Originally Published 2011-09-29 00:00:00 Published on Sep 29, 2011
Massive migrations, triggered by natural calamities and the decade-long 'war on terror', are severely testing state's credibility and capability in Pakistan. Reeling under the cumulative effect of terrorism and economic meltdown, Pakistan, with a growing population.
Mass migration, adding to Pakistan's woes
Massive migrations, triggered by natural calamities and the decade-long 'war on terror', are severely testing state's credibility and capability in Pakistan.

Reeling under the cumulative effect of terrorism and economic meltdown, Pakistan, with a growing population of 187million, is struggling as a state to cope with these multiple challenges. The mass migration, the biggest in the history of Pakistan, has added to this burden. Pakistan ranks sixth in the world with an estimated figure of 980,000 displaced people. If closely assessed, it can be deemed a crisis even more severe than terrorism itself.

This massive shift in population is adding to the unrest and instability in Pakistan where ethnic, provincial and religious cleavages are sharpening by the day.

Other than being uprooted from their homes and familiar surroundings, the displaced go through inexplicable hardship like, loss of their livelihood such as business, livestock, crops, shops, etc. Around two million people have been reported sick in 2011 alone as a result of condition at the relief camps. They require assistance in the areas of medical services, shelter, food, water for drinking and other domestic use, toilets, etc. They are forced to enter job markets that are saturated and thereby leading to severe strains in finances. This inadvertently leads to a break in children's education or ceased entirely as even the young particularly the boys are compelled to find work. Many families have either lost their sole breadwinner or other members and others severely handicapped leaving a lasting psychological impact. Most families in the relief camps hoped if they had more privacy and the worst affected in this scenario are women.

Presence of the state is hardly felt in these regions thus leaving a vacuum which is then exploited by the Army and non-state actors such as terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) which operate as charity groups. The situation creates an internal 'spiral effect' as it becomes an active breeding ground for recruitment of militants, thereby, nullifying the actions of the state to oust them.

These mass migrations, largely caused by military operations and natural disasters, are taking place in highly unstable areas like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan. The Balochistan region poses different challenges where Baloch nationalists have been battling the state forces since 1947.

Reliable information is difficult to find on the number of IDPs in the region due to restrictions on the movement of NGOs in the region. According to rough estimates, 100,000 people were driven out of areas in Balochistan dominated by Marri and Bugti tribes after the paramilitary forces attacked the hideout of veteran Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in March 2005. The situation has not changed even today due to continued military operations. Another matter of concern is that the government has not officially acknowledged the displaced leading to a severe lack of relief packages to the people.

The FATA territory and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were greatly affected after 9/11. The conflicts in the region had increased as a result of 'Talibanisation' and the resultant government military operations to repel these forces.  The warring parties include the Pakistani Government, militant groups and the US military agencies. The increasing sectarian violence has severely harmed the civilians who either flee or are forced to move out as the army forced people to evacuate for security reasons. Many fled the area anticipating conflict. The number of IDPs at FATA was close to 3 million in 2009. According to government reports, the number came down significantly by May 2010 to around 1 million (Bajaur- 350,000, Waziristan- 273,000, and Mohmand- 245,000).

Although the government claims that almost 100,000 IDPs have returned to their respective homes, new displacements are likely to take place with renewed military operations in many of these regions.

Another main cause of displacement was the 2010 floods that started with heavy monsoon, flash floods and landslides at KP and Balochistan which reached Sindh in a matter of two weeks causing the displacement of close to 1.5 million people. An estimated 18 million were seriously affected by the disaster. It affected 78 of the 141 districts in Pakistan. The situation got worse with the 2011 floods in the Sindh region that caused the death of 270 people and 5.3 million people losing their homes in the catastrophe.

In the near future, the social, economic and political consequences of mass migrations are likely to magnify the problems Pakistan is confronted with today.

Aarya Venugopal is Research Intern at ORF.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.