Located between the Khost province of eastern Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of northwest Pakistan, North Waziristan is the second largest tribal region of Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas. It consists of three sub-divisions and nine small tehsils and its population is around 600,000.
The area is considered today to be the epicenter not only of violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan but also a major source of international terrorism. And that is why the government has announced a military operation against local and foreign militants in the agency. The operation has been codenamed Zarb-e-Azab.
The most important group in the region is led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and is considered ‘good Taliban’ because of a truce with the government. It does not attack Pakistani interests and focuses on Afghanistan. But the group has been providing sanctuaries to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and foreign militants, especially the Haqqani Network, Al Qadea, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, in North Waziristan. Gul Bahadur announced revoking the peace deal on May 30, saying military airstrikes made in the agency were a breach of the accord.
For a long time, the US and Afghan governments, and recently China, had been pressuring Pakistan to launch a full-fledged military operation against the militants hiding in North Waziristan. Because of the reluctance of the Pakistani government to send troops into the area, US drone have extensively targeted Mir Ali, Dattakhel and Miranshah areas, with five out of six drone strikes in Pakistan being recorded in the North Waziristan tribal agency.
After a breakdown in talks between the government and the TTP, and a brazen attack on Karachi airport, helicopter gunships and ground troops are pounding Taliban hideouts with artillery and mortars. Local residents say that the military has imposed a curfew in the area, with shoot-at-sight orders.
[quote]Five out of six drone strikes in Pakistan are in North Waziristan[/quote]
Families have already started fleeing North Waziristan, to Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Kohat, Hangu and other neighboring districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Local tribal elders say many are still trapped in the tribal agency.
“Bannu and Thal roads should be opened so people can leave and the time-consuming security checks should be relaxed,” said Malik Gul Naeem, a leader of North Waziristan Qaumi Welfare Jirga. Authorities fear some militants might flee posing as displaced families, and want the displaced civilians to stay in camps. One such camp has been set up in Bakkakhel area of Bannu Frontier Region. The displaced families say it lacks basic necessities, and they are not being allowed to rent houses in the area.
Arshad Khan, the director of FATA Disaster Management Authority, says his organization would have done better at helping the 600,000 displaced people if it had been given a timely warning about the operation.
However, ground has already been leveled for another camp near Kashoo Bridge on the Bannu Link Road. The government also opened registration offices for the IDPs in Bannu, asking them to ensure they are registered with them.
Sources in the region say foreign militants, especially Uzbeks, have taken their families to areas near the Afghan border.
Around 6,000 tribesmen from North Waziristan have migrated to the Gurbaz district of Khost province of Afghanistan. Local officials say most of the displaced families have traversed through dangerous mountain routes to reach Afghanistan.
“Most tribesmen from North Waziristan have familial ties and properties on other side of the border. Therefore they preferred to go to Afghanistan rather than to Bannu,” said a journalist belonging to Miranshah. Local journalists say Afghans have vacated their own houses or portions of them to accommodate their displaced Pakistani relatives.
Khost authorities say that they are setting up a camp on 20 acres on the border with Pakistan. Khost governor Abdul Jabbar Naeemi told reporters that all essential facilities, including polio vaccinations for children, would be provided to the displaced families.
But because of concerns that a large number of militants are also moving to Afghanistan along with the displaced families, Pakistan has warned Afghanistan not to let everyone cross the border. Sardar Mehtab Ahmed, governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told a press conference that Islamabad had already taken up the matter with Kabul.