Waziristan Forgotten – Ayaz Wazir

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was shown on TV on Eid day, touring the flood affected areas in Punjab assuring people there that their destroyed houses will be rebuilt and compensation for other losses paid by the government. His younger brother and chief minister of that province was also doing a similar job and so were other politicians.

What was missing from the screen was any mention of the IDPs of Waziristan where no political leader worth the name bothered to pay a visit leave alone share their burden of pain standing in a queue the whole day for collection of ration for their children.

The IDPs, more than a million, forced by the military operation to leave their homes seem to have been forgotten by the media after the initial galore. Nobody cares about them anymore; even the minister who was made in charge for distribution of assistance provided by the federal government has started keeping his distance after cashing in on popularity on social media in the initial days.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb may be in the process of achieving its objectives but it has certainly made life miserable for the people of North Waziristan. Some of them were made IDPs to languish in the slums of Bannu while others have been made hostages in their own villages not allowed to go in any direction in view of the indefinite curfew clamped on that area.

The operation has entered its fourth month and there is still no indication of it coming to an end any soon, thus shattering all hopes of finding valuable items that the IDPs had left behind intact. Stories coming out of that area are not encouraging either; villages have been flattened and bazaars razed to the ground, a common practice in the tribal areas during all these operations for the last so many years.

Why has the government resorted to military operations, to begin with, when other options were available? Why were the locals not involved in solving the problem which they could have done with little support from the government and why were the people made IDPs when militants could have been sorted out without resorting to destroying villages and bazaar? These are the questions that are commonly asked in that area.

Will the people affected by this catastrophe be compensated like the flood affected people in Punjab or made to stand in queue, begging for sustenance in the IDP camps as we see them on daily basis?

The difficulties that the people have endured for so long need to be addressed by the government by dealing with them on the pattern of Punjab where all losses are to be borne by the government.

The seeds of discontent that have been sown during all the years can turn into a catastrophe much beyond our expectations unless some remedial action is not taken in time. It would be in the interest of the country if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif undertakes a visit to Waziristan like he does to Punjab. Waziristan is as good a part of this country as Punjab and deserves similar attention of the prime minister.

The world is fast changing and so shall we but it appears as though we have decided not to by sticking to the old system in Fata – keeping it backwards and denying its people basic human rights as enshrined in the constitution. Why this injustice to the poor people, unless they are to be kept backward intentionally to be manipulated in pursuit of strategic objectives wherever required.

This attitude needs to be changed. No one in the tribal areas is prepared anymore to accept this glaring injustice. Every child there understands where the fault lies and who was responsible for that. The days that things could be kept secret or swept under the carpet are gone. Change has to come – and come very soon if we want to avoid a disaster which seems to be in the making, needing only a spark to explode.

What an anomaly; Waziristan has been used and abused for strategic objectives but its people have been denied strategic importance. History is replete with instances where this area has been used for correcting the strategic imbalance in the region but in return nothing worth mentioning as ever been done to develop the area.

The recent promotion of six new generals and their assignment on important positions appears to be a paradigm shift in policies towards meeting the growing challenges of militants and militancy in the country.

In case that is in line with national aspirations as many believe then the new commander of our western borders would be well advised to focus on winning the hearts and minds of the people by showing the softer side of military power – if there is one – as this is something the people have been missing for too long. Though the scars are too deep and will take time to heal, a beginning could be made by taking the first step towards that direction.

Destruction is easy, as they say, but construction is far more difficult and only bold and courageous souls can manage that. Clamping curfew on villages and making life miserable for people is an easy job as is the imposition of restriction on transportation of eatable items to areas under ‘siege’. Similarly refusing treatment to sick and wounded in hospitals outside Waziristan or burial of their dead in their ancestral graveyards or depriving them of personal belongings left behind in the houses but healing wounds, winning hearts and minds, treating sick and wounded nicely as equal citizens is much more difficult.

A coward would opt for the easy way out while a courageous brave soldier would opt for the difficult course because the easy way brings death and destruction and the difficult peace and prosperity.

The return of the IDPs to their homes with honour and respect should be on top of his agenda since they are the ones who have suffered the most. They deserve attention and compensation in every sense to settle them in their homes on an urgent basis. That is the safer route to success and healing of the IDPs’ wounds in addition to giving a positive signal to the people for return of safety and security to that area.

Once the beginning is made – and that should be done in the initial few months to be more effective – the rest will follow leading to much broader cooperation including tackling militancy to turn Waziristan into a safe haven – but for peace and prosperity only.