No valid data on refugees in Pakistan’s northwest

June 3rd, 2009 - 5:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, June 3 (IANS) The lack of valid data on the number of people displaced by the military’s anti-Taliban operations in the country’s troubled northwest has confirmed fears that many militants could have fled the area by intermingling with the refugees.
At least three sets of figures exist.

The social welfare department of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) says it has registered 1.4 million refugees.

The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) puts the number of displaced people at 1.73 million.

On its part, the military had estimated there were some 4,000-5,000 Taliban in three districts of the NWFP when the security forces’ action began April 26. It now says about half of these could have fled the area in the garb of refugees after shaving their beards.

The Pakistani government has sanctioned Rs.8 billion as initial aid for the refugees and announced each family would receive a one-time grant of Rs.25,000.

However, the lack of reliable data on the refugees could also spark rampant corruption.

This is because the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), under which relief will be distributed, has been asked to waive, on a one-time basis, the requirement of beneficiaries possessing a government-issued smart card listing their details.

The UN estimates that some $543 million would be required for the relief and rehabilitation of the refugees.

The security forces were ordered into action after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered the peace deal and who is Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah’s father-in-law, and later spread to Buner and Swat.

Under the peace deal, the Taliban were to lay down arms in return for Sharia laws in Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and four other districts of the NWFP that are collectively known as the Malakand division.

The military says it has so far killed some 1,300 Taliban fighters in its operations but will not lay down a time-frame for their conclusion. Thus, it is anyone’s guess as to when the refugees will be able to return home.

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