Normally the term IDP is understood as an abbreviation for an Internally Displaced Person the world over. But due to the fact that a very large number of Pashtuns are living for a very long time under conditions defined by the aforementioned term (at one stage they were three million plus) it has acquired a new connotation in FATA and Pakhtukhwa. It now stands for Internally Displaced Pashtuns. Since 100 percent of the people falling under this category in Pakistan are Pashtuns, what else could it mean? This is a comparatively milder view.

There are other opinions that directly link this displacement (and the miseries brought by it) to the country’s flawed Afghan policy, which necessitated Talibanisation in FATA to provide geographical and demographic depth to Afghan Taliban in their fight across the Durand Line. For them the term IDP thus stands for Intentionally Displaced Pashtuns, as this phenomenon is a direct product of misguided state policies. Sensing the potential alienation that can be produced by such connotations, some smart alecks in the officialdom had come out with a deflection strategy by proposing an alternative term capable of camouflaging much of this ugly spectacle. They suggested TDP, Temporarily Displaced Persons, to describe these hapless Pastuns from FATA. But the word ‘temporary’ would not stick, as many of these people have lived in this situation for more than a decade and are still not sure about their future prospects.

      Be that as it may, the semantic controversies hardly make any difference for the Pashtun IDPs, as they fail to mitigate any of their agonies and miseries. Coming from a political backyard, FATA, a periphery and not the core area of the state, tribal Pashtuns and their death and destruction are mere statistics. Ironically even complete statistics are not coming out of FATA which is a black hole and no-go area for the civil society and independent media over the last so many years. For example, there is no complete record of the innocent people, including important tribal leaders, killed by terrorists who had literally occupied the area for years. We do hear about the death of the alleged terrorists during the ongoing military operations in the official pronouncements but there is not a single word about the “collateral damage” during heavy aerial bombardment or the use of heavy artillery. Even now when the process of the repatriation of IDPs is supposed to have started we do not have any systematic record of the number of homes, business centers and public buildings destroyed during the military conflict.

The purpose of the present analysis is not to trivialize the war on terror, which is a prime national objective to be supported by all and sundry, but it is an effort to put some focus on the humanitarian crisis faced by the Pashtun belt of the country. Efficiently handling the said crises is also vital for winning this war.

In the meanwhile, Islamabad the beautiful, is either obsessed with conflict in Yemen (with the country’s top leadership shuttling between Riyadh and Islamabad), or if that pain in the neck subsidies to some extent then “the greatest of great national issues” of the four election constituencies of Lahore is waiting in the wings to grab the full attention of the major political parties and “national” media. Yes, once upon a time, looking after the IDPs and planning their orderly repatriation and rehabilitation was an important point in the twenty points NAP for winning hearts and minds of the population. But that was a narrative to be sold at the turn of the year to national and international stake holders post PAPS tragedy and probably it is not relevant any more. 

          Now after much protest by the IDPs, and some pressure from political parties, the government has decided to start the repatriation of displaced persons to areas that have already been cleared from terrorists. But right from the start this process is facing serious challenges. Unlike the repatriation of the IDPs from Malakand Division in 2009, when elected representatives of the people, political parties and civil and military bureaucracy had planned and executed the process together, in this case the repatriation is solely handled by bureaucracy and it is characterized by irrational rigidity. For example, even after vehement protests from the IDPs and criticism by political parties and media, the officialdom is insisting on the “social contract” to be signed by IDPs that binds them to arbitrary and unfair conditions. One of the conditions, by totally reversing the role of the state and society, makes it compulsory for the local population to provide security to state installations. Adding insult to injury the tribal Pashtuns will also have to take a fresh oath of allegiance to the country as if their sacrifices in defending the country against terrorism was not a proof enough.

NDRA has registered 103,508 families of IDPs from North Waziristan. According to official statistics so far only 230 families have gone back to their villages. Out of them only 50 families have gone to Mir Ali while 180 families have returned to areas like Speen Wam etc., that were not particularly effected by Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The government authorities need to ensure the repair and reconstruction of public health, education and drinking water facilities in the effected areas to make the repatriation sustainable. Strangely enough no plan has been made public about the repatriation of about one hundred thousand IDPs who had crossed over to the Khost province of Afghanistan. We surely can’t afford to forget them in our plans. Similarly the concerned authorities have also declared plans for sending back 2500 families to South Waziristan and 20,000 families to Khyber Agency. This whole operation of repatriation is too huge a task to be left to the bureaucracy. The government should immediately create an oversight committee consisting of FATA parliamentarians and representatives of Pashtun political parties for efficient and transparent implementation of the repatriation plans.