Coming Undone: Military Ops leaving the displaced mentally shattered

DIKHAN: In the midst of a major military operation in 2009, Basmina Bibi and her family fled their native village to find a safer place. But the journey instead led her to a much deeper insecurity.

Shaktoi, a village between North and South Waziristan was that place. For two years, Basmina, 24, lived there with her family, waiting for the military operation to end so they could go back home.

“When Operation Rah e Nijat was launched in South Waziristan, our family left Wacha Khwara, our village, and shifted to Shaktoi, a relatively safer place”, says Basmina, who is waiting to see a psychiatrist in DI Khan, the town bordering South Waziristan.

“We spent almost two years in Shaktoi. One day, the fighting between the local militants and security forces spread to Shaktoi, too. Both sides used mortars and heavy weaponry against each other.”

The situation forced Basmina and her family to leave Shaktoi for Tank, a district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which is a gateway to South Waziristan.

“We travelled all night in the dark to get away from Shaktoi,” she said. “Mortar shells landed all around us and we were afraid we might get hit. The scenes from that night keep playing in mind again and again.”

Basmina, who would not speak to men due to the tribal tradition of purdah, agreed to tell her story to the doctor in the clinic with a News Lens reporter present.

“My daughter was brave and cheerful but since the displacement, and especially that night when we fled Shaktoi for Tank, she has gone quiet,” said Basmina’s father, an old man with a wizened face. “She is edgy and irritable and has frequent nightmares.”

According to Doctor Munir Dawar, Basmina’s psychiatrist, military operations in North and South Waziristan that has displaced more than a million people has left many of them physically and psychologically crippled, especially women and children.

“Almost 70 percent of my patients are the displaced people from South Waziristan suffering from psychological disorders,” Dawar told News Lens at the District Headquarter and Teaching Hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, where he heads the psychiatry ward.

The Operation Rah e Nijat that started on 17 October 2009 targeted Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and the five major strongholds of Tehrik-e-taliban Pakistan. These were Sararogha, Ladha, Makeen, Tiyarza and Sarwakai.

According to a NADRA report, 82,000 families from displaced from these localities. About 62,000 families were registered as Internally Displaced People by NADRA, the National Database and Registration Authority, and Fata Disaster Management Authority. Thousands of others were not.

After a year of displacement, on December 4, 2010, the authorities in South Waziristan and Fata started repatriating the displaced families to Sararogha and Sarwakai. In the four years since then, only 11,000 families have repatriated to their villages. The remaining IDPs have yet to go back home. They have been scattered all over the country but mostly in the cities of Karachi, DI Khan, Peshawar and Bannu.

Sahib Noor has brought his 37-year old sister, Zahida Bibi, to Doctor Dawar’s clinic. They are waiting outside the clinic for their turn to see the psychiatrist.

“Before the operation she was fine but after two years of displacement her behavior changed dramatically”, says Sahib Noor, an IDP from South Waziristan. “She behaves abnormally and has attempted suicide.”

According to Sahib Noor, Zahida Bibi’s husband works as laborer in Karachi. “He doesn’t earn much. My sister once dreamt that her eight-year old son Allauddin would become a doctor but she could not afford to send him to school. Her dream has been shattered by the displacement. She has withdrawn into a world of her own.”

“A majority of IDPs suffer from anxiety, post-trauma stress and depression”, Dawar said. “Women feel insecure and depressed while children have developed intense fear. Suicide attempts are frequent among the male and female IDPs.”

He said the IDPs live miserably due to their poor economic condition and the ongoing War on Terror in their areas.

He said, “More than 60 percent of the displaced children have been affected by terrorism, displacement and military operations.” “The coming generation of tribal people will have a lot of psychological disorders.”

Last year, the IDPs from South Waziristan staged a 21-day sit-in in front of Islamabad Press Club to demand repatriation to their villages.

Sherpao Mahsud, President of Tehreek E- Mahsud Qabail – a representative association of the displaced Mehsud tribes from South Waziristan – said that the government had claimed time and again that the villages had been cleared of militants.

“But I don’t know why the government is reluctant to repatriate IDPs to their homes in Waziristan”, he said.

Sherpao said the IDPs had been increasingly susceptible to depression and mental disorders. “In Tank district, a displaced person named Daftar Khan first killed his mother and then burned her body. Doctors said he was mentally disturbed.”

When News Lens contacted the political Administration of South Waziristan about the repatriation of IDPs to their homes, they did not want to comment on the issue.

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