Pakistan: IDPs resist "pressure" to return to Waziristan
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||5 May 2010|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Pakistan: IDPs resist "pressure" to return to Waziristan, 5 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4be90b66c.html [accessed 11 March 2014]|
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, 5 May 2010 (IRIN) - Thousands of people displaced from South Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan oppose efforts by the authorities to persuade them to return, saying it is not safe to do so.
Some seem prepared to stay away for months, or even years, till they are convinced it is safe to go back.
"At the moment we believe it would make no sense to go back. There is a likelihood of renewed fighting before long, and we don't know why the authorities want us to go back to an unsafe area," Masood Mehsud, 50, an internally displaced person (IDP) from South Waziristan currently living in the town of Dera Ismail Khan in northwestern Pakistan, told IRIN.
Government officials and the army, which is conducting an operation in tribal areas against the Taliban, have been attempting to persuade tribal elders to return, along with the tens of thousands of IDPs from South Waziristan's Mehsud tribe. The military believes the return of the residents could thwart militant attempts to regain ground lost to the army, according to media reports.
The Pakistan military chief had in February this year declared "victory" in South Waziristan.
Militants "waiting to strike back"
Local people, however, say the militants remain present in some parts of the area. "They are waiting to strike back and have retreated from key areas to preserve themselves," Imad Wazir, 30, told IRIN from Wana, the principal town of South Waziristan.
According to a 16 April report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there were 254,000 registered IDPs from South Waziristan.
Some reports said that among those displaced from South Waziristan were about 300,000 members of the Mehsud tribe - a figure suggesting that almost all the Mehsud population had left their homes.
Babar Baloch, a public information officer with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told IRIN they "do not have any information on pressure being exerted on South Waziristan IDPs to return. We are in touch with the authorities to make sure that the return process, whenever it starts, is based on the principle of voluntariness."
"UNHCR has a clear stand on the return process for IDPs in Pakistan. Returns must be a voluntary process based on a well informed decision, according to the guiding principles of international displacement. We, certainly, would not be associated with any forced returns," he said.
The Mehsuds, whose tribe both former Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and present leader Hakeemullah Mehsud belong to, are also concerned about getting caught up in the fighting.
In an interview with AP, Taliban commander Waliur Rehman warned last week of intensified fighting. "The army has control only on the roads, and we are present in the forests,'' Rehman said. ''If the Mehsud tribe returns to South Waziristan, then they will suffer from both sides.''
Anticipating a long stay away
This is a situation the Mehsuds want to avoid. "We have suffered for years, especially since army action against the militants was stepped up in 2007. We have seen homes destroyed before our eyes, people killed and all kinds of suffering. We will now go back only when there is peace," Zahirullah Mehsud, 30, said. There has been sporadic conflict in South Waziristan since 2004, causing displacement.
Anticipating a long stay away from home, many of the Mehsuds have taken up long-term work in their places of displacement. "I have asked my brother to find a job for me, as a security guard or in some other capacity in Peshawar. I am already working as a guard here, but the pay in Peshawar is better and I am now thinking we may settle here for good," said Dilawar Khan, from South Waziristan.
His wife, Gulmina Bibi, said, "I do not like the idea of leaving home. I am attached to our mountains in South Waziristan. But then, we need also to think about our children, and schools have been closed for months."
Dilawar and Gulmina have four children, including two girls, and are keen they receive an education. Militants have continued to attack schools across the conflict zone. In the latest attack, two schools for boys were blown up in the Bajaur Agency, one of seven tribal agencies on the Pakistan-Afghan border.
"There is no end in sight to the fighting. We would be foolish to return now," said Aziza Bibi, 50, who said "I am now adjusted to life at my son's house here. We may just stay on permanently."