The on-again and off-again military operations by the Pakistani security forces against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ( TTP) and its Pashtun allies such as the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in the South Waziristan and Bajaur Agencies of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in the Swat and other districts of the Malakand Division in the North-West FrontierProvince (NWFP) are causing an immense humanitarian disaster affecting the Pashtuns. This disaster is similar to the disaster faced by the Sri Lankan Tamils due to the Sri Lankan Army's counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
2. In an interview to "Der Spiegel" of Germany published by it in its issue of May 6,2009, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan has stated that as a result of the military operations launched in the Bajaur Agency last year, about 500,000 out of the Agency's 800,000 population have been forced to leave their villages and move to areas outside the Agency.
3. A similar exodus of the civilian Pashtun population has been taking place since the end of 2007 when Pervez Musharraf,the then President, ordered the first phase of the military operations against the TNSM in the Swat Valley. After a cease-fire lasting some months, this operation has now been resumed following the collapse of the agreement on the introduction of religious (sharia) courts reached by the NWFP Government with the TNSM in February last.To counter the attempts of the TNSM to extend its territorial control to other Pashtun districts of the Malakand Division, the military operations have been extended to other districts too. The well-trained, well-motivated and well-entrenched jihadis of the TNSM have been giving a tough fight to the Pakistani security forces. The estimated total strength of all the trained pro-Taliban elements in the Bajaur Agency and in the Malakand Division is much less than 10,000. In his interview to "Der Spiegel", Zardari has estimated the total number of the Pakistani security forces (the Army plus the para-militarey forces) fighting against them as about 100,000. While it will be too early to assess the sincerity and likely success of the latest phase of the military operations, it is already evident that the fighting in the area has affected hundreds of thousands of innocent Pashtuns, who have had nothing to do with either the TNSM or the TTP.
4.In a report on the humanitarian situation in the Malakand Division carried by it on May 9,2009, the British Broadcasting Corporatiion (BBC) stated as follows: " The Pakistani offensive against militants has already displaced some 200,000 people, while a further 300,000 are estimated to be on the move or about to flee, the UN says. Sitara Imran, Minister for Social Welfare in North-West Frontier Province, called the exodus "one of the huge displacements, internal displacements in the world". "We are preparing ourselves with the help of the federal government, we asked international donors," she told the BBC's Newshour programme. She said all her department's doctors and social welfare staff had been mobilised and that holidays had been suspended as they worked to prepare for the influx. "The whole Swat is coming out from [the Swat Valley] so, naturally, it is a very difficult and complex situation," she said. Some 550,000 people had already been displaced by fighting since August, before the current crisis, the UN refugee agency said."
5. Thus, at least over a million Pashtuns, who have had nothing to do with the TNSM or the TTP, have been affected by the on-going military operations. Whereas the humanitarian plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils has received world-wide attention, that of the Pashtuns has not received the attention it deserved. The Pakistani Taliban does not allow international humanitarian organisations to operate in the territory under itrs control. It views them as organisations of the Crusaders or infidels. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of Geneva, which has a presence in the Pashtun belt on the Afghan side of the border, does not seem to have a presence in the Pakistani Pashtun belt. The Pakistani Red Crescent Society, which is their Red Cross, has not been active in the areas affected by the operations of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
6. Pakistani human rights organisations such as the one headed by Asma Jehangir, which have been active in exposing the atrocities committed by the Taliban, have not been equally active in drawing attention to the worrisome humanitarian situation in the Pashtun belt. The result: Hundreds of thousands of poor Pashtun families have been forced to fend for themselves without much assistance either from their own Government and non-governmental organisations or from the international community.
7.The Neo Taliban of Afghanistan headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar and the TTP and the TNSM have been drawing their cadres mainly from three segments of the Pashtun population---- first, the Pashtun refugees of the 1980s from Afghanistan still living in camps in Baloshistan without any rehabilitation. The Pakistani authorities estimate their number at about one million. Second, the one million internally-displaced Pashtuns of the FATA and the Malakand Division. Third, the Pashtun families alienated by the Pakistan Army's commando raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007.
8.There ought to be four components to any counter-terrorism strategy in the Af-Pak region---- first, the counter-sanctuary component, that is to deny them space in Pakistani and Afghan territories from where they could operate against Pakistan, Afghanistan and the rest of the world. President Obama stressed this point after his meeting with Zardari and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in the White House earlier this week. Second, the counter-capability component, which focusses on nudging the Pakistani and Afghan Armies to mount a campaign of attrition against them. This has also received some attention. The third is the counter-ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) component to prevent the ISI from exploiting the Taliban and other terrorist groups to serve Pakistan's strategic agenda in Afghanistan and against India. The attention paid to this component by the US is half-hearted. The fourth is the denial of fresh recruits component. This component demands attention to the anger and the humanitarian problems of the Pashtuns. This component has hardly figured so far either in the various policy pronouncements of the Obama Administration or in the statements made during the visit of Zardari and Karzai.
9.The officials of the Obama Administration and some Congressmen have been talking of funding various development projects in the Pashtun belt. These are long-gestation projects, which will take years to fructify if at all they do. What is urgently required are projects which will show quick results and make the Pashtuns feel that the international community cares for them.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )