By Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud
Government has announced the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) of South Waziristan and showed the footage of some returning families but it is an eyewash.
Approximately, six lakh Mehsud IDPs have been living for more than a year in various parts of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa under dire living conditions. They were promised to be repatriated to their respective hometowns and villages soon after the operation was ended. Under present circumstances, there seems no hope of any such happening in the near future. Authorities are giving date after date for their return. Numerous meetings of grand Mehsud jirga, comprising all three major clans, were held with political administration and military authorities to look at the issue but nothing conclusive has been achieved so far.
Ironically, the Mehsud tribe has become the ultimate victim of war in past five years of conflict between army and militants. They have seen nothing but death and destruction. They have lost their loved ones, property, livestock and, most importantly, the area where they were ensconced for centuries. They have endured three displacements linked to military actions against the Taliban in 2004, 2008 and the present one. Their past was neglected, present is in jeopardy and future seems to be uncertain and murky. Their fate is still hangs in the balance.
The director general of Inter-Services Public Relations, Maj-General Athar Abbas has already described that Mehsuds were the most affected people in the war on terror. Recently, searching on Google Earth satellite map, nearly 70% of their houses have been completely demolished or partially affected in the year-long conflict. The Mehsud tribe is caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side, government has not only failed to provide them with proper treatment during their displacement period but also using delaying tactics to send them back. Taliban in South Waziristan circulate threatening pamphlets in adjacent districts of Tank, DI Khan and Bunnu where majority of the IDPs are settled, threatening them with dire consequences if they opt for going back.
The winters have started and these shelterless people will now face the nature’s severity. The much-hyped operation Rah-e-Nejat in South Waziristan was aimed to eliminate the very spearhead of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and provide the local residents a tranquil environment to flourish their livelihood. It took almost a year after using all sorts of weaponry but the area has not yet been completely purged of militants. Local sources are reporting persistent clashes between security forces and militants in far-flung areas of the tribal agency. Nevertheless, credit goes to Pakistan Army for recovering the area from militants in such a little span of time where hostile terrain, harsh weather and labyrinthine routes have always compelled outsiders to hold their feet. But the challenge ahead for security forces is to consolidate their positions and extend their presence beyond roadside to the far-flung area of the agency where Taliban are still present in pockets, running their camps and planning their attacks both in South Waziristan and rest of the country.
Developing infrastructure, establishing reconstruction and opportunity zones, and creating jobs by capacity building for the youth of militancy-hit area are decisive factors in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. Relying merely on use of force to fight this menace further makes it knotty and convoluted. Here, commendable aspect of the operation Rah-e-Nejat is that unlike rest of operations in FATA and Malakand Division where entire focus was put on military means to root out militants, it was two-pronged - military operation along with re-construction of the “war affected area”. As a result, not only Taliban are driven out from their hotbed but a comprehensive developmental work is also underway. A network of road infrastructure has been under construction since cessation of the operation. Small dam projects are also in the pipeline.
An estimated 75% people of the area are dependent on livestock or agriculture-related business for their livelihood. Government should take immediate steps to facilitate local farmers and gardeners who suffered the most, by providing cost-free seeds, fertilizers and farming tools and kits, etc. Irrigation system, farmer training centres and animal husbandry hospitals must be established in the area to introduce modern techniques in farming and livestock rearing sector. These are the remedies which will work wonder if properly utilised. One of the mega dam projects, Gomal Zam Dam is nearly completed.
The land for the dam has been voluntarily allocated by Mehsud and Wazir tribes of South Waziristan Agency. But once again, they were ignored and instead of compensating them, the entire benefits and incentives including job quota, irrigation canals, power grid station, etc. have been granted to non-locals. This unfair distribution has caused serious resentments among the natives. The government must exploit the opportunity and provide jobs to the local youth and let them play their due role in nation-building. Most importantly, it would deter them from joining militants’ ranks.
But all these steps will remain futile if the government fails to re-settle Waziristan IDPs in their respective areas. Tribal people have their own distinct culture and traditions and it becomes very difficult for them to get assimilated in non-tribal society. On the other hand, the government has failed to provide Waziristan IDPs with the same treatment as rendered to Malakand IDPs. This unfair treatment and negligence instilled sense of deprivation and alienation in their minds. The situation demands extra careful handling as possibly it could storm a new wave of violence in the area. It has become evident that use of force has never been a solution to tackle militancy unless and until the basic needs and rights of the dwellers are addressed. Something exactly has happened in Waziristan. The area has been denied basic rights since the very inception of our motherland. The tried and true strategy is to bring change in people’s life. This is the sole remedy that would certainly work wonders. The time has come to make up for past follies.