Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, Population

PAKISTAN: Militancy Keeps Refugees Far From Home

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, May 19 2011 (IPS) - Back home, Abdur Rehman’s family had a spacious house that could easily fit the 10 members of his family. Now they all have to squeeze into a small tent in a refugee camp near Peshawar in north-west Pakistan.

Food for a family. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Food for a family. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

“It has exposed us to severe hardships,” said 45-year-old Rehman, about the makeshift dwelling his family has lived in since January 2009.

Home for Rehman, a vegetable seller, was Tirah valley in Khyber Agency, one of the seven divisions of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) on the western side of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan. That is, until the Pakistan army launched an operation against the local militant group Lashkar Islami in January 2009.

Rehman’s tent is one of thousands in the Jallozai camp in the Nowshera district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where 20,000 families who escaped the fighting in FATA are trying to survive.

The Jallozai camp hosts displaced persons from Khyber, South Waziristan, Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies who fled in a mass exodus caused by military operations against the Taliban in several parts of the FATA.

These families have given up hope, since army and camp officials have yet to make good their promises they would be bound for home soon.

This week, Jallozai camp administrator Akram Shah said they would be sending displaced people back to their homes if the situation in FATA improves.

“A full scale operation is in progress in all tribal areas, which will eliminate the militants,” Maj. Kamran Khan, Operation Commandant of Bajaur, told IPS. “It could take a month or two.”

Khan said that soon, the army would be asking displaced people to return. “Every day, we hear claims by the army that soon they will flush the militants out and the displaced people will return to their homes,” said Razia Bibi, a schoolteacher, who now resides with her uncle in Tank, a district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, after being displaced from South Waziristan Agency. “But two years have passed and nothing has happened.”

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces, has been hosting FATA’s internally displaced in camps that lack proper electricity and sanitation and cause health problems. Others live with relatives or in rented houses.

Displaced families face not only health but also economic problems, with most of them out of a job, and dependent on relatives or dole-outs.

“We had a sprawling grain business in our town. Now, we are doing nothing here and are dependent on the paltry aid given by the government and the U.N. agencies,” 48-year-old Rehmatullah Shah of Mohmand Agency told IPS.

Security forces launched an operation in Mohmand in 2009, triggering the migration of local dwellers to Charsadda district beside Peshawar, while some 7,000 families fled to Jallozai village in Nowshera.

“We are resigned to our fate. Our children are without education and other facilities of life which they have in their native home,” Shah said. He doubts the army will clear Mohmand of militants due to its shared border with Kunar province in neighbouring Afghanistan, which is a Taliban stronghold.

In Bajaur Agency, an operation launched to flush out militants in August 2008 has yet to bear fruit. It displaced about 50,000 persons.

“We are extremely disappointed by the military operations,” said Ghaffar Khan, a shopkeeper who used to live in Mamond tehsil, one of the seven tehsils of Bajaur Agency. Each of the tribal agencies has been administratively divided into tehsils, which are similar to counties.

Khan has been living in a camp in the adjacent Dir district, north of Peshawar. “Our houses have been demolished by forces in search of the Taliban. We cannot go back even if the area is cleared of militants,” he said.

In South Waziristan Agency located near the Afghanistan border, the army launched an operation against militants in November 2009. Some 200,000 of its inhabitants were displaced, their businesses and other activities disrupted.

Those displaced from South Waziristan found their way to the adjacent Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and are living with relatives or in rented houses.

“The government cannot establish camps in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank because of the fear of ethnic clashes there. The two districts have a history of ethnic clashes,” a senior official in Dera Ismail Khan told IPS.

FATA, which is spread over an area of 27,220 square kilometres with a population of five million, has been in the militants’ grip since 2002 when Taliban and Al-Qaeda fugitives crossed over the 2400- kilometre porous border from Afghanistan.

The fugitives sought refuge in FATA after the U.S. attacked Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York.

Since then, FATA’s population has been caught in the crossfire and struggling to cope with the situation.

Towards 2005, these militants began targeting Pakistani forces and government installations, severely affecting communities.

“We have been here for the past two years with the hope that the army will defeat the Taliban and we would be able to start normal lives in our ancestral villages, but now the situation is going from bad to worse,” said Attaullah Shah, a driver from Orakzai Agency now living in the adjacent Hangu district.

“We are trying our level best to improve the living conditions of the camp’s dwellers, but shortage of funds is a problem we are facing,” said Akram Shah, administrator of the Jallozai camp.

He said camps have been set up in a peaceful area in Mohmand Agency where some 5,000 displaced persons have been temporarily housed. He added there are plans to establish camps in the secured areas of the different agencies. Soon, they would be shifting the respective populations of those agencies out of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and into those camps.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags