NEW YORK, June 2, 2009 – The growing conflict between Pakistan's military forces and the Taliban has caused a major humanitarian crisis that could potentially reach the scale of Darfur or Rwanda, according to Abdullah Hussain Haroon, permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations.
As the fighting continues in the North-West Frontier Province, particularly in the Swat Valley region, civilians are fleeing in staggering numbers to seek refuge in Mardan, Peshawar, and the surrounding territories. The UN puts the number of registered internally displaced people (IDPs) at 2.4 million, but estimates that the actual numbers are closer to 3 million. Speaking in conversation with Nicholas Platt, President Emeritus of Asia Society and former ambassador to Pakistan, a panel of experts examined ways the international community can, and must, provide assistance to Pakistan.
Haroon said it is important to understand the region's history to understand the current situation. He said the crisis is not limited to Pakistan, but has far-reaching implications for the international community, escalating this to what he called "the world's war."
George Rupp, president of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), underscored the magnitude of the strains created by under-resourced refugee camps and the communities who have taken in those who have been displaced. The IRC estimates only about 10 percent of IDPs are actually in the camps, which means close to 90 percent are being housed by the local residents. In addition, those who remain in the affected areas still face grave dangers.
There were questions about post-conflict security for civilians. Rupp acknowledged that at this point there is no alternative option besides the military. In addition to more resources, Pakistan needs a "long-term, patient, time frame, rather than thinking that [it] can be solved... by very aggressive investment from the outside." Platt suggested that this long-term recovery would require a joint venture among a restored civilian government, NGOs, and foreign assistance.
Rupp and Haroon agreed more resources are needed to cover the internal refugees' basic necessities (food, shelter, water) and to establish basic security to rebuild the region. Up until now most of the assistance has come from the US, and the panel said it is time the international community, and South Asia, stand up and provide aid as well.