Wounds of Conflict

For the last decade at least Pakistan and Pakistanis have been paying a heavy cost due to conflict and terror. And it seems this will continue to be the case for sometime in the future. Irrespective of who started it, whether it was jihad that has now gone out of hand and out of vogue and whether it was our war or not, some forty thousand odd Pakistanis have lost their lives in these years, many more have been physically wounded, millions have been displaced internally, businesses have been destroyed, local economies shattered, national economy has suffered huge losses and last but not the least the psychological and psycho-social wounds that we carry will be with us for a long time to come.

Those who have lost their lives cannot be brought back and their families and friends have to live with that. But for many whose lives have been affected in terms of lost businesses, lost homes, educational and other opportunities, lost livelihoods, and especially physical disabilities, surely the government and the society has some responsibility towards them. Their losses cannot be compensated for, but some of their troubles can be addressed and this, as citizens of this country, should be their right.

We do hear of ‘compensations’ and ‘payments’ being announced for victims in the aftermath of almost every major incident of terror but there is no systematic data available on such incidents and/or the compensations that have been paid. There is also no documentation available on the basis on which these payments are made. Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS) recently launched a study “Compensating Civilian Victims of Conflict and Terrorism in Pakistan” that looks at the issue in a very systematic and methodical manner.

The study finds that compensations are indeed paid in major incidents and there is a certain level of transparency in the payments. But they also found major issues with the payments. There is no uniform legal framework or law under which compensations are made. Each of the province and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) have notifications that are used as a basis for making payments. The lack of a law means that compensations are not seen or treated as a right and something that the state has to do for people, it is usually seen as a ‘goodwill’ gesture from the government. The payments also vary across provinces and from incident to incident, depending on how connected the aggrieved group is, how significant the incident, how much the media highlights it, rural or urban, rich or poor, and so on. The payments are usually made for casualties as well as injuries, but the lack of standard operating procedures makes the process slow as well as somewhat difficult for aggrieved parties to manage.

There is significant variation in the time in which compensations have been made: some have taken up to 240 days while others have been made in about two weeks. Again the political connections of the group matter a lot here. But if the government can disperse relief in two weeks, which has been done in some cases, clearly the standard that should be set as normal procedure should be close to two weeks rather than months.

The existing compensation mechanism is usually for casualties (Rs 300,000-500,000) and for injuries (Rs 75,000 for major injuries) but there is usually no compensation for loss of business and livelihoods. There is no concern for the fact that in many cases it is the bread-earner of the house whose life is lost or in case of an injury is then unable to work. There are a significant number of people who have become disabled in explosions and other terror attacks. They need help with rehabilitation. In many cases children have also been victims, directly and indirectly. When the head of the household is lost children might have to drop out of schools too.

There needs to be some debate in the society as to what is an appropriate compensation mechanism and how are issues of rehabilitation, livelihoods, and education to be handled. For the moment, we are relying on ad hoc procedures that are followed in the wake of every new incident. This makes the compensation unpredictable and it also makes procedures for accessing compensation difficult, especially for the less connected and poorer victims and their families. The lack of clear law and policy on the issue also makes it less transparent and more difficult to track.

The authors of the I-SAPS report suggest that apart from the law and rules for compensation, the provinces and ICT need to create lines in the budget which separately mention the amount kept for compensations so that it can be tracked to see how is that money being used and if people are getting compensations or not. For addressing issues of livelihoods, rehabilitation, and education, the report suggests creation of ‘funds’ that would provide such help to victims. They argue that this should not be a part of the current budget. Another advantage of creating funds is that the funds can solicit contributions from donors, local and foreign, too.

Irrespective of which recommendations are eventually adopted, clearly we, as a society, and especially the provincial and federal governments, need to take up this issue urgently. The trauma of losing someone is huge enough, the families should not be plunged into poverty and need as a result of that and they should definitely not be made to beg for help.

I-SAPS report looks at civilian victims of conflict and terror only. They do not look at the needs of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and they also do not look at people who have been affected by military actions in Swat, Fata, as well as other areas where actions have been going on, or the victims of drone attacks. Should compensations be extended to civilian victims in these groups too? Again something for the society to debate and decide on.

The best option would, of course, be if we were rid of the torments of terror and conflict. But though that might be a goal, we live in a country where we have tremendous conflict and it looks as if it will continue for the next few years. Thousands have already been victims, and if we count families as victims, the numbers go into millions already. We need mechanisms to look after people who are victimised, and this should be a matter of right: ad hoc arrangements, as they stand, are neither sufficient nor are they fair. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has already created a budget line for this head. It is a step in the right direction. We now need a debate in society to figure out what are the types of help we need to extend to victims, and set the law and procedures for it. It is incumbent on us, as a society, to move expeditiously to address this issue.

From Pakistan Today, Pakistan, Tuesday, 28th February, 2012.

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