350,000 Displaced Since Waziristan Offensive
Shortly after the recent attacks on the Karachi International Airport, the government of Pakistan announced an offensive attack against Taliban militants based in the Waziristan region. This was the first major offensive that the Pakistani government has launched since 2007, when government leaders signed an unofficial non-aggression pact with pro-government militias. The main target for this offensive is the Matchis Camp. The camp was originally set up as a refugee camp for Afghans fleeing the ongoing war in their country, but over the course of time, it eventually turned into a hub for local and foreign militants.
Since the offensive started it has been estimated that at least 350,000 people that live in the region have been displaced. Most of the people are fleeing to the nearby town of Bannu, where only a rudimentary camp has been created so far. Many refugees that have spoken to media outlets have said that they don’t want to go there, largely because the town lacks basic necessities like food, water and sanitation. Local aid organization are doing what they can to help the situation, but the continual influx of people is beginning to strain resources.
Siraj Ahmed, the highest government official in the region, released a statement as the offensive started that strongly urged people to leave the region as soon as they could. However, officials in Pakistan say that approximately 80 percent of the 7 million people living in the Waziristan region, which is in the northern part of the country and borders Afghanistan, still remain there despite the escalation of military strikes and continuous conflict.
One particularly striking aspect of this most recent influx of refugees is that many of the children that are fleeing are at a high risk for infectious diseases. This is thanks to the Taliban imposing a ban on the vaccination of children that lived in the region. While there are many diseases that the children are susceptible of catching, of particular concern is the spreading of polio. Living in a refugee camp, particularly like the one in Bannu, only increases the chance of these children contracting various diseases.
From here the military offensive is only going to get increasingly deadly as more helicopters, soldiers and drones enter the region. The human toll is only going to get worse from here, especially considering the large amount of civilians still in the region, unless aid efforts are increased exponentially.
— Andre Gobbo
Sources: BBC Asia, Reuters, The New Yorker
Photo: Insight on Conflict