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Waziristan's Displaced Await Government Help

Internally-displaced residents fleeing military operations against Taliban North Waziristan.
Internally-displaced residents fleeing military operations against Taliban North Waziristan.
DABARA, Pakistan -- Years after fleeing a major military operation, Pakistani tribesmen are still waiting for government help to rebuild their shattered lives.

Nearly half a million Mehsud tribesmen left their homes in the forested mountains of northwestern Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal district in late 2009. Their exodus facilitated an army campaign against the country's most dangerous extremist faction, the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

But five years later most Mehsuds are still banished from their homeland. Their misery and suffering is showcased in displacement camps and communities in Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts, which border South Waziristan to the east.

The small village of Dabara, on Tank's fringes, hosts one such shabby displacement camp. Deprived of roads, schools, sewage, electricity and healthcare, hundreds of displaced families there are in desperate need of help.

Khan Nawaz, a middle-aged man, lost his leg while escaping from the 2009 military offensive. He, his wife and many children have no constant source of income; during the past five years they have built several makeshift mud huts to provide shelter from harsh summers and rainy winters.

"So far the government of Pakistan has given me nothing. Most of the time my children go hungry," he told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal. "Sometimes our neighbors give us food but they too are desperate."

A teenager who goes by the name of Islamuddin longs for a day when he can return to school. "These days I only herd sheep and goats around the desolate plains of Dabara," he said.

Meanwhile, fear of a new military offensive against the Taliban in the North Waziristan tribal district has prompted a fresh exodus of 40,000 people.

Like those from South Waziristan, these displaced are also streaming into Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and the nearby districts of Laki Marwat and Bannu.

Alamzeb recently fled his home in the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali after five children in his extended family were injured in a Pakistani airstrike. "I find it impossible to care for the injured while looking for a house."

Alamzeb and thousands of families from North Waziristan have received little government assistance in Bannu, where house rents have skyrocketed in responses to the urgent demand for living space.

Lawmaker Maulana Jamaluddin represents South Waziristan in the parliament, and expressed the pessimism shared by many tribal leaders. He told Radio Mashaal that Islamabad's past failures to help the region's displaced doesn't augur well for those newly in need as they flee their homes.

"If the government cannot look after the people displaced by operations years ago, how can it handle a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people [from North Waziristan]," he asks.

Over the years the Mehsuds have protested their ordeal. In February tribal leaders and activists protested in Islamabad, but their pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.

Displacement of civilians has been a constant feature of Islamabad's protracted struggle against Islamic extremists in northwestern Pashtun regions. During the past decade more than two million Pakistanis have fled their homes because of Taliban violence and military operations.

Nearly 750,000 of them still live in displacement camps across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Hundreds of thousands more live in cities across Pakistan.