What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thinking of them...

... of these people. Here's a long excerpt from a month-old article in the Guardian, by Saeed Shah, describing the plight of refugees from Bajaur.
" Packed together in tented cities, these deeply conservative Islamic refugees have had to drop the strict purdah that the women observed at home. Large families - of eight or sometimes 12 - live together in single, draughty tents. They are all preparing for a bitter winter.
At the sprawling Kungi camp, set on a hill just outside the town of Timergara, the only toilet is a communal ditch over which the men squat. The women use the surrounding woods.
'We get little food. We don't have enough water to drink, let alone the chance to bathe,' said Gul Mohammad, 25, who arrived at Kungi with seven family members. 'We brought nothing. We just came here to save our lives.' There is no electricity. Water is trucked in and food is distributed by the government and aid agencies, but supplies are very short. Inhabitants spend much of their day foraging for wood as cooking fuel, or buy it with the little money they have.
There are at least eight similar camps scattered across the North West Frontier Province, which adjoins Bajaur. Already there are outbreaks of disease, with acute diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses being treated by medical aid workers. There are 30,000 people living in official camps and there are contingencies being prepared by the United Nations to accommodate 100,000, as people continue to flood out of Bajaur. Soon Bajaur will be virtually empty. The UN believes that a further 200,000 will be put up in houses by 'host families', often relatives.
The Pakistani government has had to scramble to set up camps for these 'internally displaced people' as a result of the military assault in Bajaur, now into its third month. Aid agencies and the UN have rushed to provide support. At first it was thought the army would finish the job within a month, but with no signs of the operation ending these camps are being given more permanent facilities.
There are fears that the sites could be infiltrated by Taliban militants, whose wives and children are already living there. When one Western aid worker asked a group of women at prayer who they were praying for, back came the reply: 'Our men fighting the army.' "
The most important part of politics may play out off the battlefield. That should be no surprise to anyone. Bajaur refugees, perversely, were generally regarded as a sign of the Pakistani armed forces doing something definitely a lot more "real" against militants in the FATA than what was usual back in Musharraf's latter years. However, there are causes for concern, to say the least:
1) humanitarian concerns;
2) concerns that the large refugee populations created may be a very beneficial setting for spreading radicalism (note the passage in the article about the purdah, as well as the effect of the massive collateral damage of the fighting, back in these people's homeland) - this would, of course, be quite reminiscent of the 1980s and what happened to Afghan refugees, only there are many factors now that can catalyse such a process nowadays, in the area concerned;
3) concerns regarding the Pakistani armed forces' efficiency, in a particular sense especially. If there are unreliable elements in there, how do we know they don't just end up shooting up villages in many cases, without having any proper reason to do so?
With these concerns in mind, I'm thinking of what's up with these refugees.

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