by Zia Ur Rehman

Sep 21-27, 2012

The internally displaced people of South Waziristan have declined to return to their homes despite government claims that the area has been secured after the success of the recent military offensive. They say the militants have dispersed and might return.

South Waziristan, a restive tribal region bordering Afghanistan, is considered a stronghold of militants not only belonging to the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but also to Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda and other extremist outfits. Four major military operations have been carried out in the tribal agency, especially in its Mehsud areas, since 2004. The most recent offensive – Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Path to Salvation) – started in October 2009 and is still going on.

Coaches carrying IDPs back to South Wazirsitan wait at a checkpoint

Local tribal elders say the entire population of Mehsud areas of South Waziristan, nearly 100,000, has been displaced because of the operation. Some have moved to the adjacent settled districts of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, others to Bannu and Peshawar, but a majority of them preferred to go to Karachi, which is comparatively cheap and safe.

“A large number of Mehsud IDPs have arrived in Karachi and moved in with relatives or rented accommodation,” said Advocate Shah Wali, a leader of the Karachi-based Pashtun Peace and Development Movement (PPDM). Most of them are living in Sohrab Goth, Sultanabad, Mingophir, Pipri, Landhi, Ittehad Town and other suburban areas of the city.

The government has told them it is safe to go back to their homes, but the locals are unwilling. They fear the militants are either hiding in the mountains of the area or have fled to the adjacent tribal areas.

The inhabitants of Ladha, Makeen, Sararogha, Sarweki and Khaisor have been forced to move, said Maulana Saleh Shah, a senator from South Waziristan. Thousands of houses vacated by the Mehsuds were either washed away in rains or damaged in the battles between security forces and the militants, he said.

Some Pashtuns do not want to go back because there are no livelihood opportunities, electricity or food.

“It is very dangerous. The militants are still alive and have just moved to the neighbouring tribal areas,” says Sharif Mehsud, one of the displaced people who declined to go back. It is the fourth time they had been forced to leave their homes, he said. Sharif brought his extended family of 18 to Karachi and lives in a rented house in a slum near the Super Highway.

A soldier patrols on a highway as the first batch of families return to their villages in South Waziristan

Officials in the local political administration said a number of developmental schemes had been undertaken in the war ravaged region, including the reconstruction of schools damaged during the operation. Two new cadet colleges have also been built in the region.

About 9,295 internally displaced families have returned to their homes in Ladha and Sarwakai subdivisions of South Waziristan, Express Tribune reported on September 16, citing the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA).

“The government has offered a compensation of Rs 25,000 per family, but that is not enough to cover the damage to our houses and other losses,” said Sher Alam, a refugee living in Peshawar. The displaced people have asked the federal government to increase the relief amount to Rs 100,000.

A Mehsud journalist from the area said the government had been trying to form Lashkars(militias) or peace committees for the tribesmen to deal with the Taliban locally. It has used the same strategy in Bajaur and other tribal areas. But the elders of Dray Mehsud, or the three clans of Mehsud, have refused. The TTP has threatened to attack anyone who joins such militias or committees.

The Taliban have also given out pamphlets in South Waziristan, Tank and Karachi that warn the people not to return. They say the area is still a war zone where they are fighting against the security forces.

“The government wants to take us back to our homes in military convoys, but that will create security problems for us. The militants will link us with the government,” said Zafar Mehsud, a displaced person who lives in Tank.

Mehsud IDPs said that they are now required to obtain a Registration Card or Rahdaree in addition to the national identity card, even if they want to travel within their native South Waziristan. “This is discrimination against the Mehsud tribe,” one man said. “Other tribes of South Waziristan, like the Wazir, Suleman Khel and the Dotani are not required to register.”

A local elder said the displaced Mehsuds will be watching the process of repatriation very carefully. How the military handles and guards the first returnees will likely decide whether other people choose to go back to their homes.

The military has declared victory over TTP militants in South Waziristan, but has not been able to persuade the displaced people to go back. Security experts say the unwillingness of the displaced families to return highlights the difficulties the security forces face in the battles they have to fight in populated areas.

The writer is a journalist and a researcher. and Twitter: @zalmayzia