ISLAMABAD - In a rare show of unity against terrorism, religious and secular parties during a gathering of elders from militancy-hit tribal areas on Saturday demanded an early conclusion of the ongoing military offensive in North Waziristan, calling for rehabilitation of displaced people at areas cleared from terrorists.

Saturday’s Grand Tribal Jirga was unique in a sense that both religious and secular parties, including elders of seven tribal agencies, were gathered under one roof to denounce implementing of Sharia at gunpoint. The jirga was sponsored by Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam (JUI-F) Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

In the past, secular and nationalist parties like Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) had blamed religio-political parties for providing foot soldiers to militant outfits like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other extremist groups but on Saturday Jinnah Convention Centre (the venue) echoed with unity.

Not only the tribal gathering denounced extremism but also questioned the prolonged military operation in North Waziristan, arguing that the displaced people should have been rehabilitated at their native villages if the claims that 90 per cent area had been cleared by security forces.

Interestingly, the meeting named, as Tribal Grand Jirga, did not include tribal elders across the board and instead chairs in the spacious hall of Jinnah Convention Centre were occupied by bearded turban wearing religious activists of JUI-F with little participation of apolitical tribal people.

The security duty at the entry gate and inside the hall was performed by JUI-F members as Maulana Fazlur Rehman survived a suicide bombing attack during his party’s political gathering on October 24. This was the third attempt on Maulana Fazl’s life since 2011.

“We are told daily that hundreds of terrorists are killed. But even then the menace is spreading more. There should be a logical end to the ongoing operation against terrorists. The displaced should be immediately resettled in areas where security forces have claimed success,” Maulana Fazl told the gathering.

ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali, PkMAP Chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, QWP Chief Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and MQM’s Haider Abbas Rizvi delivered their speeches and sympathised with displaced people but some tribal elders were observed requesting angrily to give them a chance to speak as they were the genuine representatives of tribal people.

Asfandyar Wali whose party few months back had endorsed military operation in North Waziristan sounded sceptical about the military offensive in the area, arguing that ‘empty houses’ were being targeted after millions of people fled their native towns ahead of operation.

The ANP Chief went to an extent that the political drama at D.Chowk and mass exodus of people from North Waziristan was not a coincidence but a planned move to divert world attention and media focus from the plight of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

He also maintained that IDPs coming from Khyber Agency in wake of Operation Khyber-1 were not entertained at any of the relief camps. He said that neither they were given any place to live nor allowed their entry into the established camps.

Senator Saleh Shah, who represents South Waziristan, complained that he was promised by the then government that the Rah-e-Nijat (Way of salvation) operation launched in his area would be concluded in a week but it took years and still people were living in refugee camps.

Members of minorities also attended the gathering but leader of Sikh community in Khyber Agency Baba Harmeet Singh got only two minutes to deliver his speech although other leaders spoke for half an hour.

Muhammad Yousaf, a JUI-F member, however said that it was a good development that religious and secular parties had raised voice against terrorism, adding it was now the duty of government and concerned agencies to purge the country of militants.