Rebuilding Life

It seems we can’t do much about terrorism, but we can at least mitigate the sufferings of the victims. Our hearts bleed for the victims of terror but are we doing enough for them? Is there anything else we can do?
We might not be able to undo the harm victims of terrorism suffer but we can – should – help them and their families rebuild their lives. Financial compensation to victims of terrorism is a recognition of the wrong done to them and an obligation of the state to alleviate their suffering. Besides free hospital care, the provincial government magnanimously announced Rs500,000 each for those who lost their lives and Rs200,000 each for the injured, increasing the standard compensation package for civilian victims of terror in KP from 300,000 to 500,000.
In Balochistan the compensation package for civilian victims is Rs1 million. Surprisingly the lowest grade government servant in KP gets around Rs2 million in similar circumstances. One wonders at this discrimination. There was an understanding that the compensation amount for civilian victims of terror in KP would be increased through an act of parliament, but that never happened.
It is pertinent to note that the federation and three provinces showed unparallel solidarity when they allocated to KP one percent of the total divisible pool in the NFC Award as cost of damages incurred due to terrorism. This was over and above KP’s share. This one percent translates into more than Rs20 billion per year and over the last five years the province got around Rs100 billion.
With such a huge amount at its disposal the provincial government should have been more caring and compassionate. The federal and provincial governments will be in their right to ask the KP government for the details and the manner in which these funds were spent to counter terrorism.
Life doesn’t ends on receipt of compensation. What about those who suffer permanent disability and families that lose their only bread earner? What is the government’s plan for the rehabilitation of these victims? Is there any?
Terrorism in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon. The country, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular, has been stuck with the ‘war on terror’ since the past decade. A manifold increase in incidents of terrorism has been observed. Society has been torn apart, the economy has been destroyed, the social fabric is in tatters and our way of life has been eradicated. The World Health Organisation reports that about four percent of the population in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa suffers from severe psychiatric disorders. It further says that a much larger segment of the population suffers from transient mental-health problems linked to the stress of living under conditions of conflict and violence.
As individuals we are helpful neighbours, as a society we are generous in charity but as a nation we are way behind. The issues faced by civilian victims of terrorism have not received much attention from the government or for that matter from civil society organisations, NGOs and the media. Since most victims of terrorism come from poor backgrounds, there has been a lack of effective and organised advocacy for compensation.
We have been lamenting the lack of resources but fortunately this time around we have enough resources under this head. We need to sensitise the government on the urgency of this issue and demand a transparent, equitable and effective compensation regime for civilian victims. The present process is complex, ad hoc and time consuming. It is multi-layered, involving multiple departments at district and provincial levels.
The process is initiated at the district level by the DCs Office, and the police and health departments. It is finalised at the provincial level by the home and finance departments and ultimately paid for by the office of the chief minister. It is often driven by political expediency rather than due process and impartiality.
It has been noted that provincial governments tend to award a better compensation package, in a more timely and efficient manner, to those victims of terrorism who belong to a strong pressure group. On the other hand, those who don’t have a support base are unable to receive appropriate and timely compensation under this arrangement. In short, there is no legal framework under which the government can be made answerable.
It is high time the government took a serious note of the issue. There is a need to involve all stakeholders, and establish a transparent, simple and effective compensation regime for civilian victims. The legal framework needs to be put in place at the earliest.
This legislation should, among other things, increase the amount of compensation for civilian victims from Rs500,000 to Rs1 million forthwith. Moreover, an office should be designated at the provincial level that has the sole responsibility of ensuring that victims get timely compensation. Only one department should be made responsible and if need be it can liaise with other departments.
At the district level, a facilitation cell at the DC office should be established to extend all possible help and ensure that victims complete all necessary documentation before applying for compensation. The package should be without any discriminatory provisions. Finally, the government should give a timeline to the concerned departments to complete all formalities and pay compensation within a certain number of days.
The government wraps up its responsibility by paying compensation for life and limb. It does not compensate for property damaged, permanent disabilities and rehabilitation. A special fund of pensions needs to be set up for the victims of terrorism and their families. Compensation should be claimed as a right and not as an act of kindness.