Return of Pakistani tribes shows success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb

By Adeel Saeed

North Waziristan Agency tribesmen in Tank District, KP, prepare to go home last December 20. Troops cleared North Waziristan of militants by launching Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014. [Adeel Saeed]

North Waziristan Agency tribesmen in Tank District, KP, prepare to go home last December 20. Troops cleared North Waziristan of militants by launching Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014. [Adeel Saeed]

PESHAWAR -- Pakistani tribes are heading back to their homes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) after years of war.

The return of tribes to North Waziristan Agency (NWA), once the militants' most unyielding stronghold in FATA, represents a much-improved security situation, security analysts say.

After languishing for years in Afghanistan or in other parts of Pakistan, thousands of NWA families are finally going home, officials say.

Displaced families began trickling home from Afghanistan in July.

The migration home became possible after the Pakistani army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb -- which continues to this day -- in June 2014 in NWA.

Losses on both sides have been heavy. About 3,400 terrorists and 488 security personnel were killed in the fighting as of last December, according to the Pakistani government.

Tribes go home

The numbers of dislocated families were vast.

"About 82,000 families, constituting about 1m individuals, had migrated from NWA to different areas in Pakistan and about 10,000 families, residing in the border zone, fled to Afghanistan after the initiation of Operation Zarb-e-Azb," NWA Political Agent Kamran Afridi told Pakistan Forward.

"About 2,400 families who had fled and took refuge in Afghanistan from NWA have returned back to Pakistan as of the end of July, while 7,500 families have submitted return forms and expressed willingness for repatriation," he said.

The return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) -- those who resettled within Pakistan -- to NWA started in a phased manner in March 2015, and so far about 41,000 families have returned to their homes, Afridi said. About 41,000 other families are waiting for their turn to return.

Authorities have decided to return all IDPs to their homes by the end of November, Afridi said.

Meanwhile, the NWA political administration decided in July to begin repatriating the tribal families that had taken refuge in Afghanistan.

A 10-member delegation of tribal elders went to Afghanistan to convey the decision of the political administration to their relatives. The delegation members carried with them pre-registration and verification forms for collecting information about the returnees and their belongings, he said.

"Extra caution is being taken in the repatriation process to curb the entry of any outsider or terrorists in the disguise of IDPs [or refugees in Afghanistan]," Afridi said.

"Every family is directed to provide details about the names of their members and a Computerised National Identity Card [CNIC] along with the name of their tribe and village," he said.

The identification process ends after the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) verifies each family member's CNIC, he added.

"As the situation improved and peace returned in NWA, the tribes decided to return to their native areas," said Malik Ghulam, a native of the Datta Khel area who had migrated to Afghanistan in 2014.

Ghulam moved back to Datta Khel by himself a few months ago to make sure it was safe.

His family members still reside in Khost Province, Afghanistan, and are preparing to return after hearing about the restoration of peace and security in the region, he said.

He urged all NWA tribe members to go home, now that troops have cleaned up the agency.

"Gone are the days when gun-toting militants roamed freely in our area and posed a threat to the peaceful environment," he told Pakistan Forward. "Now the concerns of the tribes are lack of infrastructure like water supply, electricity, health care and education."

Peace and security

Thousands of Madakhel and Momedkhel tribe members living in border communities including Datta Khel, Shawal and Frontier Region Baka Khel opted to migrate to Afghanistan, said Umar Daraz Wazir, a journalist based in NWA. Many of these families settled in Afghan provinces including Paktia, Paktika and Khost.

"Most of these families living in the areas bordering Afghanistan had left North Waziristan for safety in a state of hurry and confusion and opted for crossing the border rather than reaching Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was farther away," he told Pakistan Forward.

"However, now people are coming back as normality is ... returning in NWA after the successful military operation against terrorists and anti-state elements," he said.

The government is providing substantial assistance to returning tribe members, which includes a cash payment of Rs. 35,000 (US $350) per family and a six-month food ration, as well as transportation assistance, Umar Daraz said.

The NWA political administration set August 1 as the deadline for registration of displaced families settled in Afghanistan, he said.

However, after expiry of the deadline, NWA PA Kamran Afridi, who represents NWA in parliament is planning to convene a jirga of tribal elders to make a final decision in this regard.

Tribe members who fail to register with the NWA political administration to return to Pakistan could lose their citizenship, he said.

Zar Ali Khan Afridi, chairman of the FATA Commission of Human Rights, appreciated the restoration of peace in FATA but stressed the need for a master plan to revive economic activity in the area.

"The tribes have suffered incalculable losses in Pakistan's on-going war against terrorism and deserve special treatment by the government and world community," he told Pakistan Forward.

It is good news that tribe members who migrated to Afghanistan are coming home, he said.

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