Islamabad: According to the tribesmen, thousands of displaced families are being repatriated to their hometowns in the war-battered South Waziristan tribal areas, where they will start their lives from scratch as their houses as well as the infrastructure have partially, or completely, been damaged due to the military’s offensive tactics against the militants.
In 2009, Pakistani military launched an anti-Taliban offensive codenamed Rah-e-Nijat (path to salvation) in the South Waziristan- the birthplace of the Pakistani Taliban, whose adverse role caused the immigration of thousands of households to various districts of the country.
Thousands of families were forced to leave their homes in the wake of military operations some seven years ago to purge the area of anti-state elements and their collaborators.
Infuriated tribesmen, who are returning to South Waziristan, expressed their resolve to fight alongside the military if the Taliban decide to make a comeback. “We bore unspeakable hardships after we left our homes due to the militants’ influx. This time we would prefer to die here rather than leaving our homes,” said Naik Muhammad, who has just returned to his village with his family of eight, after almost seven years of displacement.
The war on terror has left thousands of Pakistani security personnel and civilians dead and wounded. A detailed report “Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the ‘War on Terror” released by Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War noted that from 2004 to 2013, “it could be suggested that at least 80,000 Pakistanis including security personnel, civilians and rebels had been killed.”
Muhammad Nawaz, 44, a farmer, who has repatriated to his home in Khaisoor, a dusty hamlet in South Waziristan, says: “I shifted my family to my hometown but my house is totaled. Three rooms have been razed to the ground due to shelling between security forces and the Taliban. Hence, we live in the open backyard of my house.”
The IDPs’ repatriation process has been underway for the past year, after the military declared some areas clear of insurgents.
A senior official in the local administration, wishing to remain unnamed, told News Lens Pakistan that each family that was returning was being given Rs. 35,000 for transportation and other expenditures.
“In addition to the money, each family will be provided with food rations for six months, as well as a kitchen kit and a tent,” the official said. He preferred to remain anonymous as he was not authorized to speak to media.
The repatriation, he said is ongoing, as per phases, and the final stage would be completed by December 2016 most probably.
Rustam Shah Mohmand, former ambassador and expert on tribal and Afghan affairs, said that sending the IDPs back to their damaged homes was a ‘political gimmick’ aimed at causing further humiliation to the IDPs.
“The authorities should have constructed houses, hospitals and arranged for potable water prior to the kicking-off of repatriation process but nothing could be seen in terms of development,” he added.
A number of tribesmen said that entire villages had turned into ruins and the houses were uninhabitable.
“My house consisted of 11 rooms, but now all the rooms have turned to rubble, with its materials such as windows and doors stolen,” said Sajja Ahmad, a government employee who came back after spending two days in his village.
“Due to the absence of an educational institution, a hospital and the damaged house I preferred to come back and live in a rented house in Dera Ismail Khan- a gateway on the edge with South Waziristan,” he added.
Locals and the officials said that clashes between the security forces and well-armed militants spanned several years, thus inflicting damage on houses and farmlands in the region.
American President Barack Obama had dubbed the Pakistani tribal region as the “the most dangerous place in the world.” Statistics by the Fata Research Center, a think tank working on the tribal region, showed that South Waziristan has a population of about 430,000 people, but unofficial estimates put the total strength of the region at 600,000 people.
Chairman Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) said that the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Unit had been instructed to carry out a survey throughout the tribal region in order to assess the severity of the damage inflicted upon houses and other infrastructure.
“Officials of local administration, military officers and tribal elders are assisting the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Unit with the completion of the vital survey so that compensation can be provided to the tribesmen at the earliest,” he remarked.
Sayed Umar, coordinator FDMA in South Waziristan, told NewsLens Pakistan that Rs. 150,000 ($1,500) and Rs. 400,000 ($4,000) would be given to each family with a partially or totally damaged house respectively soon after the completion of the survey.
Ahmad questioned the transparency in the allocation of funds for IDPs’ houses. He questioned how a house could be built with Rs. 400,000? “Can you build only a single room for me with this amount?” the dejected tribesman asked.
The FDMA official said, “The same survey was being carried out simultaneously in other tribal areas such as Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai and North Waziristan tribal regions to evaluate losses and damages.”
He said that a total of 63,722 registered and unregistered families had been returned to their homes in South Waziristan.
The volatile region has been regarded as the most violent and treacherous areas to be free from militants.
The process of families returning to their homeland has gained momentum as more areas are being declared clear of insurgents during the six year military campaign against insurgents.
Analysts and tribesmen demanded the government to step up development activities in the militancy-haunted areas to discourage extremism in the long-run.