A part from the mass exodus of civilians from North Waziristan towards the settled areas in the wake of the military’s crackdown on extremists, issues are now cropping up with those non-combatants who are reluctant to leave the conflict zone.
As reported on Saturday, residents of Eidak, a settlement outside Mirali, have refused to evacuate despite looming military action in the area. The administration had earlier warned residents of the settlement and several adjoining areas to head for Bannu.
A tribal jirga has decided to stay put, though channels with the government remain open. Reports from the area indicate that apart from the fear of displacement, locals are also apprehensive of what will become of their properties once they leave.
After all, the hardships that IDPs from other parts of North Waziristan have faced are no secret, while the army-approved images coming out of Mirali show infrastructure that has been thoroughly pounded. The tribesmen also claim their area is free of militants and that earlier, the military had agreed they would not be displaced.
The area is indeed a war zone and militants cannot be allowed to regroup. However, the tribesmen should not be forced to vacate their areas against their will. What can create confidence amongst the tribal population is if the administration and military start rebuilding the areas which have been cleared of extremists, or at least assure the locals that infrastructure will be rebuilt as soon as the situation stabilises.
Seeing the fate of their fellow tribesmen as IDPs and indeed the fact that people displaced by conflict from South Waziristan as far back as 2009 have still not been able to return to their native areas must have strengthened the local people’s doubts.
The civilians still present in North Waziristan should be persuaded to leave but if they refuse, they must not be considered militant sympathisers and their areas should not be pounded by heavy artillery. The military needs to evolve a strategy that is in keeping with the situation.
Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2014