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‘Orderly’ evacuation turns into chaos

Updated June 20, 2014
Tribesmen who left their homes in N Waziristan after a military offensive was launched against militants try to find transport to bring the rest of their families. — Photo by Reuters
Tribesmen who left their homes in N Waziristan after a military offensive was launched against militants try to find transport to bring the rest of their families. — Photo by Reuters

Anwarzeb was on his way back home taking with him kids excited to spend summer vacation in their village Paryat in Razmak. Instead, he found himself trudging the road back to Mirali and onwards to Bannu, with tired, exhausted and weary children.

“We were caught in the curfew and when it was lifted we were told to turn back. We spent the night on the road with no food and no water. Our women are in the village and here we are. I don’t know how we got here.”

The ‘orderly’ evacuation from the troubled North Waziristan has turned into chaos. The relaxation in curfew to allow tribesmen to leave the battle zone has caused an exodus. Even those whose areas have not been marked for the operation are leaving, mainly due to poor communication and information dissemination by the authorities.

People in Razmak, Shawa and Spinwam, which are in the combat plan, are leaving. Lack of information has led to fear, compounded by long curfews and food shortages. This, say officials, has added to the workload of the processing staff and caused inordinate delays.

Several dozen checkposts along the road from Mirali to Bannu slow down movement. A journey which in normal times would take an hour and fifteen minutes is now taking eight to nine hours. And there is no transport available. Quarrels at Bannu Stand among desperate tribesmen to rent a vehicle to pull out their near and dear ones from Waziristan are common scenes. Resultantly, a passenger van that would normally charge Rs7,000 for a single trip is now hard to get for Rs35,000.

The exodus is visible. All of a sudden in two days, the figures of tribesmen leaving Waziristan have doubled to 140,000. The projection for North Waziristan IDPs has now been revised upward from 200,000 to 300,000. People on foot, women and children in tow, dragging their cattle and those riding motorbikes carrying luggage on their back, all trying to get out and arrange a vehicle to take out their families still stuck out there.

Thursday was supposed to be the day for the people of Miramshah to leave but authorities were still grappling with those leaving the militant-infested Mirali.

There is a long queue of vehicles, thousands of them, trailing for several kilometres at Saidgi checkpost waiting to be allowed to get out of North Waziristan. Thus, those stuck in Miramshah, hoping and waiting for vehicles to pick them up and evacuate still have had to spend long agonising hours in the regional headquarters with nearly no food.

Worse, those leaving do not know their destination. The few lucky ones who had got out earlier have rented houses in Bannu, pushing rents up to Rs30,000. The poorest of the poor with women and children are reluctant to go to the well-guarded but desolate camp.

Only five of the over 100,000 people who have fled Waziristan have gone to the tented camp. There is a run for shelter, wherever it can be found, in mosques and, if lucky, in schools. They are heading in all directions, largely to Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki and Karak – creating a huge challenge for the authorities for the disbursement of smart cards.

Tragically, nowhere the groundswell of support that was witnessed during and after Operation Rah-i-Rast in Swat is visible for the new IDPs from Waziristan. There is just one relief camp set up by Al-Khidmat Foundation of the Jamaat-i-Islami and a few local individuals offering cold water and sharbat to the thirsty on the 40 kilometre stretch from Saidgi to Bannu. There is a seemingly general apathy.

“You don’t see the heart-wrenching images of the children, the old and the women to arouse public support. These are the children of a lesser god,” said one senior official who has served in Waziristan. “Who cares about Gul Mohammad when you have Gullu Butt hogging the limelight?”

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2014