x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pakistan readies post-conflict plans

As militants are flushed out of Swat, UN looks beyond humanitarian programmes to restore stability in the NWFP region.

People displaced by the military operation in Swat queue up for a serving of tea at the Yar Hussain camp near Islamabad yesterday.
People displaced by the military operation in Swat queue up for a serving of tea at the Yar Hussain camp near Islamabad yesterday.

ISLAMABAD // Senior Pakistani officials and international humanitarian organisations are formulating plans for managing the post-conflict fallout from the current fighting between security forces and the Taliban.

In an interview, Fikret Akcura, the United Nations' senior official in Pakistan, said that relief work has been "credible" after fighting in Swat. "Given the speed and the scale of the crisis, we have collectively done a credible job," he said. "So far groups have provided basic assistance, but we have to look beyond the relief stage to the reconstruction phase. We need to go in there in a bigger way. There is a lot more to be done."

Mr Akcura conceded that there was still no comprehensive plan for providing aid to those who have sought refuge outside of camps, about 80 per cent of the estimated 2.4 million displaced Swat residents. On Friday Pakistan's civilian leadership of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) held its first meeting with the top brass. The army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kiyani, said: "The civil administration should restore all civic services on a war footing. Safety of the people in the post-operation scenario must be ensured."

There are more deep-rooted problems ahead. As the military clears militants from the Swat valley, it has emerged that, like elsewhere in the NWFP and adjoining tribal areas, the civil administration is weak and decayed. Mr Akcura admitted that for years the international community has neglected the development of the frontier. "We definitely want this now, to supply basic social infrastructure, to improve the government system, to create job opportunities, basic health and education facilities and food security," he said.

The military campaign, now in its seventh week, was launched when Taliban fighters reached within 100km of Islamabad. They had flouted a peace deal that allowed for Islamic law to be implemented in the Malakand division in NWFP. On May 30, the army announced it had recaptured Mingora, Swat's main town. The military said more than 1,200 militants had been killed and 42 captured while 90 Pakistani soldiers had been killed and 60 wounded.

When the fighting started, the UN was already struggling with an underfunded campaign to help 500,000 people who had fled earlier operations in Swat and the Bajaur tribal area. The funding situation remains dire: only 25 per cent of the $500m the UN would like for its humanitarian response plan has been raised. "Without fresh contributions, humanitarian response operations will be seriously hampered," a UN spokesman, Nadia Evans, said.

The UN estimates that pending operations in South Waziristan will displace an additional 500,000 people. Analysts have questioned why the military did not act much earlier in Swat and why humanitarian organisations have been so ill-prepared to deal with the frontier region's insecurity. Under Mr Akcura, the UN has only just started to look beyond its traditional humanitarian programmes in Pakistan to dealing with the consequences of the Taliban insurgency.

"The UN has been sitting on its butt," a senior former UN official said bluntly. A recent internal UN report warned that the body should quickly become involved and bolster the government in NWFP and the tribal areas to avert a serious destabilisation of the region. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, recently appointed a special envoy to Pakistan, Jean Arnault, who is believed by insiders to be more political than Mr Akcura.

Mr Akcura is enthusiastic about ratcheting up the UN's education and humanitarian programmes in NWFP. But he is wary of repeating the UN's policy in neighbouring Afghanistan, where many saw the organisation's stance as being synonymous with that of Washington and Nato. He bridled at a suggestion made in the report that the UN risked becoming irrelevant in the tribal areas, where the United States is running its own relief programmes.

"The US has the money and the clout to work in the tribal areas. My concern is that the rest of Pakistan, which includes some highly impoverished areas, will be neglected if all the focus falls on the frontier," he said. However, the former senior UN official said there was great concern in humanitarian circles about leaving the United States to single-handedly implement its own strategy in the tribal areas.

In the tribal areas, $750m of US aid is being channelled by contractors through what some say is a corrupt and threadbare administration. "There is poor oversight and still no overall strategy," said Khalid Aziz, a former senior administrator in the area. He said the UN was "too bureaucratic" to provide the area with quickly implemented, immediate-impact projects. A decades-old debate about how to govern the tribal areas has once again been put on hold.

iwilkinson@thenational.ae