10
June

A Year of Success

Report By: Maj Kanwal Kiani

Pakistan is fighting the war against terror for more than a decade. The war saw many turns during this period but year 2014 will be remembered in history as the nation decided to give final and decisive blow to the terrorists in the shape of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency (NWA). Though government gave peace and reconciliation a last chance in the start of 2014, yet, 20 major acts of terror conducted from January 29 to June 8, 2014, in which 195 Pakistanis embraced shahadat, brought everyone to the conclusion that the terrorist organizations were not sincere to the dialogue process.

 

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Operation Zarb-e-Azb was initiated as a national effort to reinstate peace and order across the country. The operation was a step towards restoring the writ of government, destroying the sanctuaries of terrorists of all hue and colours, and shaping the environment for sustainable peace and development in the FATA and elsewhere in the country. In addition to the military aspects, the issue of Temporary Displaced Persons (TDPs) was very important, and indeed most sensitive. The mass of TDPs of NWA was marked as the second largest internal displacement during the recent years after Swat. It was a national responsibility warranting response from all individuals and institutions of the country.

The operation continues to date as planned with many success stories and will continue till the elimination of all terrorists from Pakistan. The safe return home of the TDPs to their native towns has also begun and will be executed in phases. However, their safe return is a function of national passion and merits the maximum amount of support extended to them by each of us.

 

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Since June 15, 2014, when the operation commenced, it has been successfully progressing in flushing out the terrorists and clearing the no-go-areas. About 90% of areas including Mir Ali, Miran Shah, Shawa, Spinwam, Ghulam Khan, Boya, Degan, Dosalli, and Ghariom, to name a few, have been cleared and nexus between TTP and its affiliates is conked out. During the conduct of this particular operation, 316 soldiers have laid their lives whereas 2729 terrorits have been killed.

Usman Peerzada (Actor)

usman_peerzad.jpgOur armed forces have been at war since long. It’s not something small, whole nation along with army is fighting multiple enemies to safeguard frontiers of motherland. Pakistan Army has sent a clear message that how strong we are in defending our country by showing their valour in combat. I am so proud of our soldiers and all the sacrifices they have made while defending the country and nation.

 
Urwa Hocane (Film/TV Artist)

I would like to congratulate Pak Army and our entire nation on the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Proud of Pak Army for taking this initiative of cleaning up terrorism from the core. As the citizen of this country and daughter of an army officer, I am really thankful to Pak Army for this unconditional security and safety I feel. I salute our soldiers for the sacrifices they render for us every day regardless of any appreciation or "anything" in return.

 
Shafaq Omer (Teacher Froebel's International School)

The operation has been a success all along. The brave soldiers of the soil are fighting with passion, loyalty and dedication to stem out the evil of terrorism for the better future of the young generation.The sacrifices made by Pakistan Army will be written in the pages of history with golden words.

 

 
Dr. Abid Suleri (Executive Director SDPI)

Now or never. I support Zarb-e-Azb for safety of our future generations and peaceful Pakistan.

 

 

 
Ashir Azeem (Actor/Producer)

Through Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan Army has taken a bold, extremely necessary and long overdue step in the right direction to reclaim the rule of law in our own land and no longer to be held hostage by rouge armed groups.This step has raised the image of Pakistan Armed Forces both within and outside the country.Pakistanis stand firmly behind their army in this initiative to crush this subhuman enemy of Pakistan.Pakistan Zindabad!

 
Ali Moeen Nawazish (Student/Educationist)

This has been a watershed and landmark moment in the history of our country. The state finally acted against the menace which has plagued us for the last decade. It is important that the success of this operation continues and we form a narrative of patriotism as per our constitution. We must expand this brilliant effort to counter not only the militant but also the ideological elements. We must not let biases or exceptions shape this mission. This mission must continue as it is doing today. We need to bring back the days when our schools didn't need security guards and our children could play on the streets. Our future and our country's future depends on this.

 
Ghania Ahmed (Student Army Public School, Rawalpindi)

After the Peshawar attack, our school received a number of threats and we panicked. At times our school was closed and at times it was opened. We couldn't manage our syllabus. All of our major and minor problems were completely solved by Pak Army and its efforts in Zarb-e-Azab. I feel we are back in “good old days". Thank you Pak Army. Stay blessed. I and my school fellows will always be indebted to you.

 
Dr. Uzma Anjum (Faculty Member Quaid-i-Azam University)

This ongoing military operation is a commendable action by our army. It will help to develop peace not only in our country but will also have far reaching implications on the socio-economic development of the whole region.

 
Dr. Nadeem Omar Tarar (Director National College of Arts Rawalpindi Campus)

Operation Zarb-e-Azb signifies a profound change in the hearts and minds of Pakistani citizens. It stands for safeguarding the vision of Pakistan's founding father, for a free and fair society. Zarb-e-Azb is grounded in a moral consensus that knowledge sharing and dialogue are the key components of peaceful coexistence of diverse ideologies. The successful conclusion of the military operation, In-shah-Allah, will lead to strengthening of the social fabric of Pakistani society, nurturing peace and tolerance. We must reiterate our commitments not to harbour terrorism in our homes, educational institutions, and work places.

 
COAS YOUTH PACKAGE

• 14000 youth from FATA will be recruited in Pakistan Army in next 5 years.

• 1500 students from FATA will be accommodated in Army Public Schools across the country.

• Students from FATA will be granted admissions on quota basis in the Military Colleges.

• Technical skills to the people of FATA will be imparted at technical training institutes in all major cantonments.

• Arrangements being worked out for large scale overseas employment of youth from FATA.

 

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif while commenting about the operation said, “I feel that until and unless this country is cleansed from terrorism, this war and effort will not stop, no-one should be doubtful of this."

Gen Raheel Sharif, COAS, during his address to the passing out parade at Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul on October 18, 2014, said, " Zarb-e-Azb is not merely an operation, it is a concept, it is a resolve and a commitment of the nation. The commitment is to cleanse Pakistan of the scourge of terrorism once and for all. Pakistan Army is the cutting-edge of this resolve. A resolve that is currently evident in North Waziristan, where the military operations are delivering decisive results. Pakistan’s Law Enforcement Agencies aided by intelligence agencies are also playing a commendable role in hunting down terrorists and their networks across the country."

 

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Several media personnel, political leaders/ representatives and ambassadors of friendly countries visited the areas and have lauded the efforts and resolve of Pakistani Armed Forces in their fight against terrorism and paid rich tribute to the martyrs. To ensure safe return of around 7.5 lac TDPs to their homes, Pakistan Army has chalked out an elaborate programme to settle these people in their homes. Hundreds of projects including health, education, markets and hospitals have been planned for these TDPs. In addition to this, a comprehensive youth package was announced by COAS during his visit to the area. Protected and dignified repatriation of TDPs to their homes under safe environment has already been started on March 31, 2015 and will be completed by Nov 2016.

Zarb-e-Azb is our national resolve and people of Pakistan never accepted the ideology of TTP and their associates. The operation will continue till elimination of terrorism from Pakistan.

 

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20
June

From Fall To Rise

Written By: Syed Saim A. Rizvi

It was hot and humid evening at Jinnah International Airport, Karachi on 8 June 2014. Rush was as usual as I checked in and settled down in the waiting lounge with my cup of coffee; looking at runway lights through the glass. I was proceeding to Frankfort via Dubai on Emirates flight number EK 603. As the announcement about the flight was made, all passengers and crew boarded the aircraft through the tube. With the light music on, and seat belts tight, the aircraft slowly moved to the runway while crew was busy in pre-take-off announcements. Suddenly a huge blast was heard outside. The aeroplane came to a sudden halt. It was all quiet in the aircraft; everyone looking at each other and guessing; what had happened.

While we looked through the windows of the aircraft, few passengers spotted huge flames at far distance and started shouting loudly in anxiety, though some of them were dead silent. One could observe the real shape of fear in the eyes of passengers; uncertain, and in few cases, waiting for the death to come. I was myself terrified. My mind was fast thinking about the proceedings; an accidental explosion, a blast away from airport, and in the worst scenario, I was not ready to believe my own though, the Airport was under terrorist attack. Few of the passengers were also loudly voicing their opinion that it was a bomb blast. We had no source at that time to get confirmation about the happening outside. The crew had the same feeling, too. I told the individual sitting beside me to remain positive as it could be a tyre blast or some other thing; I also assured him about tight security measures that normally airports adopt; though all type of wrong opinions were going through my mind. We had passengers from all age groups and gender on board. The panic was too high, so was uncertainty.

Suddenly the loud noise of firing was heard and by then everyone was sure of one thing; it was terrorism. Board lights were completely off and so were the lights outside although it wasn't complete darkness. I was only trying to measure the distance and direction of firing; guessing if someone was coming to attack our plane. It was horrible situation because sometimes, I thought they were near to us and sometime I would get happy by thinking oppositely. All were gloomy until, in about 10-15 minutes time, we saw the troops of Pakistan Army at the runway. Someone shouted, “look! Army is there for us.” This news was like the cool breeze on board, the feeling of life assurance was visible, and the happiness wrapped into the fear could be felt. It was after some time that army commandos arrived in the aircraft and asked for the well being of the passengers. It was smiles all around and everyone loudly thanked Allah. We were escorted out of aircraft to a safe place by brave jawans of Pak Army. The soldiers had encircled us in a way that any bullet coming would have hit them first. Their gesture brought tears in my eye. Although the sounds of firing could be heard but now we were feeling secured. It was during same time that someone loudly raised the slogan, “Nara e Haideri - Ya Ali; Pakistan Army Zindabad.” That was the sign of trust of people on security force in such a tensed situation although we were still not safe completely.

I have never seen and heard of such an accurate, well equipped, calculated, quickest and responsive Army operation ever. However, it was done by none else, but Pak Army. We civilians may have seen something similar in Hollywood action movies, but how quickly and perfectly Pakistan Army had controlled the situation and saved thousands of peoples at the airport, was tremendous and highly professional. In fact I have not enough suitable words to describe their attitude with each individual; so respectful, courteous and full of care that every one acknowledged it and was full of praise. We felt as being the most VIP persons of the state.

Each one of us, including foreigners felt proud of Pakistan Army. Thanks to Allah to give us such a strong protection shield, 'The Pakistan Army.' The public now has one clear understanding; if anyone can save Pakistan and this country from terrorism, it is Pakistani Army assisted by other security forces. The people at the aircraft and airport were criticizing different organs of the state for delaying operations against the terrorists who could dare to attack even the airport.

In my opinion, the confidence of public over Army grew thousand times more after the airport incident. However, citizens are now looking towards Army to root out the terrorism from Pakistan, once for all. This country has all potential to become a vital and productive country in the world. In the end, after Allah, I must thank Pakistan Army for saving me and thousands of other precious lives. Pakistan Army Zindabad, Pakistan Paindabad.

The writer can be reached at twitter: @saim_riz
10
June

Crushing Terrorism - National Resolve

Written By: Dr. Maria Sultan

The objective is to counter violence beyond the ethnic, political or religious lines meaning if violence is perpetuated it will be responded back with counter action on ground with a detailed and deliberate counter force action and measures in line with Pakistan’s counter terrorism strategy.

“If you have to win the battle in the offensive you must reach within the enemy lines; if you reach, the battle of the offensive shall be won and the enemy ranks will flank away and if you want to win the battle of defence then you remain entrenched and do not leave your positions; the battle of defence will eventually overrun the offence.” (Major General Amir Hamza)

Pakistan’s drive to clear its territory of the terrorist elements and other non-state actors though a normative agenda on the face of it had huge physical component in the shape of Pakistan Army’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. The operation was prelude to the Pakistani determination to strangulate, clear, develop and reincorporate the troubled area back into Pakistani security fold. The operation was launched in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) in June 2014, without any discrimination of local or foreign terrorists engaged in acts of terrorism inside Pakistan. This was stated by the Army Chief General Raheel Sharif to indicate the direction and the resolve of Pakistani state to initiate the counter terrorism drive on the basis of violence experienced throughout the country. The objective is to counter violence beyond the ethnic, political or religious lines meaning if violence is perpetuated it will be responded back with counter action on ground with a detailed and deliberate counter force action and measures in line with Pakistan’s counter terrorism strategy.

Zarb-e-Azb has led to multiple success stories as the area cleared till date is over 90 percent and has resulted in the death of almost 2700 plus terrorists with the home casualty rate of approximately 300 soldiers plus. This is the first ever story of a counter terrorism operation led by the military forces anywhere in the world over such a vast area where the in-house casualty rates have been in reverse. This is to a large extent also linked to the decision of the tribal leaders and the population to move away from the area of operations and the huge sacrifices given by the Temporary Displaced Persons (TDPs) to bolster the defence of the country.

In this audacious battle, the country had seen the lethality, severity and inhuman nature of attacks on the targets such as the beheading of the 23 FC personnel, the horrible attack on the Army Public School children, attack on the Karachi Airport, and other sectarian related killings. These targets were chosen to create disruption in Pakistan over four fault lines.

First and foremost; reintroducing and intensifying the sectarian divide; two, destabilizing and entrenching conflict in the start and end point of the economic corridor – the Ismaili killings in Karachi are a prelude to entrenched conflict in the Ismaili population and Zikris in Gilgit-Balitistan and Gwadar; and, spearheading the third fault line on economic grounds through economic terrorism in Karachi; and lastly the fourth fault line for creating a civil-military divide and reduce army’s grass root connections with the population.

Zarb-e-Azb has been a unique and successful operation as the evolutionary development of the military operation has been driven by correcting and responding to these threats and challenges in a comprehensive and sustained manner.

Henceforth, the main target of Zarb-e-Azb in the FATA region was to clear the area of the stronghold of terrorists to redress the cross-border challenges and to destroy terrorist hideouts in the region. This stage was successfully managed and the area was cleared – this also involved increased liaison with the local population and the Pakistani public at large to create more support for the operation.

Meanwhile, Intelligence Based Operations (IBOs) were also carried out in adjacent areas of FATA and also in the province of Balochistan and Sindh. The successful completion of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in areas such as Mir Ali, Miran Shah, Shawa, Spinwarm, Ghulam Khan, Boya, Degan, Dosali, and Ghariom indicated that the operations are essentially linked to a hybrid strategy of war being inflicted on Pakistan had strong foreign footprint and were perhaps being engineered in the form of local terrorist groups for the foreign hostile agenda. This also paved the way for Zarb-e-Azb to expand to the remote areas of Sindh and Balochistan where the terrorist cells were active and were trying to help in creating space for new recruits and diversion for the actors in the line of fire in the north of the country and mid-west.

Lastly the most important spear of the counter violence drive has been the initiation of the Karachi operation to delink and to reduce the space of political support for terrorist activities in Karachi and other areas of economic importance.

In short, while the Zarb-e-Azb has strong kinetic side of the military thrust, it is a combined hybrid operation designed to deal with the full spectrum of the threat with the key emphasis on reducing the civil-military divide and increasing the mass acceptance and support of the use of military force to eliminate the threat of terrorism from the country.

In conclusion, Operation Zarb-e-Azb is the art of the offensive as the military operations dared to reach behind enemy lines. The enemy is on the run and it shall be a true success when people of Pakistan and the armed forces of the land will entrench the defence so that the enemy onslaught is impaired forever against the resolve of the nation to defend and uphold the sovereignty and security of the people of this great country.

The writer is the Chairperson and the Director General of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) University. She is a defence analyst and a specialist in South Asian nuclear arms control and disarmament issues. She has been published widely in academic journals, news dailies and books. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
10
June

Going Home - Zarb-e-Azb & Beyond

Written By: Jennifer McKay

The displaced families of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan are going home. The massive undertaking to facilitate the return of two million Temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs) has begun and will gather pace in coming months.

Since 2008, there have been frequent displacements of populations from all seven agencies of FATA. Some were fleeing threats and attacks by militants, but most were moved out for their own safety prior to military operations to free FATA and Pakistan from the grip of militants. They have made their temporary homes in camps for the displaced, with host families, or in rented accommodation, in places like Tank, DI Khan, Bannu and Peshawar. Many of those displaced prior to earlier operations have since long returned home following stabilisation of their areas, but residual caseloads remained and in 2014, the number skyrocketed. The latest wave of displacement from North Waziristan Agency (NWA) brought the total FATA-displaced-population up to an estimated 310,729 families – around 2 million people – 70 percent of whom are women and children. This is a massive caseload for any country to handle. Supporting them during displacement has required substantial funding and initiatives to ensure their shelter and other needs have been met. Their return home will be an even bigger challenge.

As they restore stability and peace in FATA, Pakistan Army is working with the government and other stakeholders to facilitate the return of the communities, and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the area. Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, has constantly stated that the top priority is the early and dignified return of the TDPs and has instructed all concerned to prepare for the phased return.

The Government of Pakistan through its various ministries and departments such as the Economic Affairs Division of the Finance Ministry, Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), and the FATA Secretariat, are currently focused on finalising and funding the plans for the returns, reconstruction and rehabilitation. The humanitarian community, and multilateral and bilateral donors are also engaged in the process, coordinating regularly with government authorities to support a safe and dignified return for the TDPs.

In reality, Pak Army is the only organisation that has ever conducted a large-scale reconstruction and rehabilitation program in FATA and has the extensive capacity, local knowledge, experience and expertise to carry out many of the larger projects. Their participation in this new phase is a critical component for success.

It is no easy feat to resettle 2 million people. This is a population greater than many medium size cities around the world and spread across a large and diverse region. It requires detailed and insightful planning, political will, extensive and complex coordination and logistics, and substantial funding to support the initiatives to help families rebuild their homes, restock their livestock, plant crops, restart their livelihoods and to mend the fragile economy of this extremely disadvantaged region.

Many lessons have been learned from previous resettlement projects in places like South Waziristan Agency (SWA) and elsewhere in FATA where the Army has done an enormous amount of work not only on reconstruction but also, the rehabilitation of communities and their livelihood needs. These valuable lessons will be applied to ensure maximum success in this new phase rather than re-inventing the wheel. In reality, Pak Army is the only organisation that has ever conducted a large-scale reconstruction and rehabilitation program in FATA and has the extensive capacity, local knowledge, experience and expertise to carry out many of the larger projects. Their participation in this new phase is a critical component for success.

The phased returns of the TDPs began in March 2015 with the first groups of families returning to South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Khyber Agencies. Each family was given Rs. 25,000 as cash assistance and Rs. 10,000 as transportation expenses to assist them on their journey. Food rations for six months and a kit containing non-food items were also to be provided for each household. Children under five years of age were administered anti-polio vaccines and all children under ten years of age received measles vaccines prior to their departure for home.

The phased returns of the TDPs began in March 2015 with the first groups of families returning to South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Khyber Agencies. Each family was given Rs. 25,000 as cash assistance and Rs. 10,000 as transportation expenses to assist them on their journey. Food rations for six months and a kit containing non-food items were also to be provided for each household. Children under five years of age were administered anti-polio vaccines and all children under ten years of age received measles vaccines prior to their departure for home.

Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, accompanied by COAS General Raheel Sharif, visited Mir Ali in NWA earlier in May 2015 to meet the troops, review the progress of Zarb-e-Azb, and to meet with the families who had recently returned home. The Prime Minister assured them that all possible would be done to help them re-establish their lives, and also to protect them. He also thanked the troops for their courage, sacrifices and their contribution to the future peace and stability of Pakistan.

In some parts of FATA like South Waziristan, where peace has been restored, schools, colleges and vocational training institutes with good facilities, constructed by the Pakistan Army for the communities, are thriving. Attendance is high and the students are doing well. It would seem sensible to replicate what has already been successful not only in education, but many of the other reconstruction and rehabilitation projects implemented by the Army in FATA, in this next phase.

To ensure that all possible is done for the TDPs, the FATA Secretariat has taken a lead role in coordinating the efforts for the government. It has established the FATA Rehabilitation & Reconstruction Unit (RRU) as a ‘one-window’ facility to oversee and manage the process, formulate policies, strategies and guidelines, and coordinate with all stakeholders.

Since its inception, the FATA RRU has worked closely with all the key stakeholders from the various arms of government and the Army’s TDP Secretariat from Peshawar Corps (established as the ‘one-window’ Army liaison office), and the humanitarian and donor community.

Ensuring their dignified and early return is important not only for the well being of the displaced communities but for peace and stability generally. Should they be unfairly treated or the displacement drags on interminably, there is a risk of elements of militant groups attempting to lure disenchanted tribes people into joining them to replenish their dwindled numbers. This would present a dangerous scenario.

After extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the FATA Secretariat recently launched the FATA Sustainable Return and Rehabilitation Strategy, which aims to ensure the phased, dignified and sustainable return of the entire TDP population to FATA. To encourage their safe and voluntary return, this comprehensive strategy aims to establish an enabling environment in their place of origin. While there has been considerable effort in the past to organize TDP’s return to FATA, this is the first time that the FATA Secretariat has set out a comprehensive return and rehabilitation strategy for the entire region. FATA is one of the most underdeveloped and underprivileged regions of Pakistan so sustainable solutions for a stable and more prosperous future for the area and its people are a key priority.

The FATA Sustainable Return and Rehabilitation Strategy, developed with assistance from UNDP, comprises two components. The first is a $120 million plan focused on change through five key pillars of action over 24 months across the entire FATA: (i) rehabilitating physical infrastructure; (ii) strengthening law and order; (iii) expanding government service delivery; (iv) reactivating and strengthening the economy; and, (v) strengthening social cohesion and peace building. The larger part of the strategy is focused on the restoration of more than 105,000 damaged or destroyed houses, grants, conditional cash transfers, livelihoods, water and sanitation, education, health, agriculture, irrigation, and rehabilitation. This will require at least $800 million in funding.

The strategy was launched by the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan, before an audience of senior government officials, army, ambassadors of several large countries, heads of UN and international agencies, and multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors. The Minister for States and Frontier Regions, Lt Gen. (Retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, also attended the launch. The governor said in his speech, “the launch of the Sustainable Return and Rehabilitation Strategy for FATA is indeed a moment of satisfaction for all of us. The need for such a strategy has been evident for a long time and I am delighted that the launch of the strategy has coincided with my administration’s efforts to facilitate the return of the TDP families. I firmly believe that ‘rebuilding lives’ in FATA is the most important task at hand for my administration and we will leave no stone unturned to ensure that we support the people of FATA to rebuild their lives in a befitting manner.”

There is no doubt that challenges ahead are enormous. If we look at how other countries have handled the return home of such a large displaced population, we can see that it is never easy and few countries have been able to do this rapidly. Pakistan has proven previously that it can be done.

Highlighting the key components of the strategy, FATA Secretary Planning and Development, Mr. Shakeel Qadir Khan, said “The strategy itself takes inspiration from the Post-crisis Needs Assessment strategy and focuses on trying to remedy the limited progress to date in the areas of governance, law and order, economic development and social cohesion. It also seeks to address pending infrastructure rehabilitation needs. This strategy is in line with the longer development plan presented in the FATA Sustainable Development Plan 2007-2015 and the reforms agenda being developed by the FRC to establish a roadmap for constitutional, institutional and legal reforms.”

This is not just a return to the way it was in FATA. The strategy is themed on a ‘build back better and smarter’ approach to improve the living conditions in FATA. This will be done through better and safer construction of homes, schools and health facilities, access to clean water and better sanitation, improved agricultural practices to enhance yields and incomes, kitchen gardens to improve food security and nutrition and provide a small income for the householders.

In early May, the RRU initiated the Housing Damages Survey in SWA. An orientation session for survey teams consisting of army units, political administration, tribal elders, and engineers from various departments was conducted and the process is now under way. Another survey is also under way in Khyber Agency. The surveys will take time but will not delay the returns.

The FATA Housing Program is perhaps the most important in the strategy. It is designed as a ‘household’ strategy to support, firstly, the rebuilding of houses through the provision of cash compensation based on whether a house was damaged or destroyed. Technical assistance from organisations like the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center and academic institutions specialising in construction engineering, will be provided to ensure that houses are built to a better standard incorporating disaster risk reduction techniques. A public awareness campaign will be conducted to sensitise people to the importance of understanding risk and the need for better construction practices. Parts of FATA are in a seismic zone so this is important. The overall aim is also to strengthen resilience of families against future shocks through linking the housing program to livelihoods, skills development, alternative energy sources, and other initiatives to improve quality of life.

Returns will not be sustainable unless people are able to support themselves. Therefore, significant focus is being placed on restoration of livelihoods to ensure that people can earn a living either through small commercial enterprises or agriculture. Markets and shops will be established to provide outlets for agricultural and general products. Vocational training courses to enhance skills in various types of repairs and other marketable skills will be provided along with assistance to start small enterprises.

Farmers in FATA will be assisted by Agriculture, Livestock and Dairy Directorates with additional assistance from organisations like the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), to improve farming practices, better land management, and more resilient crop production. These initiatives will also increase the income of the farmers, and contribute to a higher level of food security and nutrition in the region. In addition, women will be trained in kitchen gardening – a link to the ‘household’ strategy – to provide food for the family and perhaps to contribute to family income.

Agriculture extension centres will help farmers restock lost animals, build animal shelters, and develop better feeding resources and practices to improve production. Backyard poultry raising will also be supported to benefit families without land for larger farming initiatives. Help will also be given in improving market structures and value chains.

The irrigation systems needed to support agriculture are in poor shape. FATA is an arid and semi-arid zone and receives little rain, so the water table is low. Some 40 percent of cultivated land depends on irrigation. FAO estimates that 370 irrigation schemes need to be rehabilitated and is in discussion with donors to fund this work. One of the most important irrigation restoration projects, the Bara River Canal Irrigation System in Khyber Agency, has the capacity to irrigate 44,972 acres of land. This is a top priority. Without the restoration of all these irrigation systems, the agricultural initiatives will falter and most likely fail.

Like most of Pakistan, energy is an issue in FATA with loadshedding which lasts up to 20 hours a day. Much of the energy infrastructure is in need of restoration and this is a priority activity along with access to clean water and sanitation. Alternative energy sources such as solar panels, micro-hydropower systems and biogas are also being initiated to overcome the energy issues in the region.

Despite the mistaken view of many, the people of FATA are keen to have their children educated. To date, the literacy rate is appallingly low, particularly for females, but there has been a shift in thinking in recent times, perhaps encouraged by what families have learned about the benefits of education during their time in displacement. The tribal communities want their children – boys and girls – to go to school and to higher grades and for some, beyond. At least 309 schools have been completely destroyed and 43 partially damaged in recent years. Restoring the schools, providing decent facilities and equipment, along with books and other learning materials, and most of all, good teachers, will be a challenge but imperative for a better future.

Again, there are already good examples to look to on how this can be done. In some parts of FATA like South Waziristan, where peace has been restored, schools, colleges and vocational training institutes with good facilities, constructed by the Pakistan Army for the communities, are thriving. Attendance is high and the students are doing well. It would seem sensible to replicate what has already been successful not only in education, but many of the other reconstruction and rehabilitation projects implemented by the Army in FATA, in this next phase.

The people of FATA deserve to be helped in any way possible. Let’s not forget what happened to these people and why military operations were necessary. Little has been spoken of what happened to those in the tribal areas who rejected the militants and their ‘invitations’ to join them, or to send their children to join them as 'child soldiers’. Refusal almost certainly meant death.

Hundreds of children – perhaps more – were taken and turned into mini-militants, taught to carry out terrorist attacks. Fortunately, many of these children have been captured by the army or turned themselves in and are now mostly safe in special programs to rebuild their lives, provide them with psychosocial counselling, education and vocational training, to help them turn away from their radicalized and traumatic past and start new lives. The people rarely talk about the past for fear that there may still be sympathisers amongst their community who may report them to the militants. During my own past visits to FATA, some have shared their stories with me but only when they were sure of their surroundings. Their stories are heart breaking and terrifying. Make no mistake about this: the militants killed many of their own people in FATA because they would not support their attempts to bring down the state. It is hard to imagine what it was like to live under such a state of threat and fear.

The joint military offensive, Zarb-e-Azb, launched on June 15, 2014, to clear North Waziristan from the menace of the various foreign and local militant groups operating there, had massive support not only from the government but ordinary civilians too, fed up with the failure of peace talks and the constant attacks on security forces and innocent civilians across the country. The operations have been successful and peace is gradually being restored but this has come at a cost. The lives of many soldiers have been lost, some have been terribly injured, and an entire population had to give up their homes and way of life to move to safety. Their return home will be hard with so much destroyed and lost.

Ensuring their dignified and early return is important not only for the well being of the displaced communities but for peace and stability generally. Should they be unfairly treated or the displacement drags on interminably, there is a risk of elements of militant groups attempting to lure disenchanted tribes people into joining them to replenish their dwindled numbers. This would present a dangerous scenario. It is not hard to understand the risk here. Years in camps and unpleasant surroundings with no means of income and few comforts could make anyone disenchanted when one has given up much for the peace of others. The country owes it to these people to ensure they do not have to remain away from their homes for longer than is necessary for their safety.

There is no doubt that challenges ahead are enormous. If we look at how other countries have handled the return home of such a large displaced population, we can see that it is never easy and few countries have been able to do this rapidly. Pakistan has proven previously that it can be done. Pakistan is likely to do it again. Following the 2009 Swat IDP crisis, an equally large number of people were returned to their homes in a little over six months. However, this time, the challenges are much greater and the two-year time span that has been given will not be easy to achieve unless funding is available. In a time when the economy is not vibrant, and there are competing needs within Pakistan, and donor-fatigue due to so many crises around the world, accessing approximately USD 1 billion to support this is difficult. However, the government has already allocated some of the funding and more is expected from international multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors. Negotiations are progressing well on this.

As someone who has attended many of the consultative sessions with all the stakeholders, it is clear to me that there is a genuine desire from all to implement the FATA Sustainable Return and Rehabilitation Strategy within the time frame given. The country has benefited from the sacrifice of the TDPs. It’s now time to repay their sacrifice by doing all that is possible to return the families of FATA to their homes as soon as possible so they can restart their lives.

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