Homeward bound

As the North Waziristan IDPs get ready to return, how will the government ensure their security?

Homeward bound
When the military began an operation in June last year to restore the writ of the government in North Waziristan, a large majority of the agency’s population moved out. The displacement was so large that the number of refugees was higher than the official estimates of the agency’s population. Once a hub of global terror syndicates responsible for causing trouble on both sides of the Durand Line, the tribal agency has largely been cleared of militant presence according to the military. The internally displaced people are now calling for a dignified repatriation.

According to an official of the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), the first phase of repatriation will start from April 1, in which 12,900 families belonging to 24 villages will go back home. How soon the second phase follows will depend on the success of the first phase.

Muhammad Nazir Khan, a Member of National Assembly from North Waziristan Agency, was in a high-level briefing held at the Ministry of State and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) recently. He says the 24 villages chosen for the first phase of repatriation are in the Mir Ali tehsil. About 23,900 families from Miranshah, the agency headquarters, and surrounding areas will be repatriated in the second phase.
"The entire infrastructure, and many houses, have been destroyed in the war"

“The main reason why the repatriation has not begun yet is that the entire infrastructure, including the houses of many people in Miranshah and Mir Ali have been destroyed in the war,” Nazir Khan said. “Secondly, there are apprehensions about militants, affiliated with various banned organizations, sneaking in into these villages and challenging the government’s writ once again.”

For the damaged houses, the federal government plans to pay Rs 400,000 each to the tribesmen whose houses were completely destroyed, and Rs 160,000 to those whose houses were damaged partially, he said. Besides that, he added, each repatriated family will get Rs 25,000 for transportation, and food and essentials for at least six months. But he made it clear the repatriated tribesmen will have to look after the security of their areas under the doctrine of territorial responsibility, and will give guarantees not to allow any militant to use their areas for anti-state activities again.

Waziristan IDPs at a camp in Dera Ismail Khan
Waziristan IDPs at a camp in Dera Ismail Khan

Malik Khan Marjan, patron of the FATA Grand Alliance, doubts repatriation can begin by April 1. The government has announced various dates time and again, he says, and it was unlikely it would stick to the new deadline. “We the tribesmen of North Waziristan don’t want to see the repetition of Daraghalam and Bia-Daraghalam,” he said, referring to two previous operations in Khyber Agency.

He said that the government needed to negotiate with those Taliban who wanted to lay down arms and join the mainstream. “For sustainable and durable peace, the government should announce amnesty for all those militants who desires to live by the tribal code of conduct and are ready to accept the government’s writ,” he said, but “to make sure these commanders don’t commit excesses, oversight committees should be formed at village level.” The due involvement of tribal elders in any such arrangement will give credence and sustainability to the entire process, he added.
"They can guarantee security in North Waziristan if the army stands by them"

According to Saifullah Mehsud, executive director of the FATA Research Center, “the locals never supported any militant group across the tribal belt in terms of ideology”. They were compelled to support the Taliban by ground realities, he said, as the militants were practically controlling the areas where the government had completely lost its writ. “In such a situation, the local tribesmen had no other option but to remain submissive.” Therefore, he added, the military and the locals could coordinate to ensure the security of the areas that have recently been cleared of militants. “They can guarantee security in North Waziristan, or any other tribal region, if the army stands by them.”

Mehsud said the government must start building a consensus on changing the legal status of FATA. “The people of FATA understand the complexities that will accompany such a change, therefore the actual implementation of any change is linked to the restoration of peace in the tribal areas.” The move, he said, could help the government win hearts and minds.