By Talha Mujaddidi in Pakistan. Axis of Logic
Editor's Note: Axis of Logic Columnist, Talha Mujaddidi interviewed two men who participated in relief work for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in the NWFP of Pakistan to learn what is actually taking place on the ground among the refugees. Among other things, note that these interviews disclose a reality that is at odds with the glowing western media reports about the success of relief operations conducted by the Pakistan government. Also note the important difference between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban are known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The western media tends to simply call the latter, "the Taliban" which implicates the Afghan in "terrorism". The results of his interview below are followed by a June 29 IRIN report on the pressures on the hosts of the IDPs who are housing refugees. The hosts themselves are often poor and struggle to meet the needs of their own families.
- Les Blough, Editor
Pakistani women prepare an evening meal under lantern light in Swat.
Recently, I interviewed two of my friends (Ali and Ahmed*) who have worked inside the IDP relief camps. These friends went to IDP camps in early July and since then many IDPs have moved back to their homes in Swat, Malakand and Buner area. Many other refugees have not yet been able to return home, but the situation is improving at the moment. The lack of funds is still is a big problem for the people and the government because the costs of rebuilding entire towns, villages and infrastructure are enormous.
Before we get into the interviews which follow, it is important that the reader know something about the Pathans. The vast Majority of the people living in NWFP (North West Frontier Province are Pathans). Pathans are an ethnic group that speaks the Pashto language. Pathans, or Pushtoon, are also the majority population of Afghanistan. Pushtoons are able fighters and accustomed to living under harsh climatic conditions. Pushtoons were part of most armies that ruled the region and the Indian Sub-continent and they are also staunch Muslims.
Pushtoons have contributed a great deal to the development and prosperity of the Pakistan. Many of Pakistan’s prominent personalities have been Pushtoon. Pushtoons for the most part follow their own tribal laws and customs, and they are very strict about those laws. To the Western world it seems confusing when Pushtoons fight with one another, but these are easily understood as any group struggles for internal control. It's also important to understand that they have have many tribal laws and customs, which have nothing to do with Islam but rather, are based on their tribal laws and Jirga (council of leaders). Western pressure, western backed NGO’s, military action, political pressure, or other such urbane machinations cannot force the Pushtoons to change these laws or to amend them. Pushtoons are also the backbone of the Pakistan Army, the most powerful institution of Pakistan. Pathans are proficient with the use of modern technology and equipment and they are innovative in new business and customs but they will not alter their tribal codes or laws.
The Pathans are staunchly religious and don't think of Afghanistan as a foreign country because Afghanistan has a majority population of Pushtoons. The Pushtoons are strongly opposed to the U.S.-led war and they consider the U.S. occupation force to be a repetition of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pushtoons are also unhappy with the Pakistan Government because both the current Zardari government and the earlier Musharraf government are puppets of the United States. They also view the rest of the Pakistani elite class and politicians and the majority of the Pustoon politicians to be corrupt and Pro-U.S. for their own self interest.
TM = Talha Mujaddidi, Axis of Logic Columnist
RW = Relief Workers being interviewed.
Identification and work
TM: Thank you for agreeing to these interviews. Let me begin by asking where you are from and what area you visited when working with the IDPs?
RW: We are from Karachi and we were helping in the IDP camps in Swat, Mardan, which hosts the highest number of IDPs, and in the Nowshera area of IDP Camps.
TM: Were you working there as relief workers, in construction or the military?
RW: We were working as volunteer relief workers.
TM: What are your professions when not doing relief work?
RW: We work in public relations and advertising.
Political - Inside Pakistan
TM: What do the IDPs think about Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban? How do they compare the two?
RW: They believe the Afghan Taliban are real Mujahideen who are fighting against the US/NATO Occupation. They do not necessarily agree with the harsh conditions that the Afghan Taliban impose on the country, but at least during the time when the Afghan Taliban governed the country, the Afghan soil was not being used to carry out terrorism in Pakistan through fake, so-called 'Taliban' setups, like the TTP. An overwhelming majority of the people believe the TTP has nothing to do with the Afghan Taliban and that they are supported by India, under the watch of the US, to destabilize Pakistan.
TM: How do they view the various factions and political groupings like the TTP, ANP, PPP, NRO, etc.
RW: They are strongly against TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) as they believe them to be a bunch of opportunistic criminals and mercenaries murdering innocent Muslims in cold blood. The majority believe the ANP does not represent them and is full of corrupt officials.
(Note by Talha: The PPP is the ruling party in Pakistan, led by President Zardari and the refugee's views of the government are described below in the interview).
TM: Do the IDPs favor independence from Pakistan or would they rather be part of the Pakistan state?
RW: They are among the most patriotic people we meet. They kept pointing out how it was Younis Khan, a resident of Mardan, who led Pakistan to glory in the recent Cricket 20-20 World Cup in England. They tell us about an amazing night of celebration and celebratory gunfire in Mardan on this occasion. A lot of them proudly displayed Pakistani flags on their makeshift tents.
TM: Who do they consider to be their political leaders?
RW: On the whole they are disillusioned with the current political setup. The local nazim (councellor) in Mardan seemed to be a very popular fellow among the residents. They told us that they view him to be an honest and down-to-earth man (with a very simple lifestyle, contrary to the mansions the MPAs and MNAs live in) - who listens to the problems of the people and helps them in whatever way he can.
TM: What are their views of the Pakistan Government, Zardari and the military?
RW: Like the rest of the country, they don’t like Zardari because he has a very bad reputation. Their support for the military operation has been strong, however. The only downside is that the corrupt government officials have not managed the crisis properly and are busy making money off the aid that has come in. They have to queue up for hours for the Rs25,000 that the government is paying the IDPs, and even then they have to pay bribes of up to Rs5000 just to get that money.
TM: How do they view the strength of the resistance against Pakistan
Government, the U.S., NATO, India, etc.
RW: They believe the TTP will be wiped out and they want to play their role in achieving that. Some were a bit regretful that they had let the TTP menace rear its head in the first place. They believe the U.S., NATO, and India will be brought down to their knees in Afghanistan. One of the people with whom we spoke explained, "That’s what happens when you invade Afganistan".
TM: How have they been treated as families and individuals (not as
warriors) by the Pakistan Government?
RW: They feel that the government has failed to manage the influx of refugees in major cities such as Mardan. On the other hand, the residents of Mardan have housed and fed them in their own homes and in make-shift shelters in schools. Pathans take pride in being excellent hosts and they are doing their best at this time.
TM: Are the refugees viewed by most Pakistanis with prejudice (racial or otherwise)?
RW: Apart from a minority which is trying to inflame ethnic tensions for political gain, the majority of Pakistanis feel sorry for those affected by this crisis and have done whatever is in their capacity to be able to help their brothers and sisters, by sending cash, clothes, food items, etc.
Note by Talha: Pathans are the most vital ethnic group in Pakistan, they make up a significant part of Pakistan Army, and they are the most hard working laborers. They, along with Balochs and the Pakistan Army, helped Kashmiri Muslims to snatch the part of India that is now known as Azad Kashmir, or Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Kashmir from India, that part is now known as Azad Kashmir or Pakistani controlled Kashmir.
Political - Foreigners inside and outside Pakistan
|On Feb. 23, 2009 the Pentagon revealed that over 70 U.S. military advisers had been secretly working in Pakistan.
TM: Are the people in the tribal areas more in fear of Afghan Taliban
border-crossers or US border-crossers?
RW: The fear the United States the most. The 'Taliban border crossers' have the sympathies of the locals as well as most Pakistanis for reasons we talked about earlier.
TM: Would they be interested in an alliance with India if it were possible?
RW: Not in a million years. At the time of the partition of British India, Congress, led by Gandhi and Nehru, tried their best through ANP to co-join the NWFP with India. But because the Pathans are staunch Muslims, they joined in with Pakistan.
TM: How do they see the U.S. military in their region?
RW: The see the U.S. as an aggressor who should get out while they still can.
|Pakistanis burn U.S. flag after a deadly missile attack.
TM: Have you seen evidence of the presence of agents of the CIA, Mossad and Raw in the area?
RW: Not physically, no. We weren't there long enough to actually identify them.
TM: What are the IDP's views of India?
RW: They see India as an enemy state which has never accepted Pakistan's existence and has always supported certain elements within Pakistan in an effort to destabilize the country.
TM: What are their views of Afghanistan?
RW: Most believe Afghanistan should become a province of Pakistan. Afghans already use Pakistani currency, understand the language, eat food produced in Pakistan, and use items smuggled from Pakistan, etc.
TM: What are their views of Iran?
RW: Most view it with suspicion; however, they respect Iran for standing up to U.S. aggression.
TM: What are their views of Israel?
RW: Israel is hated by all Pakistanis and most of Muslim world. Like most Pakistanis, they sympathize with the Palestinian cause.
TM: Are they aware of what's happening in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine?
RW: Palestine yes. Lebanon and Syria - not to a great extent.
Family, home, daily life
TM: How are the women in the tribal areas involved?
RW: Most women stay indoors according to the tribal culture but many also work in offices and factories.
TM: Who assumes most of the responsibility for the family? Mothers,
Fathers, Sons, Daughters?
RW: Mainly the fathers and sons.
TM: How many of the refugees are living in actual houses and how many have to live in tents and temporary structures?
RW: About 80% roughly are living with others in their houses and about 20% are living in tents.
TM: What are their greatest fears?
RW: They're afraid that the TTP terrorists might resurface due to the weak administration and corrupt politicians in government.
TM: How would you describe their daily life from morning to night?
RW: They spend most of their time looking for any kind of work they might do to earn money so that they are not a burden on their hosts.
TM: Are their children going to school? Are they being taught in their
homes? How many can read and write?
RW: They are on holiday from school for the summer. But now that some have started going back to their homes, schools are reopening and people are happy to go back. Overall, Pakistan’s literacy rate is around 45% and there aren't many schools around the villages and small towns.
TM: Is Sharia law in effect in your area?
RW: Not in our area but it is in Swat and people are happy that their issues are resolved within days rather than having to wait years in government courts.
TM: What do the children do from day to day? How has the war affected
their daily lives? What do they want to do or be when they grow up?
RW: Mostly they play outside, oblivious to the problems. Many want to join the armed forces, as is the culture of Pathans who make up 30-35% of the Pakistan armed forces despite being only about 20% of the population.
Children play in a Swat IDP camp.
(Mohammad Sajjad/AP photo)
TM: What foods to they have on a daily basis? Do they have enough food? How much of their food is provided by relief agencies and how much do they provide for themselves?
RW: Meat and chicken are rare. Their diet mostly consists of bread, yogurt, rice, lentils and vegetables. Food has not been the main issue as those who have hosted these refugees have been providing them with food. Some have even sold their properties, cars and other belongings just so they could feed the large number of IDPs living as guests in their houses. But the longer this goes on, the burden will increase on the hosts; therefore, food distribution is very important, as is cash for reconstruction. Sending clothes and most other items is not really advisable as it’s pretty much useless to them.
TM: Is agriculture possible? Do they grow some of their own food?
RW: They do grow some things.
(Note by Talha: Food is grown in some parts of the NWFP where the land is fertile. They grown wheat, sugar cane and other crops and a variety of fruits and dry fruits. In Balochistan or some parts of Sind that are desert or semi-desert or without water, the refugees cannot grow their own food.)
TM: What are the refugees doing to survive other than receiving aid?
RW: They are doing whatever work they can find.
TM: What choices have they been forced to make because of war and
RW: The Pathans are very proud people. Having to depend on others for food and the needs of daily life is an insult to them.
TM: How has the war affected their family structure? Is an extended family structure still in place or has it been broken up?
RW: No the family structure in the Pathans always stays intact. Families are mostly based on a tribal structure.
TM: What percentage of people you know are practicing Muslims, attending Mosque, etc.?
RW: A very large majority, more-so than in some other areas of the country.
TM: Do you know of people in the area of other religions?
RW: There are some Sikhs and a few Christians.
TM: What have those from other religions lost as a result of the war?
RW: They have suffered just as the rest have. There has been no discrimination from people who have hosted these IDPs on the basis of religion.
TM: Do they feel isolated from the rest of the world?
RW: Yes, but they always have always been isolated from the world.
TM: What access do they have to the media, the internet, television news?
RW: It depends on the income level of the average person. Most have access to mobile phones and some newspapers if they know how to read. Radio and television are pretty common, but only those who have money have access to the Internet.
TM: Does the average family have guns or other weapons in their possession?
RW: Almost every Pathan family has them. Pathans make all kinds of weapons in their cottage industry. It’s been their tradition for the last few hundred years.
TM: How many families have lost loved ones to the war?
RW: Not too many, but that’s due to the large number of families that have been displaced by the war. Many have been victims of the TTP's terrorism and almost all have been affected in one way or the other. There have also been a few deaths in the crossfire between the Army and terrorists but the number of those killed by the Army's weapons is very small.
TM: How many families have members who are fighting in the resistance?
RW: I would say 70-80 percent are willing to take up arms if the TTP terrorists infiltrate their towns again. The TTP has no local support in Swat or Malakand area although they do have some clans supporting them in Waziristan Agency.
TM: What can we do to help?
RW: Channel cash directly to the affected families so they can rebuild their houses and businesses. Absolutely no cash should be sent through the government as none of it will end up in the right hands.
TM: What information do they want us to publish and spread about their
situation in the West?
RW: They want the world to know that they are a strong, proud people and they will rebuild their lives, but they will not let the terrorists hold them hostage again. The monumental corruption levels in government should also be highlighted.
TM: Do they have hope?
RW: Absolutely. One hundred percent.
*names of the two men interviewed have been changed for privacy purposes.
READ MORE REPORTS AND ANALYSIS BY
AXIS OF LOGIC COLUMNIST, TALHA MUJADDIDI
Trucks lined up outside the Swabi Camp in Mardan,
preparing to take some refugees to their homes
© Copyright 2009 by AxisofLogic.com
This material is available for republication as long as reprints include verbatim copy of the article in its entirety, respecting its integrity. Reprints must cite the author and Axis of Logic as the original source including a "live link" to the article. Thank you!
PAKISTAN: IDP hosts under pressure
LAHORE, 29 June 2009 (IRIN) - “I and my family of seven are living with strangers… They are kind people, from the NWFP [North West Frontier Province] who speak our language and know our ways - but they are poor themselves and cannot afford to feed seven more mouths,” said Mansur Khan, 50, from a village near Kalam in Pakistan’s troubled Swat District.
More mouths to feed imposes
new strains on host families
Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
He moved to Lahore in eastern Pakistan two weeks ago and has been out on the street offering his services as a casual labourer, but despite being fit and strong, no-one has offered him any work, and he said he was becoming desperate.
There is growing concern regarding the strain imposed by internally displaced persons (IDPs) on host families. According to the UK-based Islamic Relief (IR) in Pakistan, 3.7 million IDPs are based outside camps, mainly with host families and most of them in the Mardan District of NWFP.
“Since the start of this crisis IR has focused its work on supporting IDPs staying with host communities”, Niyaz Muhammad, IR’s media and public relations officer in Pakistan, told IRIN.
“The host families have shown great generosity by offering space and support in the form of food, water, and clothing to the IDPs, but they are struggling to cope and their situation is now no better than that of the IDPs,” Muhammad said.
Similar concerns have been voiced by UN agencies. The UN humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, Martin Mogwanja, told a news conference on 18 June in Islamabad that while some of the IDPs had moved into tented camps set up by aid agencies and the government, “most are staying with friends or relatives in so-called host communities.”
Mogwanja said in some places “scores of people” were crammed into a couple of rooms, and despite the distribution of massive amounts of food and other supplies “the strain on communities is still immense.”
On 25 June, the UN Information Centre in Islamabad said in a press release: “The vast majority of the approximately two million IDPs continue to still be accommodated by host communities, which presents its own challenges in terms of reaching the most vulnerable among them.”
Drift to the camps?
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some IDPs report host families running short of money, and being forced to move into camps. Others say the initial generosity from villagers had dried up.
Growing numbers of displaced "feel that they cannot stay forever as guests in host families who themselves are often quite poor," said UNHCR field officer Shankar Chauhan. As a result, "more and more are starting to move to camps."
The numbers who are moving to camps from host families is growing, but the UN and some NGOs, including IR, say the “vast majority” of IDPs remain based with hosts.
Farooq Ali, who is hosting Mansur Khan, concedes there are difficulties. “I live in an apartment that has just three small rooms. I have a family of eight. It is hard to accommodate seven more, I admit - but it is our duty to do what we can to help,” he told IRIN. Farooq, who earns Rs 9,000 [US$113] per month as a messenger with a courier company is currently supporting 15 people on that income.
Muhammad said that IR was running “Mercy Centres” which are “operating as hubs to provide a package of support to IDPs”. He said host families were also “feeling the effects of this displacement crisis” despite the fact that all services were being offered to them as well as to the IDPs.
IDPs such as Khan are aware their hosts are bearing a big burden, but he asks: “Where are we to go? We are told the facilities in camps are now better but my aged parents are with me and refuse to shift there, because they do not wish to live ‘like beggars’.”
In Peshawar, provincial capital of NWFP, a relative of Khan, Muhammad Ghiasullah, also based with a host family, said: “There have been cases here of hosts asking IDPs to leave.”
Despite the attempts by relief agencies to reach IDPs outside camps through hubs and by focusing efforts on their plight, aid workers and observers say their presence is becoming a burden for hosts and the strain of this is being felt both by the IDPs and the families they live with.