Inside North Waziristan after months of battle

There are few signs of life, save for a stray dog running ahead of a small convoy of journalists being guided by the army.

Inside North Waziristan after months of battle

World Bulletin / News Desk 

Even at the entry point to North Waziristan, the marks of nine months of military operations are clear. Heavily armed troops line either side of the road leading into the tribal area, part of Pakistan's armed groups-hit northwestern tribal belt.

There are few signs of life, save for a stray dog running ahead of a small convoy of journalists being guided by the army.

At Khajuri, the first check point, homes on either side of the road have been flattened, an indication of the damage wrought since the Pakistani army began its operations to eliminate the Taliban in June.

The army allowed media a glimpse at the damage on Tuesday, the first day that displaced Waziris, or at least some of them, were allowed to begin returning home.

The exercise was largely symbolic; the first returnees are from the town of Spinwam, one of the areas least affected by the battle between the army and the Taliban. Other Waziris will have to bear through the shelter camps for a while longer.

The army-led convoy stopped just half a kilometer from Mir Ali bazaar, once one of the busiest centers of North Waziristan, with 2,000 shops.

The second-largest town in the area now wears a haunted look, completely silent after all but a handful of its residents fled before the army launched its anti-Taliban operation on June 15, 2014.

Green and white Pakistani flags flutter as the army hosts a lunch for the returning tribesmen of Spinwam but the atmosphere was hardly jubilant. The nearby houses were empty, the returnees nervous -- and outnumbered by the army troops deployed for security.

A group of male dancers attempted to break the silence.

The army did not take journalists to Miranshah, the administrative headquarters of North Waziristan, but many said the situation is no different there.

The 5,000 shops in the main market are all damaged, if not completely destroyed. Its residents will have to wait much longer before being allowed to return.

"The government is providing merely 35,000 rupees ($350) to each family for reconstruction of their homes, this amount is not even enough for minor repairs," Hassan Mujtaba Dawar, a Miranshah resident told. Mujtaba, who once owned a small utility store in the main bazaar, is currently living in a rented house in adjoining Bannu district.

"Who doesn't want to go back to his home? But here we have to think about that twice. There is nothing left for us," he said. "Firstly, there is no chance of returning to Miranshah in near future but even if I have an opportunity to go there, how will I reconstruct my house and shop."

He is one of many displaced Waziris who believe the return of a small number, to a town with limited damage, is not a signal that they will be able to return to normality.

"This is not more than something symbolic to me," he said. "Sending IDPs (Internally displace people) from an area like Spinwam is not an achievement. The real challenge is reconstruction of Mir Ali, Miranshah and other areas that have been destroyed in airstrikes and shelling."

Yasir Dawar, a Mir Ali resident, agrees.

"People from Spinwam left their homes just as a precautionary step. Otherwise, there was no military operation there," he told.

Last Mod: 01 Nisan 2015, 11:58
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