IDPs reluctant to return to insecure Bara

Bara, Khyber Agency:  Jan Gul’s response to the question why he doesn’t want to go back home is simple and blunt.

“It is good to be safe here than dead in Bara,” says the 56 years old, an internally displaced person from the Bara subdivision in Khyber Agency. “Around 4,000 tribesmen have lost lives to militancy and militancy related incidents in the agency during the  ten-year-long.”

Even though the Pakistan’s army and the government have approved a plan to send back the IDPs from Bara  in mid-March, those living in Jalozai Camp for the last one decade are reluctant to go back home.

Life for IDPs in the camp is miserable but they don’t see themselves going back without proper shelter, education  for their children, healthcare , food and security they once had in their hometowns.A large number of IDPs from Khyber Agency’s Bara subdivision are reluctant to leave the Jalozai Camp in Peshawar’s suburbs due to insecurity and damaged infrastructure.

Jan Gul Afridi, a resident of Akakhel and a member of the council of elders at Jalozai Camp, said that neither peace nor civic amenities have been restored to most parts of Bara. “How can we go back with all the all the infrastructure still damaged. Schools, healthcare centres and major roads, in the militancy-hit town have not been repaired or rebuilt.”

He said the IDPs would go back to their homes the moment peace was restored in Bara completely.

Afridi said the Bara people couldn’t afford to keep security guards to protect themselves against militant groups operating in the area. He said the IDPs wanted the security forces to take decisive action against such groups.

Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan has reiterated several times in recent days the government plan to send back home the IDPs from Bara.

Adil Miran, 34, said: “How could we go back when most of us do not have houses in place? Our houses were either destroyed by militants or flattened in the aerial bombing and artillery shelling from the military.”

Miran, who is also from Akakhel, said the IDPs continued to live in fear.

He said the security forces were still operating in their area and the government offices were close. He said frequent curfews and extensive body searches at countless security checkpoints hampered the return of displaced people to Bara.

“Security forces have orders to shoot-at-sight  and they cannot even differentiate between militants and a peaceful citizen,” Adil said. “Curfew is imposed every now and then without prior warning.”

Ali Akbar Akakhel, another IDP living in the Jalozai Camp said it would take the authorities “a huge amount of money and off course time” to repair and reconstruct houses and civic infrastructure in Bara.

Ali said they will take no time in deciding to go back to Bara once conditions become favourable to return.

Bazaar Gul Afridi, a political activist, said it was a tall claim to say that Bara was cleared of anti-social elements.

“Damaged houses, lack of health and education facilities, suspension of electricity and acute water shortage with limited business opportunities and unemployment are the major reasons why IDPs didn’t want to return,” he said.

He asked why the government was hastening repatriation of Bara IDPs when the political administration itself had not yet restored its writ and established offices there?

Rehman Shah from the Shalobar tribe of Bara expressed confidence in the government’s assurances about restoring peace in Bara. But conditions were far from conducive to return, he said.

Living with a family of six members in a tent in crowded conditions, he said the security forces were still conducting search operations in parts of Bara.

He said how could they go when the banned Mangal Bagh-led organization Lashkar-i-Islam(LI) had again issued threats to those who who dared come back.

“Living in a tent in extreme weather conditions is not easy,” he said. “We are willing to go back home but cannot do so in the face of threats from militant groups and continuous military operations.”

He claimed that most of the area in Bara –  except a few pockets in the remote Tirah valley – were cleared of militants after a successful military operation.

An IDP from Shalobar told News Lens on condition of anonymity that fears and apprehensions about the security situation in Bara stemmed from free movement of militants around Bara. They harassed local residents while their agents issued threats to those living in the Jalozai Camp.

“Going to my fields  any time of the day without any fear and intimidation from militant groups, taking a mid-day nap under a shady tree after hard labour and waking up to the call for azaan from a mosque are all just memories i cherish now,” said Haji Noor Muhammad, a 60-year-old from Bara.

He said above all, the government should compensate IDPs for the damages caused to their property.

“The government and the donor agencies should compensate the people for the damage caused to private property on basis of approval from the political administration and upon the recommendation of tribal elders,” Noor said.

He added that over 50 percent of the damages caused to private properties had not been reported in the media because people were largely unaware of the procedure to avail monetary compensation.

Noor Muhammad said that it was impossible for people to live without having basic civic facilities in their villages and towns in Bara.

Salma Bibi ,56,  complained about the lack of proper schooling at the Jalozai Camp. She said they send  children to a tent school near her tent but teachers remained absent.

“With no proper system in place for education, the school-going children are busy doing minor street jobs or collecting firewood for their families from the nearby forest,” Salma said.

She said the people were facing enormous problems in the camp but they were not ready to go back at this stage without being certain about basic facilities and security, along with the assistance package that the government had announced for the IDPs.

Sayed Shahab Ali Shah, Political Agent Khyber Agency, who is supervising the repatriation plans at the agency level told News Lens that the authorities had already done homework and completed necessary arrangements for the return of Bara people.

He said security in Bara would be assigned to Khyber Levies prior to the return of IDPs. He said the political administration had takencontrol of many areas in Bara and started rehabilitation arrangements prior to sending back the IDPs from Jalozai.

Shahab said the political administration awaited a formal announcement from the authorities in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the coming days. He, however, did not disclose a fixed date for sending back the IDPs except that it was somewhere around mid-March.

The political agenct said the  Khyber Levies force would be equipped with modern and sophisticated weapons and  would be provided with all the incentives and privileges offered to police and regular security forces.

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