A man along with a woman clad in burqa, both fleeing from the military offensive against Pakistani militants in North Waziristan, walk away with a wheelbarrow of relief handouts after receiving from a storage tent of the World Food Programme (WFP) at a distribution point for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Bannu, located in Pakistanâ€™s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province July 6, 2014. Picture taken July 6, 2014. REUTERS/Khuram Parvez
On Wednesday, July 2, the Pakistani lawmakers amended Pakistanâ€™s anti-terrorism law, doubling the maximum prison sentence for those convicted of â€œterror offensesâ€ and allowing security forces to detain suspects for up to 60 days. Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, voiced concern that it could provide legal cover for disappearances. Rights groups accuse the government of holding people in secret and failing to put them on trial. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government forced the evacuation of North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan, then bombed the region, also in the name of rooting out â€œterrorism.â€
The half a million who fled North Waziristan, mostly on foot, are facing severe food shortages. Pakistanâ€™s cruel decision to launch this military offensive during the month of Ramadan has reportedly sharpened anger towards the government. Beginning on June 15, the carpet bombing destroyed even mosques. Civilians who were injured described the bombing as â€œindiscriminate.â€ Millions of livestock and countless children have died or are dying. 74% of the displaced are women and children. People were given very little time to prepare. Farmers had to leave their animals behind. People have lost everything they could not carry.
Muhammad Aziz, a 31-year-old laborer, reportedly lost four of his nine children on the two-day trek undertaken by thousands who fled his village to a camp in Bannu. â€œIt was a dark day for me and my wife would not stop crying for four days,â€œ said Aziz.
But on the fifth day, his children were found by a relative. His familyâ€™s joy increased when his wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy — whom they named Azb Khan, which is also the name of the military offensive.
Of the over half a million people the Pakistani government has displaced, only about 340 have chosen to take the governmentâ€™s offer to house them at the Bakkakhel camp, the only such camp that has been set up.
Instead, most have gone to the adjacent town of Bannu, where they are either renting at twice or three times the regular rate, or staying with relatives, reports Al Jazeera. The World Food Program is running six food distribution centers but their budget is too small to meet the need. Sanitation and clean drinking water are severely lacking.
Inayatullah, 44, a native of Miranshah fled along with his family of 13 when bombs dropped near his home. â€œI have been standing in line all day yesterday, and have been in line for six hours again today. They are treating humans worse than animals.â€
In the town of Bannu, Niaz Wali Khan, a 55-year-old pharmacy owner, told AFP he had been queuing for four days but was turned away without rations each time. â€œWe are depressed,â€ said Khan.
â€œMost of the patients here are suffering from dehydration and acute respiratory infections,â€ says Dr Faqir Abdullah, 28, who treated many of those who arrived at the Saidgi checkpoint, on the border with North Waziristan.
â€œMost of them are confused and anxious, because many of them have travelled on foot. These people had left their homes, and we saw they were in a state of shock.â€
With most of the population now â€œcleared,â€ curfews have been reimposed, and no movement is allowed on the roads leading to and from the tribal district. The BBC reported that when families of IDPs reach the margins of a town, they often have to wait long hours in the intense heat, before they can obtain the security clearance to enter the area.
Most of the families have sought refuge in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. There are also reports of families now arriving in Punjab and Balochistan. Almost all the internally displaced people are being hosted by local communities.
â€œThe U.S. and its allies have urged Pakistan for years to clear out North Waziristan, a sanctuary and training center for Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and Afghan insurgents,â€ reports the Wall Street Journal. The terrible way this was done demonstrates total contempt for people living in the tribal area.
On June 30, the military started a ground invasion to â€œeliminate Taliban fighters.â€ The Pakistani military claims to have killed hundreds of terrorists but not a single civilian.
Mansur Mahsud, from the FATA research centre said the operation could take three to four months. â€œOnce this area is cleared the militants are forced to shift to Afghanistan or the mountains.â€
Jamaat-Islami Information Secretary, Ameerul Azeem, issued a statement after visiting the IDPs camps, appealing to the entire nation to step forward for the help and assistance of the operation affected people. He said the provision of basic necessities including the Sehr and Iftar of the displaced persons should be the foremost concern of all.
The operation, dubbed Zarb-i-Azb, began on June 15 following the breakdown in peace negotiations between the government and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) in response to an attack on the Karachi airport by the TTP and Uzbek militants. However, Ismail Khan writes in the NYT that â€œA military campaign was anticipated before the Karachi attack.â€
During the current ground offensive, land forces are â€œcombing throughâ€ North Waziristanâ€™s valleys and taking over villages and buildings. Air raids have continued daily.
An operation of this scale is impossible without the involvement of the United States, whose forces in neighboring Afghanistan have â€œcrucial intelligenceâ€ on the location of militant bases and training camps around the region, reports Reuters.