Swat Humanitarian Crisis Threatens Pakistan's Stability
Pakistan faces a growing humanitarian crisis that has the potential to threaten the country's "fundamental stability and security", a senior Western diplomat warned on Tuesday, underscoring growing concerns over the fate of up to 2 million people displaced by fighting between the military and Taliban militants in the northern Swat valley.
(AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
Speaking to CBS News in Islamabad on condition of anonymity, the diplomat - a western ambassador - said; "the situation looks very grim at the moment. I hope we can mobilize enough resources to prevent this situation from becoming totally explosive." Some UN officials have compared the exodus from Swat to the way people were uprooted by the fighting in Rwanda in the 1990s.
The assessment from the diplomat comes ahead of Thursday's expected meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and a group of Western ambassadors and heads of Western developmental agencies based in Islamabad. Gilani will formally request millions of dollars in emergency assistance.
Mr Gilani's meeting coincides with rapidly mounting international concern over the future of thousands of families fleeing Swat and its surrounding region as Pakistan's military remains locked in intense fighting with Taliban militants. According to Pakistan's official estimates, just over 1,000 Taliban militants and 54 army personnel have been killed so far. Some officials say there were up to 5,000 Taliban militants in Swat before the fighting began, but this estimate has not been independently confirmed.
On Tuesday, UN officials for the first time acknowledged that the number of people displaced from the fighting in Swat could swell to about 2 million, sharply higher from earlier estimates of 1.5 million.
On Sunday, Ant?nio Guterres, head of the UN's High Commission for Refugees - the world body's principal agency for refugees – warned before leaving Pakistan: "It's like trying to catch something that's moving ahead of us because the number of people on the move every day is so big and the response is never enough."
"Leaving this population without the support they need - with such massive numbers - could constitute an enormous destabilizing factor," he told reporters.
Part of the crisis stems from concerns over the fate of those still trapped in Swat valley, unable to leave because of the fighting. Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, head of the army-led relief operation for the internally displaced persons from Swat, told reporters in Peshawar Tuesday that ,"we are also looking for areas which are close to the fighting areas, where no aid agencies are willing to go, where food can be supplied through the army."
Before Ahmed spoke, the military sent 10 trucks full of relief supplies for the people stranded in Swat.
The Western ambassador who spoke to CBS News said, Pakistan faced a major dilemma in choosing to remain at war with Taliban militants in Swat. The military campaign in the valley was launched following pressure from Western countries including the U.S., which urged Pakistan to abandon its dialogue with the Taliban who were trying to enforce rigid religious laws in that area.
However, the large scale displacement of the people in Swat has brought home an outcome of the military campaign that many Pakistanis are finding increasingly difficult to deal with. "It is like being caught between a rock and a hard place" said the Western ambassador. "I think the world needs to really come together and generously help Pakistan. If we let down this country now, the next time we urge the Pakistanis to go to war against the Taliban somewhere else, they will have a good point in simply refusing us."
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