Swat: Stalingrad in the Hindu Kush, or Just Another Imperial Bloodbath

May 14, 2009

A nightmare is unfolding in the Swat Valley in Pakistan:

UNHRC spokeswoman Ariane Rummery announced yesterday in Islamabad that the total influx of registered refugees had jumped in the past 11 days to 670,906, of whom 79,842 were being housed in camps. Some of those not in camps were staying with relatives and friends, but many were forced to live in makeshift shelters without access to food and medicine. The UNHCR total was up from 501,496 late on Tuesday. Pakistani officials have put the number of internally displaced persons at over 800,000.

Speaking to the BBC about the situation in Peshawar, Majid, a student who fled Mingora, explained: “Many [people] joined refugee camps, but those must be full, because I see lots of people lying on the roads, people for whom there’s no accommodation or help. The nearby park is full of people from Swat. There are Swat people all over the city, everyone with their own story.”

The LA Times reports on how “private” charity has scrambled to respond to the exodus – shaming efforts by Pakistan’s government.

At Hazrat Usman, run by an Islamic charity, “a welcoming committee greets those fleeing violence between the government and militants with a cool glass of water, a meal and a place to sleep with fans and a pharmacy.”

The nearby Jalala camp run by the government “is hot, mosquito-ridden and busy turning newcomers away” while “water, food and medicine are in short supply, tempers flare and many people are forced to sleep in the open — a particular indignity for women in this Islamic society.”

Apparently though, the Hazrat Usman camp is run by the “hardliners,” not the camp which is infested with mosquitos, inadequately provisioned and humiliates women.

This is a catastrophe. The offensive has been encouraged by the Obama administration, which held talks with both the Pakistani and the Afghan government in May. Obama is seeking to pave the way for his “surge” in Afghanistan, and a key element of that will be securing supply lines which run through Pakistan’s frontier regions.

Yet yt’s not often that I find myself in agreement with a strategist who played a key role in running the U.S.’ counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq. But David Kilcullen has a point when he states that “they will move into Swat, they will fight the Taliban, there will be half a million refugees, there will be immense dislocation. I’m not sure that, looking back on this in six months, we will see any improvement.”

Kilcullen also suggests that, because “all the resources we are putting into Afghanistan have to go through Pakistan, with the exception of a small amount that has to fly through Manas airbase [in Kyrgyzstan], we could be creating a Stalingrad in the Hindu Kush, if we are not careful.”

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