Repatriation of the IDPs

Following green light given by the army high command, the phased repatriation of about a million-strong internally-displaced population of the tribal areas is about to begin. Local administrations have been informed of the military decision that minus a few locations in North Waziristan the rest of the tribal areas have been cleared of militancy and the IDPs can return anytime soon. Of the three main chunks of displaced population – some 70,000 families who left South Waziristan following the Rah-e-Nijat operation in 2009 and about 80,000 families from Khyber Agency and 18,000 families from North Waziristan following the Zarb-e-Azb operation – the Mehsuds from Serwekai and Sararogha tehsils are expected to be the first to be repatriated. Some 3,000 families are being registered whose return journey is expected to begin from March 16. The repatriation of IDPs from North Waziristan is likely to begin by the end of March. The plight of the people forced out of their homes is always a grim tragedy; and so it was. But this is also a fact that the armed forces kept the situation on their watch and spared no effort to ensure that their stay in camps was as agreeable as humanly possible. Most importantly, it was hope of one day returning in peace and security that was kept alive. No surprise then that by and large the IDPs kept their cool, rejected quite a few calls to angrily protest their plight and patiently waited for the spring that has now come. It is now the local administrations’ turn to ensure the IDPs are treated with respect and dignity; and they don’t have to fall one over the other to reach the window from where the relief is distributed. Also, in situations like this, commission mafias show up who promise quick delivery against a certain percentage. This must not be allowed to be the case.

But that is only one part of the saga of the IDPs’ ordeal; the one that begins now is no less challenging. While the local administrations have to come up to the challenge of making their return and rehabilitation as less painful as possible the IDPs too have to act responsibly, essentially by securing their ranks against infiltration by the remnants of militancy. They must not forget that the Swat Valley was also cleared by the armed forces but extremists and terrorists returned in the garb of their saviours. At the same time, the local administrators who must rise above the normal and put in their best to see that the IDPs’ problems are tackled at their doorsteps. It’s indeed comforting to learn that for about six months the Fata Disaster Management Authority would ensure adequate supply of food rations, basic healthcare and a small amount of cash for every household. Unfortunately, the track record of local officials’ performance while handling post-disaster situations is not very pleasing, and therefore may require regular monitoring. And as they manage quick fixes for immediate problems, concerted efforts are in order to find jobs for the eligible, open schools for boys and girls to resume their studies and place on ground a network for quick response law enforcement. Having gone through hell of difficult times the IDPs would certainly want to have different, better and productive environs to restart their lives. And as phased repatriation of the IDPs gets under way the federal government too should sit up and think of ways and means to mainstream the people of Fata and FR Regions. How callously discriminated are they, one eye-opener is the midnight Presidential Ordinance, which denied their members the opportunity to cast vote in the Senate elections. That their members sit in the national parliament but cannot propose legislation for their constituencies is a highly discriminatory act. This must change – now. If one-third of the Constitution can be revised and upgraded in one go through the 18th Constitutional Amendment why not some more constitutional amendments to bring the Fata at par with rest of the federating units.