In-depth: When disaster strikes: the response to the South Asian earthquake
PAKISTAN: A humanitarian dilemma: Civil-Military adventures
Muzaffarabad, Pakistan A US Army Blackhawk crew chief oversees the unloading of supplies
NAIROBI, 5 June 2006 (IRIN) - The provision of aid by military forces is by no means a new phenomenon, although the controversy between humanitarian actors and the military is. According to a March 2006 report by the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute, “The relationship between humanitarian and military actors has changed considerably in the past decade. Military functions have expanded beyond traditional war-fighting to encompass a range of tasks related to humanitarian goals, including support for humanitarian and rehabilitation efforts and the protection of civilians.”
Particularly with the end of the Cold War, numerous western governments have become more involved in the provision of humanitarian aid, not only through the funding of UN Agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) but also with the tasking of the armed forces with a greater responsibility for peacekeeping or humanitarian operations. Non-western governments, too, have been closely involved with UN peacekeeping and peace-enforcing missions globally.
When disasters strike, either natural or man-made, governments often turn to the military for help as the military have certain resources immediately to hand, such as food, medicine and fuel, as well as transport and human assets with which to distribute them. These governments are often also funding the UN and private aid organisation at the same time and in the same location, creating for some, unavoidable and unacceptable contradictions. These contradictions are particularly acute in conflict situations where the same military forces are on military mission while involved in aid work.
Much as been written about the inherent differences between the military and humanitarian organistions and the resulting barriers to effective interaction.
According to Eric James in “The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance” of November 2003, “The humanitarian organisations are more or less horizontal while the military is largely vertical in structure. Humanitarian operations tend to be assembled on an as-needed basis, whereas the military prides itself on planning and preparation. Humanitarian organisations strive for transparency and accountability while the military seeks a positive public image but must control information to ensure its operational security. Most fundamentally, the mandates differ so vastly between humanitarians and the military that interaction, let alone cooperation, makes them strange allies (when it occurs) in a conflict.”
Independence of action and identity is a critical principle for humanitarians to maintain. This fact is widely known and enshrined in international law, but not completely understood or implemented, becoming instead a contentious issue.
Blurring of missions
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq serve as illustrations of where the debate has been most heated and where the polarities between the military mission and those delivering aid have been laid bare. For many NGOs the blurring of the provision of aid and military strategies is cynical and not accidental. In Afghanistan, for example, Provincial Reconstruction Teams consist of international service personnel deployed all over the country and involved in school- and clinic-building and other social projects. They are not uniformed but armed and, when required, revert to being soldiers on offensive military missions - sometimes in the same regions where they conduct their aid work.
The deliberate linking of humanitarian aid with military objectives destroys the meaning of humanitarianism,” said Nelke Manders, head of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Afghanistan in May 2004. “It will result, in the end, in the neediest Afghans not getting badly needed aid and those providing aid being targeted.”
His argument proved correct as just one month later in June, three international staff working for MSF were gunned down leading to the departure of MSF from Afghanistan after 24 years of work. For them, and others, the confusion of roles and missions between the military and the humanitarians was intolerable and undermined the raison d’etre and mandate of NGOs.
Also in Afghanistan, hundreds of humanitarians united to forward specific recommendations, through their main coordination body, to the coalition forces. While they reaffirmed the military’s role in activities, such as arms collection and demobilisation projects, they insisted that soldiers keep out of aid work. “The military should not engage in assistance work except in those rare circumstances where emergency needs exist and civilian assistance workers are unable to meet those needs due to lack of logistical capacity or levels of insecurity on the ground. … All such work should fall under civilian leadership.” For a variety of reasons, including a lack of donor and political will, these recommendations have not taken effect and coalition forces continue to mix aid work with military missions. Aid workers continue to be targeted by enemies of the present foreign military forces, and enemies of the new government in the country.
In Iraq, the tensions between the humanitarian community and the military are strong with most of the western humanitarians increasingly uncomfortable with their own governments’ role in the war being pursued there. At the same time, their unavoidable association with the occupying forces and the increased violence of the emerging civil war in Iraq makes their operations extremely hazardous. Three years ago, from 2003, NGOs rebelled against US-led structures and organisations designed to coordinate and control their work there by refusing to join them. British, US, Kuwaiti and military personnel staffed the Humanitarian Operations Centre based in Kuwait, which not only bypassed the expertise and experience held by senior UN and aid agencies staff, but also directly associated aid workers with the coalition forces in the country. In order to ensure impartiality and independence, a group of major international NGOs insisted on UN coordination instead.
When the British forces were assaulting Basra in southern Iraq, humanitarian agencies took exception to the use of the name of the contingent seeking to secure the city. Many civilians were killed in the battle for Basra by the British Humanitarian Task Force, which some feel was named in a cynical attempt to give the political and military invasion of Iraq a wider moral justification. In an article in “The Lancet” magazine in 2003, Martyn Broughton of MSF-UK wrote, “a simple solution would be to call the military relief operation just that. The media should stop using the word ‘humanitarian’ when it is both wrong and unnecessary.”
The ‘new aid paradigm’?
According to Mark Duffield, an aid analyst writing in the 1990s, a “new aid paradigm” has developed in permanent emergencies where aid may be used by donor countries in lieu of political action, and where NGOs are simply contractors for government interests. Humanitarian crises such as those in Kosovo, the former Yugoslavia, East Timor and Rwanda are examples of situations where the military and humanitarian agencies are thrown together in the same context, funded from similar sources, and serving the same overall aim of their funders. The realisation of this fact has become a dilemma for many agencies, but one that does not affect the military who are themselves state actors and, perhaps more importantly, understand themselves to be such.
In Iraq, the debate about the justness of the war further muddied the water as many humanitarians continue to take a strong stance against military intervention, as they did during the years of the UN sanctions that preceded it.
The reality is that in most humanitarian emergencies (complex and natural), the UN agencies and the members of the international humanitarian community responding to the disaster will encounter armed actors.
Military forces of some western nations, UN and several of the larger international organisations have come to recognise the need to grapple with coordination between civil and military components, and are currently developing civil-military protocols, hand-books, guidelines and dedicated staffing positions. This development is still in its early stages.
“One point agreed upon by both the military and humanitarians are the core missions of each; respectively, to win wars and to help alleviate human suffering,” writes Eric James. “While these two roles may seem to be at odds, they are not entirely incompatible. There are examples of positive interaction, for example, where military resources have made a critical humanitarian impact, but the negative perception remains.”
Critical Humanitarian Impact’: Pakistan
The response to the Pakistan earthquake from October last year is a clear example of a “critical humanitarian impact” achieved not only by the many military contingents assisting with the emergency, but predominantly by the Pakistani army itself. The Pakistani army was the only force able to immediately respond to the crisis and was quickly joined by resource-rich military contingents from other countries, in particular the United States, Australia, European contingents, and many others. For many aid agencies, the necessary cooperation they built in response to the Pakistan earthquake was initially difficult but effective. For many, the possibility of working with military sections in pursuit of a joint aim was both a surprising and novel experience.
“We had very good cooperation with the military, the logistics from the Pakistani military and the other non-Pakistani military here. Maybe it worked well because from the beginning everybody subsumed themselves under the Pakistani military,” explained Jamie McGoldrick, the UN deputy humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan in March 2006. “It’s a military government that we are dealing with, but that said, we dealt with militaries before but it has not always been that good, for example in Aceh in Indonesia. We were all slightly wary of the military, coy even, when we started; in-fact humanitarians have a deep-seated fear of been linked to militaries.”
Despite this, the experience of different agencies in the relief phase in the months after the earthquake appears to have been positive. “Without the army it would have been a disaster after a disaster. [Distribution] Trucks would have been mobbed otherwise. Without them it would have been unworkable. The army was very professional and cooperative,” one World Vision International spokeswoman told IRIN. “The military has been so vital to the response. Even if it is not comfortable for NGOs to deal with them, it is impossible to talk of the relief without giving them a lot of credit.” Within the first few days, approximately 50,000 Pakistan military were deployed into the affected areas, and remained there as the operational wing of the Federal Relief Commission that was charged by the Pakistani president with responsibility to manage the whole response.
The epicentre and the main impact zones of the earthquake were situated in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Azad Kashmir (Pakistan administered Kashmir: PAK). Both areas are fiercely Islamic and noted for their political opposition to the west and to India (in the case of PAK). Azad Kashmir was a carefully restricted area prior to the earthquake where very few foreigners had access in recent years, but on 8 October full access was given to hundreds of foreign NGOs and international military personnel.
Bordering Afghanistan, the NWFP is notorious for harbouring anti-western Islamic groups and Pakistan-banned Islamic parties. It is also thought to hide members of the Al-Quada terrorist network and possibly Osama Bin Laden himself. Even Islamabad hesitates to impose its authority over the tribal communities in NWFP where gun-culture and traditional tribal and Islamic law rule many areas. Yet in the aftermath of the earthquake, with hundreds of foreign aid workers and military contingents active in the province, there was not a single incident.
The international furore over the publication of a Danish cartoon, considered by some as anti-Islamic, also occurred during the relief effort; and while there were violent demonstrations and killings elsewhere in the Muslim world, in the earthquake recovery zone, no foreigner reported security problems. Rear Admiral LeFever, head of the US forces in Pakistan said, “I think they saw us here helping them and so I am not surprised that there were no security incidents while we were here. Why would they bite the hand that was feeding them! I think they were probably acutely aware that should any of the aid workers be injured or attacked it would have been a disaster for the whole Pakistan people.”
In countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Chechnya, Somalia, Uganda, and Sudan, aid workers in an increasing number of emergencies find themselves caught up in the politics and insecurity of the context. Directly threatened and targeted by different political sides, the delivery of assistance and aid is hazardous in a way that aid workers have never seen before. All the more remarkable that during the Pakistan earthquake response no incidents were reported: Mohamed Naim Omar, a schoolteacher in an affected village told IRIN, “The international community also helped us. We have come to see, and develop a sense that there are no divisions between Muslims, Hindus and Christians, of any caste or creed, because everyone came to assist suffering humanity.”
According to aid workers, international representatives, military personnel, government officials and people from the affected areas, the civil-military cooperation in Pakistan from early October was remarkable. It has been suggested that the ‘rule books’ of international and national cooperation involving the military, need to be rewritten after Pakistan.
Does the Pakistan experience suggest that the rules are different in a short-term sudden-onset disaster, as opposed to a complex-emergency where foreign armies are actually fighting? Or does the Pakistan experience indicate that where there is a disciplined, well-resourced army taking a lead the international community - so used to working in lawless scenarios without strong government leadership - has no choice but to fall in line?
It remains to be seen whether the last eight months in Pakistan and the - widely acclaimed - successful relief effort will mark the start of a new kind of fusion of civil-military efforts in future relief efforts, or, whether it was the specific characteristics of the Pakistan context that gave rise to this unique experience.