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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