Pakistanis displaced by fighting languish in camps

By Hasan Mehmood

MUHAMMAD KHAWAJA, Pakistan (BestGrowthStock) – A Pakistani military offensive against Taliban insurgents in the northwest has forced thousands to flee for camps, possibly undermining public support for a U.S.-backed crackdown on militants.

Pakistani security forces have stepped up assaults in the northwest over the past year, largely clearing militants from at least three of their strongholds — Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, South Waziristan and Bajaur on the Afghan border.

While military successes have eased fears nuclear-armed Pakistan, an ally vital for the United States to stabilize Afghanistan, was sliding into chaos, the offensives have displaced a large number of people.

The latest offensive in Orakzai and neighboring Kurram has killed about 300 militants, military officials say. There was no independent confirmation of the deaths. Pakistani Taliban often dismiss military estimates of militant casualties.

The assault forced 200,000 people to flee their homes in recent months, the United Nations says. A total of about 1.3 million had already been displaced.

Colonel Muhammad Imran Arif, a spokesman for a military relief agency, said the number of recently displaced from Orakzai and a nearby region could climb.

“We have registered about 180,000 individuals both from Khyber and Orakzai and the figure might go to 240,000 in coming days,” he told Reuters.

While many Pakistanis forced from their homes stay with family members who support them, displacements can undermine backing for the government and its campaign against militants in a country where anti-American support runs high. The government has set up a makeshift camp for the displaced from Orakzai and Kurram near the northwestern town of Hangu and plans to open another to accommodate growing numbers of uprooted people, officials say.

“I don’t want my small children to get killed,” said Ghazi Khan, an Orakzai resident who has taken shelter at Muhammad Khawaja camp near Hangu.

“I have no other option but to get my family out of my village because there is heavy fighting between the army and the Taliban.”

ONE POND OF WATER

Though authorities have provided food, vegetable oil and sugar, people complain that basic amenities are not available.

“There is just one pond of water for the entire camp. There is no sanitation, no proper drinking water for us,” shouted Muhammad Saleem, a driver.

“It’s very hot here. We are not used to living in such conditions. Ours is a very cold area. Now we have to spend summer without any electricity.”

The United Nations warned on Monday that humanitarian aid for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis affected by military offensives might come to a grinding halt because of scarce funds.

U.N. aid agencies launched in February a $537 million aid appeal for people affected by the fighting but they had received only $106 million, accounting for only around 20 percent of requested funds.

“It’s very crowded. My children are very disturbed. But I am poor. I don’t have cash to rent a house and don’t have any relative or friend here to live with,” said Azam Khan, father of seven, sitting outside his tent.

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(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider in Islamabad; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Michael Georgy and Jerry Norton)

Pakistanis displaced by fighting languish in camps