ONE hopes that the appeal of the International Committee of the Red Cross to the Pakistan government to allow it access to the conflict zone will not fall on deaf ears.
Although one understands the gravity of the situation in an area where a war is being fought and its implications for the security of the local population and aid workers, it must be remembered that Pakistan is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions that constitute what is called humanitarian law. The government is obliged to observe some basic principles, such as proportionality in the means and methods of warfare while exercising discrimination between non-combatants and combatants. If this is done it will, according to the ICRC, minimise the impact of the war on civilians who are innocent victims caught in the crossfire. Doubts have been expressed on this score. As a result the number of detainees and injured and displaced people has been increasing phenomenally. They need humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, they are not receiving it. Hence the ICRC’s appeal.
According to one estimate, 60,000 people have been displaced in South Waziristan in the latest surge in fighting, while 80,000 are reported to have left their homes earlier. There are no independent sources to ascertain the accuracy of the figures.
What is certain is that this has created a massive humanitarian crisis that needs to be addressed immediately. The army has chosen to keep aid workers out of the war-affected region partly on grounds of the security of the aid workers themselves and partly to enable the defence forces to conduct the war with a free hand. But one cannot overlook the legal obligations of the state which cannot absolve itself of its humanitarian responsibility even though the militants — essentially non-state actors — have been ruthless. It is important that the ICRC, which is independent and neutral, be allowed access to the war zone with as much security as possible. Its working should be facilitated so that the IDPs can be provided relief, the injured given medical treatment and the conditions of the detainees monitored to re-establish family links and prevent abuse.