PESHAWAR -- Internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are eagerly returning home to take part in reconstruction.
The return became possible after the army launched an offensive in June 2014 in North Waziristan to destroy terrorist bases.
"We are eagerly awaiting our return to our native village to take part in reconstruction efforts and to support the government in its endeavour to maintain durable peace back home," Masood Mahsud, a resident of North Waziristan Agency, told Pakistan Forward.
Masood's family has resided in Bannu District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), along with 100,000 other displaced families since 2012, when the army launched an earlier operation against the Taliban in North Waziristan. The fighting made it impossible for those families to stay where they lived.
"Most of the displaced people wish to go to their native villages as soon possible and start business activities there," he said. "Once routine activities start again, there will be complete peace."
"In the past, militants lured unemployed youths into their rank and file, but after the resumption of trade, militants will not find support," he said. "We strongly condemn Taliban militants for the terrorism in our areas, which affected our businesses, farming, education and health care facilities."
350,000 families return home
As a result of militancy and counter-militancy operations over the years, 447,000 families fled FATA and took temporary shelter in other areas of Pakistan, according to the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA).
So far, 350,000 families have returned to their ancestral areas, while the rest will be repatriated by the end of the year, FDMA senior official Khalid Khan told Pakistan Forward.
Shah Jehan Afridi, a resident of Khyber Agency, expressed joy about his recent homecoming.
Afridi's was among 91,000 families displaced to Jalozai after the army launched an anti-militant offensive in Khyber Agency in 2013. The army achieved its mission in mid-2015, paving the way for the Khyber IDPs to return home.
"The action against militants has gladdened the people, especially shopkeepers for whom Bara Bazaar was reopened in February," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that the bazaar, which remained shut for four years, is now booming.
"We were unable to run our general store for several years, but we are now back in business," Afridi said. "The past few years were extremely difficult for us as we faced problems in getting food, clothes and other basic necessities while staying in Jalozai."
The army played a key role in doing away with militancy and helping local residents to start their trade and other professional activities afresh, he said.
People 'committed to durable peace'
The situation in South Waziristan Agency has returned to normality too. Of 71,000 displaced families, 34,000 have so far returned, according to FDMA officials.
South Waziristan was "a hub of militancy three years ago", said Ihsanullah Shah, who recently returned home from KP. Now, he said, "the people feel safe as the army is patrolling the markets and villages."
"At the time our migration to KP, our area was thick with militants who controlled everything, but now there are only the army and the people," he told Pakistan Forward.
A mason by trade, Shah expressed satisfaction at being able to live and work in a peaceful environment again.
The local population has assured the army of its utmost support because it is sick of trouble-makers and is making every effort to put the brakes on violence, he added.
Shah is delighted to see schools re-open after the Taliban forced their closure.
"Military action has not only facilitated the resumption of businesses but has also helped students to continue their studies," he said. "The people are committed to work for durable peace because of their suffering at the hands of insurgents in the past."
In Orakzai Agency, 35,000 families fled in recent years because of the harsh rules that the Taliban imposed. Now 26,000 of those families have returned, according to the FDMA.
"All the repatriated people have pledged that they will remain peaceful and will not provide sanctuary to militants," said Malik Aziz Khan, a resident of Kalyala, capital of Orakzai Agency.
"All the militancy-stricken people vow to take part in reconstruction of their ancestral areas," he told Pakistan Forward. "They condemn violence and militants for forcing them to migrate to far-off places and to live in abject poverty."
"We have assured the government that we will help the army in tracking down terrorists and prevent them from re-entering," he said.
IDPs return in droves
Other tribal districts where militants called the shots three years ago have returned to the complete control of the government.
Of 33,000 families from Kurram Agency displaced by terrorism, 28,000 have returned, while 72,000 have returned to Bajaur Agency and 36,000 have returned to Mohmand Agency, according to FDMA statistics.
The tribal population has no option but to support the government's campaign against terrorists to ensure its safe future, Peshawar-based security analyst Khadim Hussain told Pakistan Forward.
"The more-than-8m population of FATA has suffered militancy for more than a decade," he said. "It has lost jobs, businesses and near and dear ones and cannot afford lawlessness anymore."
"The people are thankful to the army for evicting militants and putting their lives back on track," he said.
Mohmand Agency Assistant Political Agent Naveed Khan appreciates the displaced population for co-operating with the government.
"The people have been playing an instrumental part in defeating the terrorists, and the government appreciates their efforts," he told Pakistan Forward. "With the unwavering support of the local population, we can eliminate militants forever."