To Afghanistan, this time

To Afghanistan, this time

Though there are differences between Islamabad and Kabul over the number of Pakistanis who have sought refuge in Afghanistan in the wake of the Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, there is no dispute that never in history so many people from Pakistan have been forced to migrate to the war-ravaged neighbouring country.

Pakistanis have been seeking refuge in Afghanistan, but they were mostly political dissidents like Al Zulfiqar’s Murtaza Bhutto, his brother Shahnawaz Bhutto and their colleagues, Pakhtun and Baloch nationalists and separatists and, in recent years, Pakistani Taliban.

The families of Pakistani Taliban militants and their supporters, too, escaped to Afghanistan following the military operations in Malakand division, Mohmand and Bajaur agencies, but they were a few hundred only. Those migrating to Afghanistan from North Waziristan are in thousands and are mostly civilian.

Until now, it was the other way round as Pakistan played host to Afghans displaced by conflict in record numbers. At one point in time during the Afghan jehad in the 1980s-1990s, Pakistan hosted up to five million Afghans. Even now, there are almost 1.7 million registered and an estimated one million non-registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

However, the situation has undergone a change and now Pakistani nationals, forced by need and circumstances have crossed the Durand Line border to seek refuge in Khost and Paktika provinces. Apart from other factors, the decision by Pakistanis to migrate to Afghanistan instead of coming down from North Waziristan to the settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in a way show their lack of confidence in the ability of the Pakistan government to look after their needs.

It may be recalled that Hafiz Gul Bahadur, commander of the local Taliban group in North Waziristan that isn’t part of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), had given a call to his people to migrate to Afghanistan instead of shifting to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or other provinces of Pakistan in case a military operation is launched in their area.

Though majority of the North Waziristanis didn’t heed his call, thousands did cross over to Afghanistan. One major reason could be their proximity to the border with Afghanistan as they found it convenient to go there instead of undertaking the long and often tortuous journey to Bannu due to the enforcement of curfew, the road blockades by army troops and security checkpoints set up on the roads. Many migrating Pakistanis also have relatives and landed property in Khost and Paktika and they found it suitable to go to Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities have refuted the reports that more than 100,000 Pakistanis from North Waziristan have taken refuge in Afghanistan. However, they have been unable to provide their own figures or an assessment of the number of Pakistanis now living as refugees in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government has provided conflicting data of the number of Pakistanis who sought refuge in Afghanistan. After presenting high figures initially, the Governor of Khost, Abdul Jabbar Naeemi, in his latest statement said 6,131 Pakistani families had been registered in his province and that a camp had been set up for them in Gurbaz district.

The Governor of Paktika province, Mohibullah Samim, was earlier quoted as saying that "thousands" of Pakistanis had entered his province. However, he has yet to disclose the precise number of Pakistanis now living in Paktika.

The Afghan media had quoted the UNHCR office in Kabul as saying that 85,000 Pakistanis had crossed over from North Waziristan to Afghanistan. Whatever the exact numbers, it is a fact that thousands of homeless and angry Pakistanis are now living in Afghanistan and some of them could join the ranks of the militants or play in the hands of the Afghan intelligence.

The Afghan government has been urging the UN and other international organisations to help it in looking after the needs of the Pakistani refugees. Recently, the Afghan government sent a high-ranking ministerial delegation to Khost to meet the Pakistani refugees. On the occasion, the Afghan Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal announced that $2 million made available by his ministry and a wealthy Afghan trader would be distributed among the Pakistani refugees.

President Hamid Karzai also promised support to the Pakistani refugees. However, not much has been done in concrete terms to look after the needs of these displaced Pakistanis. Also, Afghan officials and tribal elders have expressed concern that some among the Pakistani refugees are armed, that many could be militants, and that the presence of Pakistani children not vaccinated against polio due to the ban imposed by the Taliban in North Waziristan didn’t augur well for Afghanistan’s efforts to eradicate the disease.

The IDPs from North Waziristan now settled in Bannu and elsewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have heard stories, mostly untrue, that every Pakistani refugee family in Afghanistan is being given Rs100,000 along with solar lamps, fans and cooking sets and the large Karwan tent enough to accommodate a large family. This wasn’t true as one found out after checking with the Afghan officials in Kabul and Khost. If this was true, many more Pakistanis from North Waziristan would have tried to go across the border to Aghanistan because an IDP family in Pakistan is entitled to Rs12,000 per month only (plus Rs20,000 extra in Ramzan).

On the next page: Cause of bitterness

Cause of bitterness

There is an irony with regard to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from North Waziristan, which is part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). The federal government is responsible for the needs of Fata and its people, including IDPs. But the IDPs left Fata to enter Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is now required to look after them.

In a way, Imran Khan is justified by asking the PML-N-led federal government to pay Rs6 billion to the PTI-headed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government so that it could meet the needs of the almost 500,000 IDPs. And his party’s chief minister, Pervez Khattak, had a point when he said the federal government’s failure to inform the provincial government about the impending military operation in North Waziristan deprived it of precious time that could have been utilised to set up facilities for the IDPs in a timely manner.

Initially, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sanctioned Rs500 million for the IDPs and Chief Minister Pervez Khattak Rs 350 million. The federal government continued to raise its contribution for IDPs as Imran Khan and the KP government kept up the pressure on Nawaz Sharif to deliver.

Bitterness was caused by the earlier statements by those in power in Sindh and Balochistan that they won’t allow the IDPs into the two provinces. The statements provoke public criticism, including a unanimous resolution by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly condemning the move, and prompted the Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, who had earlier declared "no more IDPs" and Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch to issue clarification to allow the IDPs provided they undergo security and screening checks. Punjab adopted an ambiguous stance on the issue.

Officials of the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) have been quoted as saying that rehabilitation of displaced persons and reconstruction of the private properties would need an approximately Rs35 billion. Nobody knows how and when this money would become available to undertake the massive rehabilitation and reconstruction work. Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan, realized the enormity of the task recently when shortage of funds was felt while repatriating the IDPs to Kurram Agency and Tirah valley in Khyber Agency. Most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from South Waziristan and some from other tribal areas are waiting to return home, but their repatriation could take longer now that more tribespeople have been uprooted from North Waziristan.

Ironically, the word IDP despite being in English is now widely used. Many Pakhtuns are often heard remarking that their race has become a nation of IDPs both in Afghanistan and Pakistan because they have been affected the most by militancy, military operations and foreign intervention in this region.

To Afghanistan, this time