Long way from home

The rehabilitation of the people displaced from North Waziristan may take years

Long way from home
Two years after the beginning of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, experts say it is time to support counterterrorism efforts with a strategy to win hearts and minds, especially of the tribesmen who lost their homes, loved ones and livelihoods because of the violence.

“Before the start of operation, the country was plagued with terrorism, bombings, IEDs explosions, target killings and kidnappings… North Waziristan had become a hub of all kinds of terrorists, with recruitment and training centers and hosted factories making suicide vests, IEDs and vehicles for suicide missions,” military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa said while talking to reporters on the eve of the second anniversary of the campaign. By now, he said the military had cleared around 3,600 square kilometers of territory. “Around 3,500 terrorists and 992 of their hideouts, and 7,599 IEDs and ammunition factories were destroyed.” About 490 security personnel died during the operation.
He left his house and returned to Bannu the very next day

But according to statistics collected by the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), the fighting also compelled around 104,002 families to leave their homes in North Waziristan in 2014. The repatriation of the tribesmen to their homes and villages still continues.

Until June 14, about 49,743 families had been sent back. Another 54,259 families are still displaced. Many of them in rented houses in other parts of the country, and some live in camps built for the temporarily displaced people.

At the beginning of Zarb-e-Azb, the federal government had promised a monthly allowance of Rs 12,000 to each such family. While most of them have been getting the cash assistance regularly, some are still waiting for up to four months of allowances, tribesman Rashid Dawar told me. The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which bore the brunt of the displacement, also promised a monthly allowance of Rs 6,000 for each family, but stopped after distributing the first tranche.

Most displaced tribesmen from North Waziristan I spoke to said they were reluctant to return. Some said their houses had been completely destroyed or damaged. Others were worried about the lack of even the basic facilities in the area.

“Our village presents a deserted look. Our homes have been destroyed and the valuables we left behind are missing,” said Muhammad Rauf, who returned to his house on June 8 but moved back to Bannu the very next day.

For businessman Wahab Dawar, there is no more attraction in Mir Ali Bazaar where he was a trader and also owned a market. “We received no compensation for the property we lost,” he said. The government has not yet begun a compensation program for the tribesmen who lost their businesses during the operation. The markets of Miranshah and Mir Ali were raised to the ground because of the righting.
85% percent of the children are out of school

“We will rebuild the markets in a modern design and with all kinds of facilities, such as bus stands, a drainage system, and parking spaces,” said an official of the political administration. He said a Jirga had been formed to verify claims of tribesmen who had shops in these bazaars.

Majeed Dawar, who owned a general store in Mir Ali Bazaar before the military operation, said many traders would be reluctant to invest in North Waziristan even after the reconstruction of the markets. “When peace is restored one hundred percent, and there is no rick of clashes, then people would re-invest in the agency,” he said, adding that he did not see that happening in the next five years.

According to the tribesmen, the government pays Rs 400,000 for completely destroyed houses and Rs 160,000 for partially damaged ones.

Kamran Afridi, who assumed charge as the Political Agent of North Waziristan in August 2015, said he has shifted all the departments from Bannu to Miranshah and established a branch of National Bank of Pakistan in the agency’s headquarters. He also helped seek security clearances for contractors from the army so that they could begin development projects in North Waziristan, he said.

Many of the tribesmen I talked to are worried about the future of their children, a majority of who discontinued going to school after being displaced. “The already-overcrowded government-run schools in Bannu and other nearby areas could not accommodate our children,” said Malak Saleh Jan. Around 85% percent children of the Mir Ali subdivision have remained out of school for these two years. “A small number of parents, who could afford it, enrolled their children in private schools,” Malak Saleh Jan added.

I spoke to three out-of-school children – Kashif Khan, Shahid Khan and Khalid Khan, who are siblings. “The admission and tuition fees were very high in Bannu, so our parents couldn’t send us to school,” said Kashif, 15.

According to Malak Saleh Jan, a lack of healthcare facilities would also be a major problem. “At the moment, only the Mir Ali Hospital is functional. It cannot serve all the population of the area,” he said.

Rasool Dawar, a veteran journalist based in Peshawar, said water supply was another key issue. “The pipelines were destroyed,” he said. “The people who have wells in their homes found the water not fit for use because it had been stagnant.”

Frequent militant attacks on government installations had weakened the political administration in the agency. “But now, the government machinery is functional in all the tehsils of North Waziristan except Shawal,” the Political Agent Kamran Afridi told me, and basic health and education facilities had been set up in 60 percent of the area.

He said Mir Ali and Razmak hospitals were functional, and work on Miranshah Hospital, the largest facility in the tribal agency, was underway. “The army is also running free medical camps,” he said.

As the number of military soldier is reduced, he says the political administration is also building barracks and posts, and buying vehicles for the paramilitary Levies.

According to Alamzeb Khan, the bureau chief of Mashaal Radio/Radio Free Europe for Pakistan, said the sum of Rs 100 billion allocated to the rehabilitation of the temporarily displaced in the coming year’s budget was insufficient. “In the past, tribesmen complained that much of the budget allocated for them would lapse. Although the amount is not enough, the government should at least ensure that it is spent,” he said.