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Most fled suddenly, without cash or belongings, and many have limited access to the millions of dollars in international aid that has been flowing in.
“People aren’t noticing them,” said Michael McGrath, Pakistan director of Save the Children, an aid organization that has focused on refugees outside of camps. “Their needs are not being met.”
Their hardships have made time of the essence. Refugees said they left their homes because they believed that the government was serious about stopping the militants this time. The more time passes, the more good will is lost, and the more
Pakistani Refugee Crisis Poses Peril Amid Army Offensive, Extremists Are Filling Needs That the Government Can't
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 it 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."
Unfamiliar with counterinsurgency operations, the army laid down withering artillery fire in the Buner district, quickly followed by more shelling in the scenic Swat Valley, Pakistan's premier tourist destination. Since then some 3 million refugees have fled towns and cities turned to rubble and are now huddling in makeshift shelters in 28 camps, where only one in five is under canvass in the broiling heat. One of the senior officials in charge of refugees, speaking not for attribution, said he expects the number to climb to 4 million, the largest exodus since partition from India created the state of Pakistan in 1947.
Taliban agents, posing as refugees, have already infiltrated the camps where they proselytize to radicalize those who lost their homes in Swat against the government. The head of the U.N. refugee relief operation in Pakistan and World Food Program personnel estimate burgeoning refugee needs for the next seven months at US$540 million. No sooner were U.N. personnel installed in Peshawar's only safe hotel for Westerners, the five-star Pearl Continental, than a VBIED – vehicle-borne improvised explosive device – crashed through the security gate at 10 p.m., fired at security guards, pulled up in front of the PC, as locals call the hotel, and detonated half a ton of explosives, turning an entire wing to rubble, killing 20 and injuring 70.
Do they use relief work as an opportunity to proselytize? "Yes, wherever we can, we ask people to become Muslims," he says. "They are impressed by our good work."
Pregnant Pakistani Women Endangered By Refugee Crisis
At another camp, staff nurse Nazia says pregnant women ask her to persuade their husbands to let them leave their tents to give birth at the clinic. There are an estimated 70,000 pregnant women among the 2 million people recently uprooted by conflict in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Every day more than 250 give birth, and as many as 40 face potentially life-threatening complications.
But those returning are encountering the same kinds of obstacles seen by Salim -- crippled infrastructure, a lack of drinking water, ruined crops -- that stifle attempts to rebuild the economy. And residents also still face violence. Every night in Ambela, bursts of gunfire are heard as troops try to root out small pockets of Taliban fighters holed up on the forested hillsides skirting the village.
In a visit to Pakistan in early June, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, said he was told by Antonio Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, that reconstruction in the conflict zone could cost $500 million to $1 billion. The international community, Holbrooke said, would have to shoulder the cost.
Especially worrisome, Khan said, is that provincial and federal government officials have yet to produce a plan for rebuilding Sultanwas. If authorities do not act soon, he warned, the Taliban and other Islamic extremists could exploit the government's inaction and muster new support among the people. "If there's little or no reconstruction, the Taliban will come to the people and say, 'We told you that if the government comes, there will be destruction,' " Khan said. "So reconstruction is very important, so that the Taliban doesn't regain a foothold in Swat and Buner."
Baffling indifference to Pakistani 'exodus' trauma
THE STORY is there is no story. The question is “why?” As I remember the destruction and death in north western Pakistan after the earthquake in October 2005, an event that attracted huge international attention and propelled frontline international aid agencies like Concern Worldwide to begin their rapid response emergency work, little did I know then that some four years later over two million people would be on the move in this part of the country, internally displaced by a sustained and ferociously intense military conflict between the Pakistani army and Taliban insurgents.