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Old Monday, September 01, 2008
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Monday, September 01, 2008

Escalated violence

The conflict in Swat has flared up once more, with air strikes conducted for the first in many months by military jets. The action came in response to stepped up militant offensives in the area. Twenty-two Taliban are reported dead, including two senior commanders. Several military personnel have also been killed. A military spokesman has confirmed the target was Maulana Fazlullah, with intelligence reports apparently stating he was present at the site bombarded by jets. The man who has for months imposed a reign of terror over Swat, however, seems once more to have escaped. It is also a reflection on the situation of our country today that no effort can apparently be made to arrest men like Maulana Fazlullah, guilty of all kinds of crimes ranging from the extortion of money to murder. The writ of state is so weakened in areas such as Swat that law-enforcers cannot act. Instead, attempts must be made to kill ‘enemies’, using bombs or missiles. Sadly, this means innocent men, women and children too die. One woman at least is said to be among the latest victim of the fighting in Swat.

To end the suffering of people trapped in such situations, it is necessary to remove key militant leaders – such as Fazlullah – from the scene. What authorities must ask is if it may be possible to do this through commandos sent in to capture him – on the lines of similar actions seen elsewhere in the world. Good intelligence and ground support is imperative for such action. But putting such men on trial could serve an important purpose, exposing their deeds, countering the argument that they are men of religion and freeing people from their hold. Death would only turn them into martyrs. This is an issue the authorities need to consider carefully and then assess possibilities. Open trials after all have many advantages. This has been seen in all kinds of hearings, including those involving war criminals in the aftermath of wars in many parts of the world. Showing the face of these people as they truly are is important to ensuring their hold on minds is released.

At the same time there is a need to consider longer-term strategy for areas like Swat. The unrest there has gone on far too long. It has devastated education, especially for girls, and livelihoods. The time has come to present before the people of the valley an image of what life could be like once warfare ends. A plan for rehabilitation and development needs to be laid out on the table. This is not only because people need hope, and some optimism regarding the future. But also because a vision of what the state can offer them may play a part in persuading them to line up against militants. Such assistance from people is urgently required to defeat militants. A full-fledged attempt to gain it must begin now, so that calm can one day again return to the Swat valley and people can resume lives shattered by months of conflict.


Homeless at home

In what is being termed the largest internal displacement in the history of Pakistan, some 40,000 people are reported to have left their homes in Bajaur, fleeing the fierce fighting that has continued there now for the past 20 days. Most have headed to the neighbouring district of Lower Dir, others to the homes of relatives elsewhere. Camps have been set up at government schools and other buildings for the Internally Displaced People (IDPs). In this respect, the ANP government in NWFP, and also the JI – the first two groups to set up camps and offer assistance – have acted more swiftly and sensibly than their predecessors. In past years and months, people displaced by conflict from Waziristan, Swat and other areas had received almost no official help.

While better intent has been shown this time, it is also true that the conditions at the camps are miserable. There are reports of men, women and children having to walk miles to obtain water, of inadequate or unsuitable food being offered to them and of a severe shortage of sanitation. The news that the government has now opted to allow international agencies to come in and offer their expertise is welcome. One must hope they are able to quickly improve living conditions, with many of the displaced persons now fearing they may be forced to spend the holy month of Ramazan away from homes. In some cases families, with some members staying back to protect property and care for livestock, have also been divided.

There is still little official word about the precise number of displaced people in the country as a whole. Other displacements have occurred from Balochistan as well as tribal territories hit by conflict. The fact that the issue in Bajaur has been acknowledged permits attention to be focused on the matter. These hapless people have been caught up in a situation that is not of their own making. Militants have attempted to use them as human shields; troops have threatened them with bombardments of villages unless militants are forced to leave them. For local people, this reality has brought many perils. They have complained that neither the state nor the Taliban care for their welfare. The number of civilian casualties of the war on terror runs to hundreds if not thousands. In tragedy there is often opportunity. The government has gained a chance to engage with the people of Bajaur at a time when there are in need of help. It must ensure this aid is extended to them, and hearts won over, for in the final analysis it is only these people who can defeat the terrible terrorist scourge we today face. Militants have put the future of a large number of people at stake by forcing them into migrating to safer areas. This should also serve as an eye-opener for the people who still believe that the government should adopt a peaceful approach in dealing with the extremists.

Last edited by Princess Royal; Monday, September 01, 2008 at 01:33 PM.
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