Permanently Displaced Persons – Ayaz Wazir

Initially the plight of the IDPs of North Waziristan was given extensive coverage by the media but after the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb that coverage gradually tapered off – like all other tragedies that struck the nation before.

Similarly, the government machinery that was earlier geared towards displaying its determination of not leaving any stone unturned in helping the IDPs and settling them back in their homes as soon as possible also came to a grinding halt. With that the visits of the VIPs to the IDP camps ceased.

Blaming the media alone for ignoring them would not be fair. The frequency of tragedies, with much deeper consequences, which the nation faced kept it busy and diverted its attention from the difficulties continuously faced by the IDPs on a daily basis. Nevertheless, one is constrained to say that the government learnt no lessons from the past. If it had, it would have put in place foolproof standing arrangements for proper handling of all matters relating to the IDPs of North Waziristan.

Since we have a record of not learning from the past, when confronted with a similar situation again we are at a loss for what to do and have to learn everything afresh. That is what happened to us when the people of North Waziristan were made IDPs after security agencies decided to take action against militants.

As far as our leaders are concerned they are least bothered about the IDPs, except for photo-ops when they visit their camps. Their (leaders) problems are different from ours and so are their priorities. For them schemes like the metro bus project carry more weight and importance than the resettlement of IDPs back in their homes.

Our leaders, sitting in distant Punjab, have not seen militancy from close quarters like us and neither have they made any serious effort to acquaint themselves with the colossal problems that it generates for those it affects. They do think of it as a problem but one in a faraway place of no serious consequence to them – not a core issue like it is for the rest of us. This is why they treat it in such a casual manner, something to be solved through APCs that achieve nothing, commissions with vague meaningless recommendations, committees that endlessly drone on and on, and a National Action Plan – as if it will take care of the problem without doing anything solid on the ground.

When the National Action Plan was drawn up there was a glimmer of hope that at last the menace would be tackled in the proper way. But then the infighting among the ruling party, coupled with populist trends, took over. It is common knowledge that despite his best efforts the interior minister was denied funds for the plan’s implementation on the excuse of paucity of funds, but a far larger amount than that was released for the metro bus project. This shows the government’s priorities.

Only when matters get worse do they remember the Rangers and the army for clearing up the mess. This is a short-term solution and not the way to finish off the menace of militancy once and for all. Short-term actions only prolong and aggravate matters.

Everybody knew that a military operation in North Waziristan was on the cards and sooner or later it would be launched and thereby displace people in large numbers. Concerned quarters were supposed to make all arrangements beforehand to accommodate them but such expectations proved wrong by a long margin; they did nothing of the sort, not even providing transport to families with small children who had to cover long distances on foot to reach safety.

Let us not forget that the IDPs are the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifices for the comforts of others and the security of the state but did they get anything from the government in return?

The Fata Secretariat, which has the primary responsibility of looking after the IDPs, has not yet initiated arrangements for their return and rehabilitation in areas where the security agencies have completed their task.

I did not know what stopped Fata Secretariat from doing so until I was informed in a meeting that they have no funds to do so and are waiting to receive them from the federal government in Islamabad.

I was left aghast at this callous attitude of those ruling Fata from Peshawar/Islamabad. Living in luxury in their air-conditioned palatial houses with every amenity available to them, they cannot be bothered to spare a thought for people with uprooted lives subsisting in makeshift arrangements. All the while the government fritters away huge amounts on non-essential wasteful schemes. Meanwhile the Fata Secretariat is made a laughing stock for being unable to arrange the IDPs’ return. The only thing they have done so far is change the nomenclature from IDPs to TDPs (temporarily displaced persons). One only hopes that they will not change it further to PDPs (permanently displaced persons) due to paucity of funds.

One wonders where the huge amounts given by foreign governments for developing Fata and rehabilitating IDPs from that area have disappeared. Ironically, money is no problem for completion of mega projects elsewhere in the country but it certainly becomes a problem when it comes to facilitating the return of IDPs back to their ruined homes. What a difference between these two sets of people. One set has luxurious lives in major cities whereas the other has a spartan existence in rugged, conflict-ridden mountainous areas.

The problem is that those administering Fata are not accountable to anyone nor does any court have jurisdiction over them to keep a check on them. This prerogative is that of the governor alone but he seldom visits the area. And even if he condescends to do so that happens to be just a ceremonial visit lasting only a few hours. As a result those who run Fata have a free hand to do as they wish as there is no system of keeping an eye on their activities.

The post of a political agent, which used to be ‘sold’ for Rs26 crore is now available, as rumour goes, for Rs50 crore. Expecting a person who has ‘invested’ so much money in getting the post to work honestly in the development schemes of the area would amount to fooling oneself. Such people would only be interested in recovering that investment manifold. No wonder stories of corruption there have exceeded all bounds.

It is high time the government considered giving Fata a separate status, out of the administrative control of the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He can hardly spare time from his busy schedule in the province to visit Fata leave alone taking any interest in the development of that area. Times and circumstances have changed and so should we. Fata needs a full-time administrator – we can call it whatever – to focus on speedy development of that area if it is to be brought at par with the rest of the country. The people there have talent and are capable of handling all matters of the area better than outsiders.

Arranging the return and rehabilitation of the IDPs is no problem for them and they will do it in a far better manner if funds that were donated by foreign governments are made available to them (if no other money is available with Islamabad). One fails to understand why funds received in the name of IDPs are not released to them but instead spent on projects elsewhere. This needs to be corrected and Fata handed over to its own people for administrative purposes if it is to be developed as well as cleansed of militancy.