Although most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been repatriated by the government in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), yet the task of their rehabilitation is proving no less than a nightmare for the concerned authorities. It has been reported that many of the repatriated families are coming back to the IDP camps as they don’t have resources and their homes also are in ruins. FATA was not like the one it is now – turned into a barren land due to the infiltration of militants from Afghanistan — and along with the security forces, the locals have suffered a lot.
In spite of a protracted war in the region since the late 1970s, and plenty of weapons freely available in the area, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) used to be a peaceful place until 9/11, for all its habitants even for the non-Muslims. Like any other society, there were occasional individual or group disputes and quarrels yet people were able to address and settle them under their peculiar social order. The developments in the post-9/11 period in the region have, however, greatly changed the situation, and one of the many consequences of this is the displacement of large segments of the population from almost all agencies. The displacement has been on since it first started in 2003 with military operations being the key among all the multifarious reasons.
The major evacuation occurred during June 2014 when operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched and the inhabitants of North Waziristan Agency (NWA) were asked to leave their homes and towns in a rather haphazard manner. The time given to the residents of the area to shift to the camps was very short despite the fact that no transportation and logistic support was made available to them. The people were exposed to extremely harsh weather conditions while the hastily demarcated TDP camps, where they were asked to move, also lacked the requisite facilities. Nonetheless, the TDPs, though had to live for more than 2 years in sub-sustenance conditions, faced the displacement bravely. Some consolation for them was that their sacrifices were praised and they were promised an honourable return to their homes with improved infrastructure and living conditions. This is the context in which the of return of the TDPs needs to be seen and analyzed.
The biggest chunk of TDPs comes from North Waziristan, followed by South Waziristan, Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram agencies. So far, as many as 298,163 families have been repatriated to their respective tribal agencies. The process is at the final stage now—as per the current average of daily returns, except that of the unwilling ones, it was planned to be completed at the end of 2016. Now, the federal cabinet has set the deadline for their repatriation to be April 2017. There are sixty thousand families waiting for return to their homes. Besides, there are about 1800 families of Said Khel, Madakhel and Gurbaz tribes of NWA, who had migrated to Afghanistan and have been living with their kin tribes there, willing to return. There are another 30,000 families enlisted as technical TDPs living in KP and Punjab permanently but are registered as TDPs on account of their permanent addresses in FATA.
The process of return is being planned, executed and monitored by FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), Peshawar Corps Headquarters of the Pakistan Army and local security and administrative authorities. A TDP Support Management Cell has been established in Peshawar Corps Headquarters for carrying out ground surveys, assessment of the required infrastructure and installing of civic facilities in the affected areas, three months before the scheduled return of the TDPs.
The infrastructure work has been undertaken mainly in the fields of education, health, water supply, electricity and security. Under the procedure, the return of TDPs is executed on village and town basis in a progressive manner – from near to far – once the civic infrastructure is completed. A staging point has been created to facilitate the return of the TDPs. This point has NADRA registration facility where registration of families is done. In addition to medical checkup and polio vaccination, each family is being provided with sufficient food and an amount of Rs. 10,000 for transportation and Rs. 25000 on account of return support money.
The damage survey will be done by political administration, army engineers and local elders within 12 weeks of the return of the TDPs. An amount of Rs. 160,000 has been allocated for partially-damaged houses and Rs 400,000 for completely damaged ones. Besides, sufficient amounts of ration per family have also been issued for sustenance.
The most important aspect of this issue is the rehabilitation of these families. In order to rehabilitate them, the authorities have planned construction of 90 schools, 150 water supply schemes and 63 markets having all civic facilities. Four hospitals with specialist care and lab facilities have also been established. Moreover, the major road and damaged bridges are being constructed by FWO.
As TDPs from FATA return to their homes, it is the responsibility of the federal government to rehabilitate them in their homes, villages and towns and provide them with basic infrastructure, including business opportunities, in order to help them earn an honourable and peaceful living. Accordingly, the promises made by the government and other institutions have raised the expectations of TDPs in this regard.
It is rightly stressed that “trust is the key to any sustainable relationship,” so is the case with FATA and its people. An honourable return would help restore the trust in the system. A decent return and rehabilitation programme is thus an opportunity to restore the broken trust of FATA people who have sustained huge troubles particularly during the last two years.
The authorities and donors ought to work shoulder to shoulder to uplift the conflict-ridden society, rehabilitate the families as soon as possible and reintegrate every individual into the society. The de-weaponization done by the security forces is commendable; however, there is an urgent need to involve the youth of FATA in useful activities so that they may not get trappepd by the militants and miscreants. The schools must be rebuilt and the hospitals re-established. Their political system also needs a substantial change as per the recommendations of FATA Reforms Committee.