Within the last decade, around 350,000 people from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been internally displaced owing to militancy, military operations and threats from Taliban. This massive human disaster has not received enough attention from the state and the civil society. FATA Research Centre (FRC), the first ever non-partisan and non-political think-tank to improve understanding of FATA through research and analysis, recently organised a seminar in Islamabad titled ‘The IDPs of FATA: Issues and Challenges’. It encompassed a diverse pool of opinions from speakers like Jan Muhammad Achakzai (Official Spokesperson of Jamiat Ulema Islam-F), Ibrahim Shinwari (Political Analyst and Journalist), Gul Bat Khan Afridi (Head of IDP’s Shura, FATA), Syed Zaheer Ul Islam Shah (DG Provincial Disaster Management Authority), Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel (Awami National Party), and Ahmer Bilal Soofi (Minister for Law & Justice).
Dr. Ashraf Ali, President FATA Research Centre, introduced that the major portion of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) comes from Kurram, Khyber, and Orakzai Agencies, and South Waziristan because of the on-going military operations against TTP. “They have left their homes to avoid the effects of armed conflicts, bomb blasts, shelling, drone attacks and various other kinds of terrorist attacks which have absolutely shattered peace of the region.” He stated. Worsening economic situation was also highlighted by Mr. Ibrahim Shinwari, a political analyst and journalist, as another major cause of displacement. He elaborated that while there were already fewer economic opportunities in FATA, other important avenues such as smuggling that supported a large number of people have been monopolized by the militants.
Ibrahim Shinwari, further speaking about the ground realities, stated that the official figures do not illustrate the situation clearly in terms of human loss and suffering. Nothing less than around 165,000 families are forced to flee their homes and stay outside in tents and temporary places in the areas like Hangu, Peshawar, Karachi, Fateh Nawab, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Talking about the miserable conditions that IDPs are living in, he said, “People especially the females and children are suffering from great many psychological problems. Life has become so difficult that even a husband and wife are not able to talk or sit together because of the over-crowdedness.” He went further to highlight the consequences of such negligence by pointing out that the educated unemployed youth of the IDPs is at a serious risk of falling into the hands of militants just to get some money and other material benefits to feed and support their families.
Sharing his own experiences and those of his fellow IDPs, Gul Bat Khan Afridi, head of IDP’s Shura, spoke very critical of the insufficient efforts of state authorities to address their plight. He said, “We the tribal people have always been sacrificing for the nation, for the country, and will continue to do so. But we get nothing in return. With virtually no education and health facilities, our youth has no future. We are worse off than the Afghan refugees. The food is always short, the registration system is cumbersome and slow, and there is no transportation and security. Last time there was a bomb blast in our camps killing 18 people, no one took the notice. And still the camps are totally open and vulnerable to any such attack.”
Syed Zaheer-ul-Islam Shah, DG Provincial Disaster Management Authority, was defensive by focusing on nuances of the issue. He said, “The situation is quite complicated in terms of various actors involved; on one hand there are international stake holders interested in maintaining regional hegemony in the region, while on the other hand there are militants eager to impose their version of Islam by waging war against the west. Then there are internal rifts among militants too, various groups are in continuous tussle to gain control over the area. Selective support of these militants by the powerful actors further increases the complications.”
He contested the notion that the IDPs are in extremely wretched conditions by pointing out that they are getting free electricity, food, education and health facilities. “Apart from some camps, others like Jalozai, Toap Srai, and New Durrani are very safe. Even after some areas in FATA being declared clear by the army, people still want to live in these camps.” He briefed.
It needs to be seen, however, whether this is the better conditions at the camps or the uncertainty of situation back home that is forcing people not to go back. It could also be a combination of the both.
Rest of the speakers including Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel, Jan Muhammad Achakzai and Ahmer Bilal Soofi were more generic in approaching the issue. They spoke of long term policies and strategic problems.
Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel of Awami National Party traced the historical and contextual factors behind the militancy. He opined that FATA always used to be quite peaceful. This mess started in Zia’s era and reached its peak during Musharaf’s. Since militants took over, they have killed about 1000 tribal leaders and have held people hostage. He further added, “Without peace in FATA, peace in Pakistan will not be possible. We can forgive the blood of our 800 martyrs including that of Basheer Bilour and the son of Mian Iftikhar if militants are ready to give up their arms and have negotiations.”
On the other hand, Jan Muhammad Achakzai, the official spokesperson of JUIF, was keener at emphasizing failure of the government and suggesting a different course of action. He blamed government’s erroneous policy on terrorism as the primary cause for IDP crisis. He was of the opinion that all the military operations must stop followed by peaceful negotiations with the militants, only such as approach can tackle the IDP problem.
Ahmer Bilal Soofi’s conclusive talk spoke of a strategy to counter the root cause behind the whole problem of internal displacement, i.e. terrorism. He greatly emphasized on countering the extremist mind set by reforming religious educations and the clergy. “We have to teach our religious scholars and madrassa leadership the significance of international system as it has evolved since the end of Second World War. They must be made to understand international treaties and narcissist delusions medieval time should be rooted out. By understanding international system and the significance of peaceful coexistence, we can overcome the problem of terrorism hence of IDPs.” He concluded.
(Published in The Laaltain – May 2013)