Home > Afghanistan, Asia-Pacific, Central Asia, Conflict & Security, Editorial > Pitched fighting in Pakistan, 400,000 refugees, birth of the Taliban

Pitched fighting in Pakistan, 400,000 refugees, birth of the Taliban

The situation has only worsened in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan’s military continues to be engaged in a furious conflict with insurgents on part of its border with Afghanistan, mainly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The military claims that they’ve killed more than 1,500 rebels since August in just one region of the FATA. Despite Pakistani troop buildups along its western border with Afghanistan, insurgents do not seem dissuaded from combat. Only yesterday, 600 fighters, many crossing from Afghanistan, attacked a Pakistani military checkpoint in Mohmand. Pakistani officials claim to have killed 40 insurgents and lost 6 of their own troops in the fighting.

The FATA has a history of autonomy from Pakistan’s central authority, and has rebelled in the past. It is a region marginalized from Pakistan’s political and economic heartland. The FATA’s people have suffered from a long period of restricted political rights, and the economic and social situation in the FATA is dismal. Annual per capita income is only $500, nearly half that of the rest of Pakistan. Literacy stands at 17%, with 3% for women. The national average is 56%. Clearly, the FATA is marginalized and socio-economically abandoned. Religious schools are the most available form of education, providing a further advantage to these institutions. With the collapse of government authority in southern Afghanistan, it didn’t take much for violence to spread over the porous border into Pakistan’s impoverished neighbouring regions.

AFP reports that “masked gunmen on Sunday kidnapped a senior local government official in a troubled tribal area in northwest Pakistan where Taliban militants are active, police said… Last month, militants in neighbouring North Waziristan abducted another senior government official, Asmatullah Wazir, from the Mir Ali district. He has not yet been recovered, officials said.” The kidnappings took place in the FATA’s South and North Waziristan regions. The Pakistani paper, DAWN, highlights the ineffectiveness of local security plus the boldness of insurgents by indicating that the latest kidnapping took place: “in the presence of more than 20 security personnel.”

IPS reports that some 400,000 people have fled the FATA’s Bajaur Agency since 22 September. This is the region Pakistan’s military claims have killed 1,500 insurgents. Refugees are fleeing to the neighbouring North West Frontier Province (NWFP). IPS:

The NWFP government set up 11 camps to shelter internally displaced peoples (IDPs) from Bajaur and Mohmand agencies that are part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Swat, a district in NWFP that has been riven with violence since 2006.

…”About 51 percent of the camps’ inmates suffer from acute respiratory infections and 19 percent had acute watery diarrhoea,” says Dr Saeed Akbar Khan of the World Health Organisation that along with the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN children’s agency, UNICEF, launched a 30 million dollars appeal to help IDPs in October.

UNICEF estimates that 15 percent of children in the camps are severely malnourished. The worst affected are children from Nowshera, Lower Dir, Mardan, Charsadda, according to Dr Saeed Anwar.

…Things could get worse, warns Amjad of the NWFP Disasters Management Cell. “With unending militancy, we fear more people would arrives in these camps,” he says.

…There are no schools for children, and no hopes for employment for the adults.

The Taliban was born from similar refugee camps in Pakistan. Refugees who fled the chaos of Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of that country were settled in tented refugee camps in Pakistan where an entire generation of children was born without access to public education, without proper sanitation, with no prospect of sustainable employment, and cut off from general society within these isolated camps. A large part of the Taliban’s founders grew up in refugee camps. These latest camps in Pakistan can add to the militant resistance in Pakistan and Afghanistan by enraging yet another generation of desperate people cut off from and isolated from their traditional homes and societies(1).

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References:
(1) Read Ahmed Rashid’s book, ‘Taliban‘ for information on that organization’s inception and growth.

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