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Tensions of Civil-Military Engagement in Complex Emergencies: The Case of Pakistan

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Published: 
Jul 2017

With the international humanitarian community’s capacity to respond to large-scale and protracted emergencies stretched increasingly thin, international militaries are filling in some of the gaps. This growing involvement of militaries in humanitarian response poses unique opportunities, but also significant challenges to humanitarian practitioners. Using Pakistan as a case study, this paper explores the challenges inherent in civil-military engagement during complex humanitarian emergencies. It explores the tensions arising from military involvement in humanitarian response, in particular in the development and application of international guidelines for civil-military engagement in natural disasters and complex emergencies, the characterization of a response setting, and the application of the principle of ‘last resort’. It further explores the impact of military involvement on the humanitarian nature of a response, including with regard to humanitarians’ ability to gain and maintain access to populations in need of assistance while avoiding the militarization of humanitarian operations. Finally, it offers reflections for the humanitarian community on improving civil-military engagement in complex emergencies.

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