The people of Khyber Agency are trapped on all sides at the start of Khyber-I, a military operation to dislodge Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) militants from the area. LI has threatened the people of the region with death if they leave the area; threatened to blow up their houses. These tribesmen are a human shield for militants as the army comes down on LI in the area. Even mere proximity to militant outfits has been a curse for the people of the tribal areas for the past ten years. This threat to civilians comes as the three-day deadline in Jamrud and Bara areas ends. The army had given an ultimatum to the militants to lay down arms and surrender, or face a full fledged operation. Hundreds of families from the Tirah valley are now displaced in the face of a never-ending war.

The chief of LeI extremist group, Mangal Bagh, refused to vacate three key strategic positions in the remote Tirah Valley. However around 100 militants have surrendered. We can only hope that more will surrender before there is gross damage to civilians but they will always be caught in the crossfire. The surrenders resulted in retributory action from Mangal Bagh’s loyalists, who burnt down the houses of 30 tribesmen for aiding the security forces. One must remember than those who carry arms have close kinship ties with those who don’t. These are blood and tribe relations; whether a militant surrenders or not, the brunt will be borne by civilians, through military action or militant action. While we see figures of the army having killed an X or Y number of militants, we don’t get to see the physical or emotional destruction of those left behind. As much as the army is supported in its efforts to keep Pakistan safe, the rehabilitation of the people of the region, and also of those who have surrendered, must be top priority for the government and military. The actions of many militant outfits in the tribal regions have now come down to a tit-for-tat kind of skirmishing, and there has to be a strategy to disarm and debrief them. We cannot slowly become a nation of displaced people and refugees.