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Tribesmen Displaced in Pakistan's Anti-militant Operations Demand Repatriation


FILE - Men fleeing from the military offensive against Pakistani militants in North Waziristan queue to get relief handouts from a storage tent of the World Food Program at a distribution point for internally displaced persons in Bannu, located in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, July 6, 2014.

Thousands of displaced Pashtu tribesmen in northwestern Pakistan have asked the government to ensure their return to their homes before the Muslim holy period of Ramadan begins this month.

About 2,400 tribal families from the Dande Darpakhel village in North Waziristan, which is part of a semiautonomous tribal region known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), are living in temporary shelters with inadequate facilities.

More than 1 million people have been displaced by Pakistani military operations against militant groups in the tribal region since 2014.

North Waziristan until recently was condemned by American military commanders as the "epicenter" of international terrorism. The region has for years served as a training ground for Taliban and militants linked to the Haqqani network waging insurgency in Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities, however, say recent sustained counterterrorism military operations have secured most of the border region, and slowly they are allowing people to return home.

According to U.N. estimates, about 95,000 families were displaced. While a majority of the families took refuge in neighboring Afghanistan's Khost province, many others fled to nearby cities within Pakistan.

North and South Waziristan, Khyber, Pakistan
North and South Waziristan, Khyber, Pakistan

No work, little food

The remaining displaced families say their temporary camps lack basic facilities: The men are out of work, children are unable to go to school, and people get little food with no access to clean water and power.

The late spring heat is getting brutal, with temperatures already rising well above 38 degrees C (100 degrees F).

"Those of us living in the temporary shelters are really worried. People are facing too many problems on daily basis," Malik Ghulam Khan, a tribal leader from Dande Darpakhel, told VOA. "We just made one request to the government — to repatriate us before the holy month of Ramadan begins."

The government says the repatriation of internally displaced persons is underway, but that security and logistical challenges are hindering the process.

"The registration process of the IDPs from Dande Darpakhel has already begun and tokens for repatriation have been issued," Khalid Khan, the director general of the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), told VOA. "But we do not have a clear time frame for when they'll be repatriated."

The families say the assistance they receive from the government does not help make ends meet.

"The government provides IDPs with a meager monthly allowance of 12,000 rupees [$120], along with rations," Muhammad Aqil Shah, a member of a tribal council, told VOA. "How can a family make its ends meet with only 12,000 rupees a month?"

The Dande Darpakhel tribe blames the political management for the deteriorating conditions at the shelters and lack of serious efforts toward rehabilitation.

FILE - People fleeing from the military offensive against Pakistani militants in North Waziristan walk away with wheelbarrows of relief handouts from the World Food Program at a distribution point for internally displaced persons in Bannu, located in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, July 6, 2014.
FILE - People fleeing from the military offensive against Pakistani militants in North Waziristan walk away with wheelbarrows of relief handouts from the World Food Program at a distribution point for internally displaced persons in Bannu, located in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, July 6, 2014.

'What will happen to us?'

The Dande Darpakhel members are expecting tough times ahead as they go back to their homes. Many complain the government's compensation package is not enough to make up for what they lost.

"Even if we make it back to Dande Darpakhel, what will happen to us?" asked tribal council member Shah. "This is not only my concern. Our homes and markets were demolished. There is no business, no electricity, no schools, no hospitals and no infrastructure."

And locals fear a return of insurgency.

While the Pakistani army says the anti-Taliban operation was successful, a recent report by the FATA Research Center, a nongovernmental watchdog group in Islamabad, said there had been an escalation in militant activities in the first quarter of 2017 in the region.

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    Madeeha Anwar

    Madeeha Anwar is a multimedia journalist with Voice of America's Extremism Watch Desk in Washington where she primarily focuses on extremism in the South Asia region.

    Follow Madeeha on Twitter at @MadeehaAnwar

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