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PAKISTAN: Little aid reaching "highly militarized" South Waziristan

PESHAWAR, 3 November 2009 (IRIN) - Around 240,000 people have fled South Waziristan since early October, according to UN agencies, and those that have escaped say little is being done for the civilians trapped there.

“My sister is there, in Wana [the principal town in South Waziristan] and there are people who are sick or injured but they have received no help,” Shaheena Bibi, 40, who left the tribal territory a month ago with her family, told IRIN. “No one is doing anything about the people who have lost everything in South Waziristan,” she said, comparing their treatment unfavourably with those displaced from Swat Valley earlier in the year.

“We can’t understand why more of these Western agencies and NGOs are not helping the people of Waziristan,” she said.

Despite the readiness of aid agencies to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) - and even people in their homes in South Waziristan - access has been consistently denied by the military.

“We want to go to aid people and have even tried to do so, but the military guards the entry points and turns us back,” Ronnie Palomar, deputy head of mission of the Paris-based Médecins Sans Frontières told IRIN, adding: “South Waziristan is a very highly militarized zone. People coming out of it are going into other areas guarded by the military.”

MSF, like other international organizations has been denied access to either IDPs or people in South Waziristan. “The only people offering humanitarian aid are the military,” said Palomar.

While some local NGOs have been allowed to work with IDPs based in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) districts that border South Waziristan, staff say military control is tight.

“Sometimes it is very hard to talk freely to people about their situation, because of the heavy police and military presence,” said a female NGO worker who asked not to be named. She said security personnel often “tried to help” but “their uniforms intimidate people.”

“The government is not encouraging foreign NGOs to directly assist IDPs from South Waziristan due to security concerns,” Lt-Gen Nadeem Ahmed of the military’s Special Support Group told a press conference in Islamabad on 1 November. He also said it was “possible” militants were mingling with IDPs.


A spate of recent bombings across Pakistan has prompted the UN Secretary-General to announce heightened security measures in NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas for its staff.

According to a UN press release, the new security measures will mean: “reduced international UN staff members in NWFP and FATA, with [the] presence of only those vital for emergency, humanitarian relief, security operations or any other essential operations as advised by the Secretary-General.”

“They seem to fear we may be kidnapped or something,” Sebastien Brack, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told IRIN.

He said access was being denied and security cited as the reason for this, despite the fact that the ICRC “has received guarantees of safety from all groups involved in South Waziristan and has conveyed to [the] authorities [that] we are in a unique position to help.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for help for civilians trapped in the zone of fighting. “If aid agencies can’t reach these people, it could be a catastrophe,” Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher for HRW, said.

Those who have fled the conflict-hit areas are worried about those left behind. “People are getting hurt in the aerial bombardment. They have no medicines. Children are sick and frightened and things will only get worse once winter sets in,” said Dilawar Khan, who lives in Peshawar but has family in South Waziristan.


Copyright © IRIN 2009
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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