Bannu: The displacement of more than 200 families from South Waziristan Agency (SWA) in the midst of a government drive to return home all internally displaced people from Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghanistan border has created alarm among the people of the region.
“We were out of our homes for long eight years and now, once again, we have been displaced without any known reason,” said tribal elder Malik Saeed Anwar of Shaktoi, adding that the people of the region were patriots, not militants. “We have done nothing against the will of the state and its institutions.”
According to the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), 17000 families displaced by military operations from the Khyber Agency and the twin tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan have yet to return to their homes. The new displacement from SWA happened when the military forces launched a fresh operation against militants in the Shaktoi area, abutting the North Waziristan Agency (NWA). The families displaced by the operation are mainly Mehsuds, a tribe that enjoys numerical dominance in relation to other tribes in the agency.
Since Shaktoi borders NWA, the newly displaced families have been shifted to the Bakka Khel Camp in the Bannu district – originally established for the IDPs displaced from North Waziristan in June 2014 – instead of Khargai Camp in the town of Tank. It was created for families displaced from SWA in 2008 in the wake of operation Rah-e-Nijat (The Route to Emancipation) against militants.
“We are all loyal to our state and its forces but we have been displaced, without any prior notice of the military operation?” said Anwar.
Latest figures made available by FDMA at Bakka Khel Camp show that a total of 208 families, mostly women and children, have arrived at the camp.
“We have received 664 children and 300 men and women from the Shaktoi area in the camp,” said an FDMA official, who didn’t want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.
Shaktoi is a vast area bordering Razmak in the west of NWA and Karkanwam in far-east of NWA. According to elders of the displaced tribesmen, people from three locations of the Shaktoi were displaced due to the recent military operation. They are Bobar, Smull and Krashti.
“The remaining people in the area are living under the shadow of fear of displacement,” said Anwar. “We are not against operations but the untimely action of the forces without a prior notice is a cause of concern.”
With winter here, the displaced people in the camp are facing the harsh weather in the camp.
“We were brought to the camp empty-handed and without any belongings,” said Adam Khan who has just settled in the camp along with his family. “We spent three nights under the open sky with no protection from cold weather in the valley of Shaktoi when we were asked to vacate our homes at once.”
The FDMA official said they were doing their best to provide standard food items and non-food items to the freshly displaced. “We have given them blankets and tents and food items.”
Like those displaced from the border regions before them, those from SWA are worried about their homes, land and cattle left behind.
“I don’t know how they (the cattle) will survive without us?” Said Khawza Bat khan Mehsud, a displaced person from the Babor area of shaktoi. “I think all of them would die. They (sheep and goats) are only source of his livelihood for the people in the area.”
Adam Khan cried when speaking of the cattle he left behind in Shaktoi when the people were made to leave in great hurry – a manner that recalls the panicked displacement of more than a million people from NWA in the midst of hot summer in June 2014.
“I suffered a loss of Rs.4.5 million as 200 of my sheep and 30 of my cows were left behind or died when we left the area,” said Khan.
It is not the first time that people have been displaced from Shaktoi due to a military operation. There have been at least two waves of migration earlier from the area when the forces conducted operations in Shaktoi.
“We were allowed to return to our homes last Ramazan and I have a Watan Card which testifies that we have been displaced earlier,” Adam Khan told News Lens. He said he and his family had found refuge in the Tank district when they were first displaced.
Watan Card is a computerized ID issued by Pakistan Army to all those who repatriate after a military operation is completed. It is a sort of “clearance” and a visa for the person to enter the troubled tribal areas. They have to show the card while crossing the checkpoints established at several spots by the security forces in order to keep a check on the movements of the militants.
While there hasn’t been an official statement about the crisis facing the people displaced from Shaktoi, the tribesmen are also dismayed with the indifference of national and international media to their predicament. They have voiced alarm over their recurring displacement without proper planning for their rescue, relief and rehabilitation.
“We have civil society members on standby to protest if the displaced people are not repatriated within a week’s time,” said Malik Saeed Anwar, adding that the tribesmen had informed the authorities about their demands and concerns.
No one from the political administration in SWA responded to requests for the government’s position and policy on the fresh wave of displacement from SWA. An official requesting anonymity told News Lens that the military operation was launched to search for suspected militants in the area.
“We have a common border with NWA and Afghanistan so we are highly vulnerable to militancy,” he said. He said it was nothing unusual and the security forces frequently carry out small operations in different parts of NWA and SWA to safeguard the area from terrorists.
He said the displaced people of Shaktoi would be sent back home as soon as the area has been cleared for repatriation.
While there is no word from the government on when that could happen, the tribesmen are worried about their homes and lands back in Shaktoi.
“We left behind homes full of our belongings and there have been reports of damage to them,” said Adam Khan. “Who is responsible for the damage and will we compensated for it?”
Meanwhile, at jirgas (tribal assemblies) of Dray Mehsud (three sub-tribes of Mehsuds) in the towns of Tank, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, tribal elders have denounced what they called “forced displacement” of people from Shaktoi, demanding the government bring the displaced back to the SWA.
Jirga members have asked the government to shift displaced families to SWA and stop operations that happen without a prior warning.
“Specify the area first and tell us to vacate the area if operation is unavoidable,” said Malik Saeed Anwar. “We will manage and migrate somewhere on our own.”