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Displaced Tribespeople Demonstrate For Right To Return Home


BANNU, Pakistan-- Thousands of tribespeople displaced by the Pakistani military’s ongoing offensive against Islamic militants blocked traffic on a major highway near the northwestern city of Bannu September 18. They demanded the military lift road blocks and allow them to return home

They are among the nearly one million civilians who have been forced from their homes since the operation began in North Waziristan in mid-June.

Shafqatullah Dawar, a university student who helped organized the protest, says the tribespeople do not want government handouts. They simply want help returning home.

"We are warning the government that if it fails to listen to us we will march on the capital Islamabad," he told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. "One of our first acts in Islamabad will be to burn the paperwork that allows us to get food from the government."

Noor Khan Toorikhel, another displaced North Waziristan resident, is sick of living in the overcrowded city of Bannu. Most of the displaced had no choice but to flee to the dusty city, where they live in ramshackle conditions.

"Our widows and orphans are living without any help," he said. "We don't have electricity or even beds. It is really intolerable. We don't need any assistance; we just want to get back to our homes."

Anwar Azam, another protest organizers, vowed agitation will continue until authorities agree to allow them back.

"We know that more than 95 percent of our home region was cleared of militants, but now [the authorities] are saying that it is only 80 percent," he told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. "Nowhere in Pakistan is more than 95 percent free from militants."

Azam promised to begin marching towards Islamabad if the government fails to help them return to North Waziristan by the end of the month.

"If the followers of [politicians] Tahir-ul Qadri and Imran Khan can protest in Islamabad, why can’t we do the same?" he said.

Thousands of supporters of conservative Islamic Cleric Qadri and cricketer-turned politician Khan have been camped outside the Pakistani parliament for more than a month to pressure Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign.

These highly-publicized protests, dominating news coverage in Pakistan, have eclipsed the suffering of North Waziristan's displaced residents in recent weeks.

The Pakistani military claims to have cleared large swaths of North Waziristan after killing more than 1,000 militants. The country's civilian leaders have repeatedly pledged to help the refugees resettle.

"The government is trying it’s best to ensure early repatriation of IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] of North Waziristan to their homes so that they can start their lives afresh in an atmosphere of peace and stability," said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier in the week speaking to the regions tribal leaders.

But the displaced tribespeople in Bannu are not convinced by such assurances. During the past month, they have so far held four rallies to draw attention to their plight.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this report based on Umar Daraz Wazir's reporting from Bannu, Pakistan.

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