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Security guarantees must be in place before Pakistan’s Pashtun and other minorities return home – new briefing

10 August 2009

As hundreds of thousands of Pashtuns and other minorities return to the Swat and Buner districts, Pakistan’s government must provide security, reconstruction and long-term development in order to avoid recreating the conditions that caused them to flee in the first place, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says in a new briefing paper launched today.

Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director, says, ‘Minorities in the North West are caught between Pakistan’s military and the Taliban. But Pakistan and the international community now have the chance to contribute to stability by supporting Pashtuns and other minorities and helping them to rebuild their communities.’

The briefing, Pakistan: Minorities at Risk in the North-West, says that having driven the Taliban from the area, Pakistan’s government and the international community now have a unique window of opportunity to address the needs of minorities and must invest heavily in education and health care, as well as reform of the police and judiciary systems in the region.

Interviews with displaced people from Swat and Buner undertaken by MRG in Pakistan reveal that hundreds of thousands are living in miserable conditions in camps, in a state of fear and vulnerable to intimidation from militants.

Taliban-linked groups have long exploited grievances among Pashtuns against the state, which has failed to provide adequate living standards or protect them from ineffective and corrupt courts. But Pashtuns and other smaller minorities, including Christians and Sikhs, were subjected to further violence once the Taliban gained control in areas of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Recent polling data indicates that support for the Taliban in the NWFP, despite its Pashtun majority, is even weaker than in Pakistan as a whole.

In May 2009, Pakistan’s military launched an offensive against the Taliban. Some 2.5 million people, mostly members of the country’s Pashtun minority, fled in the wake of these operations. While many Swat and Buner residents supported government efforts to take back the districts, they have also suffered from military operations that destroyed homes, businesses, public buildings and infrastructure.

Since the beginning of July 2009, some 500,000 persons have returned, but as Pakistan continues with military operations, there is a danger that the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) will still increase. The worst-case scenario would see hundreds of thousands of people living in camps semi-permanently, because continued fighting has destroyed their houses and made it unsafe to return home, or because of inadequate support towards reconstruction in their areas of origin.

On 22 May, the UN launched an appeal for US$543 million to help IDPs. As of 29 June, the UN had received less than 38 per cent of the requested funding from donors.

‘The international community has so far failed to meet the requests from aid agencies working with IDPs. Pakistan and international donors must respond now in order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe’, says Mark Lattimer.

Notes for editors

  • Click here to view and download the full report.
  • Pakistan is an ethnically diverse country with larger groups being Punjabi (44.68%), Sindhi (14.1%), Pashtun (15.42%), Mohajirs (7.57%) and Baluchis (3.57%), along with smaller minorities. Most of the population is Muslim (Sunni 75%, Shia 20%), while minority religious groups make up 5% of the population, including Christians (1.59%) and Hindus (1.6%). For more information, please see MRG’s World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples.
  • The briefing paper Pakistan: Minorities at Risk in the North-West can be downloaded here or can be requested from MRG’s Media Office
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • Alternative interview opportunities:
    • Cambodia: Jared Ferrie, author of Pakistan: Minorities at Risk in the North-West – +855 8935 6641 – [email protected]
    • Pakistan: Ashar Dean, Development Programs Officer, Peshawar Diocese – +92 (0) 300 8590 545 – [email protected]
    • Pakistan: Ahmad Salim, Co-oordinator, South Asia Research Centre – +92 (0) 300 554 4163 – [email protected]

For more information, a copy of the report or to arrange an interview in London with Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of MRG, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].