BANNU, Pakistan -- Pakistan's restive North Waziristan tribal district was once known as the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and affiliated militants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Effectively ruled by hard-line militant Islamist factions since 2006, Pakistani security forces launched a major offensive to rid the region of militants last June.
The operation, called Zarb-e Azb, displaced more than 1 million civilians from North Waziristan, and Islamabad portrayed it as evidence of its resolve to go after all militants operating on its soil.
Nine months later, authorities say they have established control over the region on Afghanistan's border and even announced they will soon allow civilians to return to their homes and farmlands.
The recent announcement of a senior Taliban figure, however, hints at what awaits the now displaced Waziristan residents as they begin to return to their homeland later this month.
Maulvi Aleem Khan, a former top Taliban leader, told Radio Mashaal on March 14 that, after successful negotiations with the government, he has decided to "work for peace in the region."
Khan said he will resist anyone who would attempt to create insecurity in the Datta Khel region, which was previously a main militant sanctuary.
Khan is considered one of the most influential militant commanders in Datta Khel and was previously the deputy of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the most powerful Pakistani Taliban commander in North Waziristan.
Hundreds of alleged U.S. drone strikes in the region reportedly killed senior figures from Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and Bahadur's faction since 2005. Most of the drone strikes were concentrated in Datta Khel.
Khan is now seen as having abandoned Bahadur, forming his own militant faction, Jaish-e Muttaqi.
Pakistani civil and military officials have not commented on Khan's claims, but the fact he was able to reach journalists in the region and his claims were reported in the Pakistani press shows he has possibly reached an understanding with the authorities.
North Waziristan's civilians, however, want to see an end to all militants in their homeland. Malik Gul Salih Jan, a tribal leader in the region, says they have made great sacrifices for peace in their homeland.
"Before the operation began last year, we suffered from insecurity and lawlessness for nearly a decade," he told Radio Mashaal. "We made great sacrifices, and we lost many people. We suffered economically and even endured great psychological hardship all these years."
Jan now hopes that Islamabad will not allow North Waziristan to become a militant hub again.
"We are thirsty for peace. We want a new, developed Waziristan," he said.
Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by Umar Daraz Wazir.