Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been chased out of the Swat Valley by the Pakistani military offensive, and many are flocking to the increasingly crowded and ill-equipped refugee camps set up for them. The UN says it is expecting that most of the people chased out of the region will stay with relatives or friends, which may be part of why the camps don’t seem up to the task of housing so many displaced persons.
The refugees will be facing the squalid conditions for an indefinite period of time, for while the government has been lauding the success and the body tolls of its latest offensive, President Asif Ali Zardari has vowed to see every single militant in the region killed, and says that the operation will only end when the situation returns to normal. Zardari has promised to keep the civilian toll to a minimum, yet to him that means “we don’t want to make one million dead.”
But while killing the thousands of members of the assorted militant factions in the valley is no small task, particularly when the government only recently had given up on a military solution, the real damage done the government’s credibility may be in the form of enraged civilians, driven from their homes and in many cases, killed.
The exact civilian toll is unclear, in no small part because the military has barred journalists from entering the region. The only non-official reports coming out had been in the form of a handful of Swati journalists who were inside when the invasion began, but the last one, a TV journalist, fled today because of security concerns.