Politics aside, Pakistan grapples with humanitarian crisis

August 18, 2008

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While Pakistan and indeed much of the world has been transfixed by the political power play that has seen President Pervez Muaharraf go, a refugee crisis is unfolding in its troubled northwest.

The numbers fleeing escalating fighting between the Pakistan Army and militants holed up in Bajaur on the border with Afghanistan vary but they are all huge. The Daily Times said that the provincial government had set up relief camps for 219,000 people displaced in the latest wave of fighting.

Pakistani television has shown thousands of people streaming out of Bajaur, Mohmand and Kurram agencies, the Australian reported, calling it a “human tide.” Tens of thousands of people are camping on the perimeter of Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Region Province, and some have reached Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjoining Islamabad.

As one blogger noted the crisis unfolding in the troubled corner of Pakistan – seen as the staging ground for the next big attack on the West – deserves attention, all the more so given that the number of people affected rivals, if not exceeds, refugees from the conflict in South Ossetia this past week. The number of people displaced there is estimated at 100,000, according to this report in the Los Angeles Times.

Given the scale of the problem, Pakistan would be well-advised to seek international help, the News argued in an editorial . It said in the past Pakistan had tried to cover up problems by denying experts such the Red Cross access to internally displaced people. This is the time for the state to show a ‘kinder face” to people whose homes have been bombed, or ordered to be evacuated in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, their maize crops cut down so that the militants didn’t hide in them to carry out ambushes, it said. 

   

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