North Waziristan: Murtaza Dawar sat with his children and cousins on the debris of his house. Behind him the setting sun was a ball of fire in the sky, reducing him and his family to silhouettes, the shards of glass in the wreck of his house catching the light and winking in the gathering dark of an early evening.
Coming back home to Mirali in North Waziristan has been a bittersweet experience for Dawar, 48. Sweet because he and his family has returned home after more than two years of displacement. Bitter, because they have come back to wreckage where their home was.
“We have nothing to do with militancy or Talibanization but our house has been demolished,” says Dawar, taking a break from pitching a tent. “There is not a single room intact. I don’t know where to take my family to protect them from the terrible cold.”
Dawar’s is not the only house that was razed during the military operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched in June 2014 to clear North Wazristan of militants. Of the nearly million tribesmen displaced by the operation, many have lost not only their belongings and assets they left behind in the tribal district and their houses have been demolished for no reason.
The government has not issued any clear data on the number of houses demolished in North Waziristan. In May 2016, a property damage survey conducted by the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) revealed that 11,663 houses were fully and partially damaged during operations against militants in South Waziristan, North Waziristan and the Khyber Agency.
Local tribesmen working in the political administration’s office in North Waziristan told Truth tracker on condition of anonymity – because of the sensitivity of information – that about 1500 houses were completely destroyed in the Mirali subdivision alone. (North Waziristan has three administrative subdivisions – Mirali, Razmak and Miranshah.) Another 5000 were partially damaged, they said.
Repatriation of IDPs to North Waziristan has been divided into three phases. The third phase is currently underway. According to the political authorities, 51,000 families of the 82000 displaced from North Waziristan have returned so far. In its third phase, the process of repatriation has accelerated and more than 400 families are returning to the tribal district on a daily basis – a month ago the number was half of that.
Engineer Ikram Dawar’s is one of the families that have recently returned to North Waziristan. Dawar says he found his’ and his relatives’ houses totally destroyed on arrival.
“Our women and children stood on the debris of the houses and cried till they could no more,” says Dawar. “I will not forget the night we spent sitting all together, wondering where to go. We couldn’t find the way to our houses because the streets were chocked by piling debris from the damaged property.”
Dawar says the houses of all his neighbours were ruined like his’ but they were happy to be back to their ancestral village.
Among the recently returned IDPs are the folks from villages of Humraz, Issori, Hassukhel, Mirali and Patasi Adda. Their repatriation was delayed because most of their houses were either demolished or partially damaged by shelling at the start of Operation Zarb-e- Azb.
About two Kilometers to the west of Mirali-Miranshah road is the Issori village. Among its residents is Nasir Dawar, a returnee whose house is located close to the road. He says the villagers got a nasty shock on arrival because the once sprawling market at the Patasi Mirali Adda was now a plain ground with a road running through it.
“I could hardly believe my eyes,” says Nasir Dawar. He said they had heard that the IDPs would receive drinking water and would have electricity on return. “There was no water and electricity. I had to get water from another village because there were no shops to get it from.”
Director General Fata Disaster Management Authority, Khalid Khan, told Truth Tracker that FDMA had provided tents and money to assist with shelter to IPDs whose houses were damaged or destroyed.
“We have identified 2575 households in South Waziristan Agency, SWA; 1100 in Kurram and Orakzai agencies; and 1500 in North Waziristan to provide shelter assistance and tents on emergency basis,” said Khan. He said FDMA was now offering a cash amount of Rs. 30,000 to each family as an alternative to tent because the repatriates wished so.
Assistant Political Agent Mirali Irfanuddin said they were also distributing tents among IDPs but they ran short of supplies because the number of rapatriates is far greater than the tents available. Due to severe cold, families without houses are in desperate need of shelter, he said.
“We give what we have but we haven’t got enough to facilitate all who have come back,” said Irfanuddin.
After conducting a damage assessment survey, the government is providing cash assistance of Rs.400,000 to those whose houses have been completely destroyed while 160,000 to partial damages. However tribesmen accuse the authorities of nepotism in assessing damages.
“I am not satisfied with the survey conducted by the authorities as I have noticed favoritism in the process,” says Dawar. He claimed that the political administration and the military authorities were misguided by the locals assisting them in the survey process. The locals also complain about the small amount of compensation paid to those whose houses are damaged or demolished.
Dr. Aminullah, who owned a private hospital on the main Mirali-Miranshah, says: “I spent more than three million on construction and equipping my hospital but now they offer me Rs.400,000 which is nothing compared to my losses.” He said he could not rebuild the demolished hospital as building it had cost him all years of savings in the first place.
Tribesmen also feel let down by the government, the FDMA and the political administration who promised the repatriates facilities that were not provided.
“We heard a lot on media about facilities provided to IDPs but there is nothing here on ground,” said engineer Dawar. “Our children and old parents have to live under the open sky in the cold winter. It has badly affected our health.”
Others have gone back to the cities of Bannu and Peshawar after getting a Watan Card – a special identity card issued by the army to residents of North Waziristan that they have to show at security checkpoints to enter the tribal district.
“What I will do in my village where there is no education for my children, no free movement, no drinking water or electricity,” said Mir Akbar Wazir who returned to Bannu, a town where he and his family lived for two and a half years when they were first displaced from North Waziristan.