Return of TDPs

THE global handling of security challenges is causing immense secondary problems related to the mass migration of populations from war zones to countries at peace such as those in the European Union. According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, about 70 million war-displaced persons are seeking entry to the EU. Out of the additional 700,000 who joined the ranks of this category 370,000 were Syrians, 14pc Afghans, 10pc Iraqis and 4pc Pakistanis.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan migration has always been a traditional means of finding employment in countries short of labour; however, ordinary people are now fleeing their homeland due to lack of security and civil war in the wake of 9/11. Western interventions for so-called humanitarian and other reasons have added to the numbers of refugees. The results of a flawed set of policies are evident in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Pakistan, most of the displacement has taken place in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The province’s new governor, who administers Fata, has stated that his top priority will be to enable the almost 1.6 million persons who are temporarily displaced to return home.

Ever since the start of the 9/11 war in Afghanistan and the deployment of US and Nato forces to fight the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan’s tribal areas have been brought into the main theatre of operations. Subsequently, the Pakistani Taliban made attempts to take over the Pakistani state. They were prevented by timely action by the Pakistan military and police. Operation Zarb-i-Azb was launched almost two years ago to re-establish the writ of the state in Fata particularly in Waziristan.


The plight of the TDPs goes beyond their displacement.


To escape injury and loss of life, families living in the affected agencies shifted to districts or joined camps set up by the government. About 70pc of the displaced are living with families in districts. A large number of tribesmen also took refuge in Paktia and Jalalabad in Afghanistan. The exact number of such temporarily displaced persons (TDPs) is difficult to come up with. However, according to the UNDP, out of a displaced number of approximately 1.6 million people 70pc are women and children.

The government has a five-point strategy for their rehabilitation. It includes; 1) rehabilitation of physical infrastructure, 2) strengthening of law and order, 3) expanded delivery of government services, 4) reviving the local economy, and 5) strengthening social cohesion and peace-building.

The government has allocated approximately Rs25 billion a year for helping TDPs through cash grants and assistance. If one added the cost of security operations to the figure for grants and assistance, the expenditure, by some accounts, would come to almost Rs60bn annually.

The plight of TDPs is not linked only with sustenance. Imagine the feeling of destitution and lack of privacy suffered by the TDPs, when they live in tents in foreign surroundings. It is no surprise that they suffer from high degrees of stress, mental anguish and depression.

Displacement also increases their individual financial risks. Many tribesmen have not only lost their homes; the military operations have in many cases led to the destruction of shops and markets, as well as stocks in warehouses attached to the markets.

All TDPs have suffered loss of livestock in this devastation, thus even on their return home, they have the challenge of re-emerging as a viable economic unit. It means rebuilding their lives from scratch. It is for this reason that some Fata intellectuals have defined their collective anguish as, “from a blind spot into a black hole.”

However, the biggest problem faced both by tribesmen and the state is to recreate functioning communities in Fata that can provide a fulfilling social, economic and communal life. But recreating such a context again will need years of effort and support.

Data collected under the Stability Index project from Fata, has produced a positive picture about the health of the tribal community. Despite the long-drawn-out security operations and the elimination of about 2,000 tribal elders by the TTP, Fata communities display continuing social cohesion and a functioning tribal society where the social fabric is resilient and healthy.

However, the same cannot be said about governance in Fata. Owing to the dominance of the military the pivot of tribal administration that is the political agent has suffered a decline. This has meant a diminishing of the state’s influence and has caused the fires of war to continue burning.

The longer the military stays the more it may dominate the terrain and evict militants. But it would also displace the community, with civilian governance continuing to deteriorate. If the long-term aim of military action in Fata is to introduce peace and security this will be difficult to achieve if governance through the political agent is weakened.

One solution is to introduce empowered local government in Fata and carry out reforms, for instance, by amending Article 247 of the Constitution, something that tribal senators have sought by proposing the 22nd Amendment and merging Fata with KP. The advantage of reforms is that it will offer another tier of governance and produce a new leadership that would provide a bulwark against militants and create greater social cohesion through the exercise of jurisdiction by the high court and the Supreme Court and also introduce Fata to the KP Assembly where the tribesmen’s demands and grievances can be aired.

This discussion clearly shows that despite the military operations in Fata, tribal society has remained resilient and is thriving despite serious challenges. It also suggests that peace will be better served if every effort is made not to shift populations away from their homes.

An aspect that is overlooked when populations are displaced is the lessening of the spirit of national solidarity among the TDPs. Hence, it would be prudent to use military means only when absolutely essential.

Lately, there has been an awakening amongst many tribesmen. They have begun to ask if the problems they face are not a creation of their special status. Many believe that the absence of constitutional protection under fundamental rights may have something to do with their plight.

The writer is a former political agent and chief secretary, KP.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2016

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