VIEW : Army operation in South Waziristan: the TTP and IDPs — Muhammad Zubair - Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Mehsud IDPs of SWA are bitterly frustrated and complain of being the only victims of the military operations as none resulted in the elimination of the TTP

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has reportedly issued a warning to the residents of the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan Agency (SWA) to vacate their houses. The recent warning does not stand alone, but is part of a series of such warnings issued by the TTP to the Mehsud internally displaced persons (IDPs) from time to time since the October 2009 military operations in the said area. The warning, as reported, is misleading in that it gives an impression as if the tribesmen occupy the entire Mehsud area of SWA and that they are being asked by the TTP to vacate it. In fact, the TTP’s warning is addressed to those IDPs who have already repatriated to areas designated by the military authorities as safe and they constitute less than 10 percent of the total Mehsud IDPs. It also addressed those who are still living as IDPs in settled districts but wish to return. A majority of them are living in the settled districts of Tank and D I Khan.

It was in anticipation of the October 2009 military operations that Mehsud tribesmen of SWA were evicted from their homes, for the last time, and relocated to settled districts as IDPs. However, it was not the only time as they were displaced from their areas quite a few times because of different operations launched by the army in SWA from time to time since 2005.

The irony is that the 2009 military operation in SWA, as the earlier ones, resulted in nothing but turning thousands of houses and hundreds of villages into rubble. The heavy artillery of the military and bombing of jets pounded the empty civilian dwellings incessantly until they were obliterated from the face of earth. In the last three years, the forces of nature have destroyed the rest of a few empty human dwellings that had survived the military operation. Since the media does not have access to the area, no one knows the scale of devastation and destruction of infrastructure. However, one can observe it on the Google Earth imagery, if one is familiar with the terrain.

The Mehsud IDPs of SWA are bitterly frustrated and complain of being the only victims of the military operations as none resulted in the elimination of the TTP, not even a single terrorist worth the name. They suffered an irreparable loss by becoming IDPs for the last three years and destruction of their houses, villages and belongings. The IDPs also allege that militants were given safe passage to North Waziristan before the 2009 bombing in order to mislead the US and world community that Pakistan is ‘doing more’. Every IDP of SWA is convinced, rightly or wrongly but vehemently, that the army and militants are two sides of the same coin. Their confidence in the army is shattered because of what they have witnessed in the last so many years and consider it as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

The TTP had started warning the Mehsud IDPs against returning to their areas since the announcement of repatriation to SWA by the army in late 2010. The plan was to register families belonging to the Spinkai Raghzai, Servekai, Shahur and other adjoining areas in SWA designated by the army as safe and which constituted less than 10 percent of SWA. Each family was to be compensated with Rs 25,000, given six months’ food rations and other kitchen utensils and provided the facility of shifting the families to these areas. The families were supposed to live in official camps established by the Pakistan army, as their homes did not exist anymore. The repatriation plan was delayed until the summer of 2012 because people were not ready to return to SWA in a situation where the TTP having survived the operation remained intact, and was hurling threats of horrible consequences at the tribesmen who wished to return to their areas.

In order to win the confidence of the returning IDPs, obtain their willingness to return and ensure their safety from the TTP once they had repatriated, the military authorities came up with the idea of outsourcing the task to another group of militants called the Abdullah Mehsud Group (AMG), which had a long-standing enmity with the TTP leadership. It was hoped the AMG would be able to do the job and take the TTP head on. The AMG was the same group that had enjoyed official patronage and helped the military authorities in breaking the hold of the TTP on the settled districts of Tank and D I Khan. However, the military authorities had bet on a wrong horse and the AMG utterly failed in what was expected of it.

A number of jirgas followed between the Mehsud tribal elders and government and military authorities. The object was to sort out the modalities of repatriation and addressing the misgivings of Mehsud IDPs about security against the TTP, and food and shelter once they had returned. One such tribal elder Malik Sardar Amanuddin Shamankhel was the lead negotiator who took upon himself the responsibility of mobilising the Mehsud IDPs for repatriation in return for some guarantees from the military authorities. Mysteriously, he went missing from the military camp in Wana in January 2011 and his bullet-riddled and beheaded body was found after two months in Wana.

It is only in the summer of 2012 that the utterly destitute Mehsud IDPs, constituting less than 10 percent of the total Mehsud IDPs, have started repatriating to the camps established by the army in designated areas of SWA.

The military had declared the 2009 operation as a success but the recent warning of the TTP speaks volumes about the so-called success. The fact of the matter is that 90 percent of the Mehsud areas of SWA are still inaccessible, including Makin, Ladha, Kaniguram, Shaga, Chalveshtai, Mizhboz, Mantio, Nano, Karama, Wospass and other adjoining areas. Only the military and the TTP have access to these areas, where they are living side by side in peace. Turning insurgency-infected areas into ghost towns cannot be termed a successful operation by any stretch of the imagination.

The writer is an assistant professor of Law at the University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Presently, he is a PhD scholar at the Maurer School of Law, Indiana University, Indiana, USA and can be reached at and

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