Islamabad/Tank/Khaisoor: “O my land, may you return to life soon, before my youth turns to dust,” NaeemullahMehsud, 17, prayed as he stepped foot in Khaisoor, his native village in war-torn South Waziristan agency, in 2017, for the first time since his family and countless others were driven out following the launch of Operation Rah-e-Nijat in 2009. His family was among the batch repatriated in 2017. At Khaisoor, it did not take them long to realise that return to life would be a long drawn out process. They spent three days in the village before returning to Rawalpindi, where Naeem’s father and uncles had settled following their displacement, back when he was eight-years old. Since then, Naeemullah started school in Rawalpindi and is now enrolled in an undergraduate program at a private college. “I had no friend there. The place didn’t even have Internet connectivity so that I could stay in touch with friends back in Pindi using social media,” Naeemullah recalls. The post-9/11 conflict in Afghanistan and repeated military operations in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has brought drastic changes to the region. For starters, the violence has devastated the social fabric. In all these years, a new generation has come of age. While some of these young Pashtuns proactively lead a country-wide movement seeking a dignified life with extension of citizenship rights to the tribal region, many others exert their youthfulness in everyday life by rejecting plans made for them, without their input, behind closed doors of various Islamabad-based ministries. Over the last decades, many of these displaced Pashtun families have rebuilt their lives from scratch in urban centres of mainstream Pakistan. The youngsters have gotten used to life in cities with municipal services like electricity, piped gas, water and sanitation and Internet connectivity. They are unwilling to return to a place which is far from the home they had left behind during their childhood. Samina Saif is now a Political Science student at a public university in Islamabad. She recalls that she was in school in Srarogha, South Waziristan, when her family got displaced. “My joy on the day we returned to our hometown was matchless, but it was short-lived. Two days later, I felt that I had been sent back to the stone age. There is no electricity, drinking water, hospital, college or means of communications in the area.” She feels that the government should have provided all these facilities before repatriating displaced families because it is impossible for the educated youth from the region to adjust themselves in the existing circumstances. Naeemullah shares similar sentiments. “I have missed each and every stone and tree of my village, but after having lived in Rawalpindi in all these years, it is impossible for me to live in an area where I have complete lack of basic facilities.” Muhammad Farhan was five when his family left Khaisoor and settled in Rawalpindi where he is studying in the 10th grade now. Like Naeemullah and Saif, he too returned to his homeland with nostalgic feelings last year. “I wanted to live in rocky mountains of my village but I left the place after spending a month because there was no access to Internet and I could not use Facebook to connect my friends,” he says. Samreen Khan studies Urdu literature at International Islamic University (IIU), Islamabad. Her family moved out of Waziristan in 2006. They were among the earliest batches repatriated to the region in 2014, but they also returned when the harsh realities of everyday life started sinking in. She says the mass exodus had provided tribal families an opportunity to discover a different lifestyle. “When we were sent back, there was no facility like healthcare, piped water, communication and education. Most of the families in our area have since returned to the cities,” she notes. Shamshad Mehsud, another IIU student, says he was in fifth grade when his family was displaced from Barwand area of South Waziristan. “I went back to my village after 8 years, but return in just a day.” Hafsa Khalil Toor, a psychologist at Foundation University, says displacement from hometowns leads to anxiety and conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. “All of this causes cognitive and behavioral problems children”. Regarding the repatriation process in FATA, Toor says that return to the homeland should not be seen just as a physical journey, it is also an emotional movement where families encounter emotional turmoil as they re-visit past experiences. She says returning to their native towns and villages will be a challenging task given that displaced families have over the years adopted different cultures as they adjusted to lives in urban centres across the country. “We need to rebuild the trust and rekindle the dreams of the locals if we have to encourage them to redecorate,” Toor suggests. Sayed Umar, a coordinator of FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) in South Waziristan Agency, tells Daily Times that his organisation had enlisted 70,000 Temporary Displaced Persons (TDPs) families, all of whom have now been repatriated to about 386 villages in the Mehsud belt. He says the entire Mehsud tribe was displaced during successive military operations. He says the repatriation process had started on December 4, 2010. Documents shared by SAFRON state that 14,072 TDP families have yet to return to their areas, including 4,000 families who are residing in South Eastern Khost province of Afghanistan. Record discloses that the initial demand for Citizen Losses Compensation Programme (CLCP) of TDPs was for Rs.80 billion, but recently FATA Secretariat sought another cache of funds worth Rs15 billion. According to Physician for Social Responsibility (PSR), 81,325 to 81,860 lives have been lost, including those of civilians, security personnel, and militants from 2004 to 2013. SAFRON documents state that the population of FATA is 3.18 million, though the last year’s census put the population of the region at around 5 million. On November 8, 2015, the federal government had formed a FATA Reforms Committee for mainstreaming of the region. The committee proposed merger of the territory with KP. So far, apart from extending the jurisdiction of Supreme Court of Pakistan and Peshawar High Court to the region, the government has made no significant progress to bring reforms in the region. Though a 10-year development roadmap prepared for FATA covers all areas including basic services and communication infrastructure, for now the plan remains on papers only. According to data shared by FATA Education Directorate, there are 5,957 government educational institutions in FATA, excluding degree colleges. Of these, a mere 5,101 – 3,027 for boys and 2,074 for girls – are functional. These include 4,022 are primary schools, 124 mosque schools, 114 community schools, 33 Industrial Home Centre (IHC) schools, 473 middle schools, 313 high schools, 16 higher secondary schools and four elementary colleges. Overall enrollment from grade 1 to 12 in the region is 661,545. In South Waziristan, 37,111 students are enrolled in the age group of 3 to 22 years, according to the FATA Education Directorate documents. The political administration of South Waziristan shares that a survey of 47,380 households has been conducted in the area. Of these, 40,868 houses have been declared fully damaged and another 8,532 partially damaged. The government has released Rs.400,000 to owners of completely damaged houses and Rs.160,000 to owners of partially damaged houses. Details show that Rs. 12.7 billion has been distributed among families against their claims. The FATA Secretariat has sought another Rs.3.6 billion for the construction of 1,066 houses. In addition to these funds, data shows that another demand for reconstruction of 11,720 fully and partially damaged houses is yet to be forwarded to the FATA Secretariat. The next round of surveys in the remaining 223 villages of South Waziristan has also yet to be completed. Published in Daily Times, March 11th 2018.