IT is talked up as a core goal in Fata. The army chief is known to focus on the issue. The political government vows it will get it done. And the newly appointed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor has said that it is his foremost priority.
The return of IDPs to Fata is, of course, of vital importance to the stability of the tribal region. But there is a very human dimension to that need: the denizens of Fata have sacrificed so much more than the average citizen and to them the state owes a very special responsibility.
Indeed, embedded in the military’s preferred acronym for the displaced people of Fata — TDPs — is the promise that exile will be temporary. Yet, despite the military’s urgency and the political government’s vows of facilitation, the en masse return of IDPs to Fata does not appear to be occurring.
Perhaps it is time that the state revisited its strategy.
What, for example, are the reasons for the high return of IDPs to Khyber Agency (90pc) and the exceedingly low rate of return to South Waziristan Agency (15pc)? The military operation in South Waziristan began more than six years ago, while Khyber has seen two major operations in the last couple of years alone.
Part of the answer is surely South Waziristan sharing a border with North Waziristan — until the latter is fully cleared of militants, the security threat to the former remains. In addition, after years of living in cities and towns across the country, the IDPs of South Waziristan may have found jobs and started new lives, which has slowed the pace of return.
But Orakzai Agency and Kurram Agency also have exceedingly high numbers of displaced people — two-thirds of registered IDPs are yet to return to the two agencies. Is it only a question of resources — to rehabilitate the physical infrastructure and kick-start local economies — or is there something more that the IDPs are looking for?
Perhaps a survey should be conducted to understand the needs of IDPs rather than have state officials simply determine on their own what conditions are needed for their return.
Too often, state policy has little connection to the needs of the citizenry and that problem may well be magnified when it comes to Fata.
Given the experience of other agencies, it should not be assumed that IDPs from North Waziristan will return home from Afghanistan and various parts of Pakistan once major military operations are concluded.
Resettlement packages — a combination of financial incentives and physical infrastructure — may need to be complemented by immediate steps for the overhaul of the administrative and political systems of Fata.
Given that most IDPs are registered and the military and Fata administration have some contact with them, it should not be impossible to determine from the people themselves what they need to go back to their homes.
Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016