North Waziristan tribesmen who had migrated to Afghanistan during Operation Zarb-e-Azb have fallen on hard times in camp for internally displaced people in the Bannu district.
The return home after a seven-year long period of exile has been difficult for North Waziristan’s tribesmen. They are back from the strife of the wilderness in the mountainous swathes straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. They had left home in response to Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched to flush out foreign and local warriors from the region.
They say they returned to Pakistan with hope of a new life in the country. A leader told visiting reporters that the community wants to be repatriated back to their villages. They had hoped to get back to farming as they did earlier in their villages in North Waziristan.
The tribesmen told journalists about the tough life they endured. “We barely had two months’ ration in Afghanistan camp,” the tribal leader said.
Most of them had setup push carts to survive in Afghanistan. “We have returned to Pakistan after repeated requests from Pakistani government,” they said.
Winter in tents
Given the history of their movements, officialdom passes of the seven years are a prolonged ‘migration’. It is anything but that. And since they are back, they are called ‘returnees’.
The tribesmen have been put up in camps for internally displaced persons in Bannu district, at the foothills of the Toochi Mountains.
It is a cramped existence. “We have been forced to live in tents like nomads as families – women, children and the elderly have been forced to sleep under open sky in extreme cold weather conditions,” an elderly person told journalists. “These are transitional shelters with partitioning for privacy.”
Besides, they have no warm clothes, so necessary in Bannu’s harsh winter. Nor do they have any access to medicines, ration and other facilities in the camp.
The people speak of the months of hunger and thirst they experienced while in the camps in Afghanistan.
The only source of water in the camp is the Tochi canal at a distance. Young people spend the day fetching water. There is no education available for the children or for the youth. “Their entire life is being wasted,” the leader said.