Speakers call for phased withdrawal of army from Fata

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PESHAWAR: The participants of a roundtable on return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) held here on Wednesday stressed the need for a phased withdrawal of the army from the tribal areas, restoration of law and order and provision of basic facilities to the returnees.
The “National roundtable on repatriation of IDPs: status and way forward’ was jointly organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad and Pakistan Study Centre, University of Peshawar.
Former ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand, who also served as chief secretary and commissioner for Afghan refugees in the past, was the keynote speaker.
Prominent among those who spoke on the occasion included Prof Dr Fakhrul Islam, Director, Pakistan Study Centre, Khalid Rehman, Director, IPS, Prof Dr Nasreen Ghufran, Chairperson, Department of International Relations, Dr Qibla Ayaz, former vice-chancellor of the University of Peshawar, Dr Babar Shah, Director, Centre for Regional Studies, Brigadier (R) Nazeer and Alamgir Afridi, media manager at the Khyber Medical College.
Rustam Shah Mohmand said he was concerned about what had happened in Fata during the past several years. He was pessimistic about the future of the tribal areas. “The tribal areas would never be the same again. Its culture has been weakened, values tarnished and norms trampled,” he said.
He recalled that the tribal areas were an egalitarian society where Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and followers of other religions had lived in peace for centuries. It was for the first time in the history of tribal areas that the religious minorities were molested, he lamented.
Rustam Shah Mohmand opined that it was wrong to connect the lawlessness in the tribal areas to the situation in Afghanistan. He stressed that the long war in Afghanistan never had any repercussions in the tribal areas.
“It was the military intervention in the tribal areas during General Pervez Musharraf’s rule which changed the shape of the tribal areas. Militarisation is a curse that doesn’t goes away. I think this militarisation would never end,” he remarked.
Rustam Shah Mohmand said incidents of molestation of women in Swat and elsewhere by the security forces have already been reported by a number of organisations. He said for the first time in the history of Mohmand Agency women staged protest to demand army withdrawal, he added.
He stressed the need for army’s pullout from the tribal areas, adding it should be withdrawn in phases. He added that the Frontier Corps had become very strong and the local Levies force too was there to take care of the situation.
Regarding repatriation, the retired bureaucrat said the displaced tribesmen were facing severe problems on return to their native towns. He said a tribesman in Miranshah collapsed and died on the spot when he saw his shop flattened on his return.
He maintained that the returning tribespeople were facing serious disputes of ownership of houses, shops and properties.
Rustam Shah Mohmand proposed launching of a comprehensive project for infrastructural development in Fata, focusing on promotion of quality education that is necessary for human resource development, and making a robust attempt to explore and exploit minerals in the tribal areas to help the people overcome poverty.
He said the government should ensure provision of uninterrupted supply of electricity to the tribal areas.
He felt the solar panels was the best option for the purpose.
Another speaker talked about the alleged maltreatment of the people of the tribal areas by the army. He said owing to its training and psyche, the army considers Fata as a conquered area and treats its people the same way.
The speaker said the security forces deployed at the checkpoints in the tribal areas should be taught that the people living in the areas under their control were their fellow countrymen and not the dwellers of a conquered soil. He said the security forces should abstain from violating the sanctity of the “chaddar and chardiwari” of the tribal people.
In his presentation, Dr Fakhrul Islam said there were both prospects and problems in the repatriation process. He pointed out that the model of Swat IDPs was a success story and it could be utilized for Fata as well.
He said the damaged infrastructure and irrigation and drinking water schemes were some of the challenges facing the returnees in Fata.
Dr Fakhrul Islam stressed the need for implementing the National Action Plan in letter and spirit. “The government should not be in a hurry in sending the displaced tribal people back home.  Facilities should be arranged for them first and then they should be sent back,” he opined.
Alamgir Afridi said the compensation announced by the government for fully and partially damaged houses was inadequate to construct even a single room. He said the government should review the amount.
He said most of the tribal people were living in residential complexes comprising a home, hujra and mosque. “These dwellings were destroyed in the security forces’ operations including airstrikes. A proper compensation package should be announced for reconstruction,” he said.