Though there is an outright war going on between the central government of Pakistan and the Taliban, there is also a PR battle being waged to see who will win the devotion of the Pakistani majority. Recently the Taliban overplayed their hand with stepped up suicide bombings, kidnappings and morality checkpoints which severely weakened their public support in Pakistan.
This dip in pro-Taliban sentiment granted the Pakistani government a window to act, which they did swiftly. The full force ground invasion into the Swat valley has pushed an estimated 3 million people from their homes, many of whom have settled into quickly erected refugee camps. As of now, there is still general support for the army’s effort to route out the Taliban, even among the displaced. “We’re not angry with the army over the operation against the militants. We’re fed up with the fighting,” one refugee told US envoy Richard Holbrooke who is currently in Pakistan. But there is no certainty that this support will continue. The Pakistani government and International community must seize this opportunity to secure the trust of the Pakistani people, most of whom are more interested in peace and security than ideology.
There should be a three-fold commitment to the displaced Pakistanis. Primarily, every effort should be made to meet the needs of the refugees for as long as they are in the camps. Secondly, there must be a resolve to help those who fled return safely home as soon as possible. Refugee camps, which tend to be overcrowded with restless people, are notorious breeding grounds for violence and extremism. The less time spent in refugee camps, the better for everyone. Finally, the Swat valley must be rebuilt rapidly. If the valley is left in ruins, the Taliban leaders who have scattered will simply return and prey upon the frustrations of the locals. Bridges, homes, and schools must be rebuilt. The overwhelming need is to invest in the people – not just the military – of this region.
This requires quick action not only from the Pakistani government, which is ill-equipped to care for the masses, but also from Pakistan’s allies and International Aid organizations. USAID has provided $151million to help Pakistan care for the displaced thus far and President Obama has just requested $200 million more from Congress. This increase in aid is a good step in re-prioritizing U.S. aid to Pakistan from military to civilian support. As Obama said in yesterday’s speech from Cairo, “military power alone is not going solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
— Faith Smith