from Swat valley as a result of war between Taliban terrorists and Pakistan army is now over 2.5 million. Numbers could swell if the military operation continues and stranded population are able to find a route to escape.

I have written earlier that the government policy of trying to keep them confined to camps is turning them into refugees in their own country. It is extremely disturbing that the central government is allowing its coalition partners MQM in Sind government to lead campaigns against hosting the IDPs in Sind. According to MQM they “believed in the sovereignty and stability of the country therefore it would not allow the spread of Talibanisation in the Sindh province.” What!!! Did Nazis not use similar arguments when rounding up Jews into concentration camps! Look at new face of Nazi-ism its MQM.

When I look at the government of the Punjab I see a similar hypocrisy in action. Where as we see the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif sending millions of sacks of wheat to the IDP camps we also see his government deciding “in principle not to allow camps for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the province…“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,”. But they are not REFUGEES…

A Pakhtoon friend of mine highlighted that Zaradri, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain three key characters from Pakistan politics have all been political refugees at some stage (Altaf still is). But for them being a refugee meant moving out of a palace in Pakistan to an even bigger palace in Surrey, Saudi Arabia or London. They can never understand the true feelings of an honourable Pukhtoon farmer or shopkeeper having to exchange the dignified life of his farm/business with the humiliation of a refugee camp.

Farhat Taj wrote in January about plight of IDPs especially woman who suffered at the hands of Taliban in the North West - “An elderly woman, a grandmother, said her daughter-in-law is widow and she used to accompany her children to a hospital in Peshawar, whenever they needed medical treatment. The Taliban threatened women with dire consequences if they came in the public unaccompanied by men. One of her grandchildren had asthma-related problems. His condition got serious. She could not rush him to Peshawar. She sent for men who were relatives, all of them worked outside Bajaur. It took a male relative two days to come and the child died before his arrival. She said she will never forget that the Taliban imposed restrictions on her mobility led to the death of the child. She said the child died in her hands and she could do nothing for him.”

Stories like these are commonly heard from those who had the misfortune of living under Taliban hegemony. Need I ask what is the difference between the Taliban imposed restriction on movements on women and the government imposed restriction on IDPs.

American internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during the World War II remains shameful blot on American history. Having created a similar blot on our history by our treatment of Bengalis in East Pakistan we are creating one of our own if we don’t mend our ways immediately. Swat military operation is not the World War, we are not living in 1940s, and Swatis are not in a foreign country, it is there homeland - no political party or goverment can take it away.

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