Bannu: The news that the government is demolishing houses of tribesmen in Miranshah town and Darpakhel village in North Waziristan Agency has set residents of these places, presently living as internally displaced people in Bannu, on the edge.
Authorities say the houses – and in some cases markets – are being demolished to penalize those “who were guilty of affiliation with militants.”
IDP representatives in the town of Bannu that borders North Waziristan Agency said it was bad enough that the government had razed local markets in the military operation against militants, undermining local economy and livelihoods, but now it was demolishing houses of “peaceful citizens without any known reason.”
“If the government demolishes our houses located in Danday Darpakhel area, where will we live after repatriation?” said a tribal elder who didn’t want to be named for fear of security.
He and many others led a protest at Peshawar Press Club late in May against what he called the “highhandedness of the government.”
Thousands of tribesmen participated in the protest against demolition of their houses in Miranshah City and Danday Darpakhel.
“We have made it clear it to residents of North Waziristan Agency that houses of those who have been involved in militancy in any capacity would not be spared,” an official told News Lens Pakistan on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
“We will do the same in Danday Darpakhel and elsewhere if we find people guilty of colluding with militants.”
He said the government was compensating those whose houses have been demolished or damaged in the military operation.
While Danday Darpakhel may be next in line for demolition, houses of many residents in the main city of Miranshah have already been destroyed during the military operation.
“We don’t know where to go and to live as our houses have disappeared from the surface of earth,” said a tribesman who didn’t want to be named.
He said he and others from the town were still waiting for compensation and permission of the government to rebuild their wrecked houses.
When the Pakistani forces announced the military operation in NWA on June 15, 2016, more than 1.5 million people were displaced from the agency.
They left behind all of their belongings, their homes, cattle, fields, businesses and properties, including their shops in the sprawling bazaars of Mirali and Minashah. They returned early this year to find the shops and markets demolished in the operation.
Among the displaced are residents of Darpakhel village close to Miranshah Bazaar, the main town of North Waziristan Agency.
After a bloody war in the past with a rival tribe over land, the Darpakhel residents started migrating to an area near their village called Danday Darpakhel.
They built around 2,000 houses there, housing a population of about 15,000 in Danday.
The area is located opposite the Miranshah fort – a landmark on the Ghulam Khan road leading to Afghanistan – that is a high security zone with army deployed inside the fort.
The main city of Miranshah, on the other hand, has a population of about 600 families with 8000 individuals.
The areas in Miranshah where people resided before the operation were Zafar Town, Seraye Darpa Khel, Qari Masjid, Ghari Mandi and Qanungo Algad area. All of these areas have not a single house standing after the operation.
The communities of Danday Darpakhel and Miranshah city have strong reservations over the demolition of their houses especially those inside the city.
“Though houses in Danday have not yet been demolished we have information that the government is going to do so in near future,” Akbar Khan, a tribal elder from Darapakhel village told News Lens Pakistan.
He said he had a house in Danday and if it was demolished, he would have no choice but to stay and live in Bannu instead of returning to his village and lands.
Malik Ashraf Khan, a tribal elder from Darpakhel, said, “We have information that our houses at Danday are to be demolished.”
He said the local people had no objection to the demolition of houses of those who were involved in terrorist activities, but “across the board” demolition was unacceptable.
“We unanimously announced in our jirga and in the press conference in Peshawar Press Club that we will not object to any penalty imposed by the government as long as it was against those engaged in militancy,” said Khan.
He however expressed concerns saying the government was “not trustworthy” and once they had decided to take action against Danday, they would go for it.
“You see, all of our markets in Miranshah and Mirali have been razed to ground without any known reason,” said Khan.
“They can do the same to our houses.”
According to the Market Owners Association of NWA, more than 19,000 shops were demolished in the bazaars of Mirali and Miranshah.
“7642 shops and business centers are destroyed in Mirali and 11,000 in Miranshah,” said Bostan Khan, a tribal elder from NWA.
He said the minimum cost of reconstruction of a shop was Rs. 800,000. According to him, the total cost of rebuilding the markets is no less than Rs.16 billion.
“These markets provided employment to no less than 35000 families that are now left without any source of earning a livelihood,” said Bostan Khan, a businessman from NWA.
The case of Miranshah city is more serious than that of Danday Darpakhel, however.
Many living in Miranshah city are not locals of the area, with no lands or houses elsewhere in NWA, except those in the city. If their houses are not rebuilt immediately, they say, they will be forced to stay out of the agency.
“We have been living inside the city for a long time and now Miranshah is our hometown,” said a resident of the city requesting anonymity. “If we don’t get back to our houses in the city, we and our families will have no place to go and live.”
He added that he had no option but to live on the debris of his demolished house.
“I am a poor man who owned a shop that was my only means of livelihood but now with the house and shop gone, I really don’t know what to do,” he said.
The official at the office of the political administration said no one had to worry as long as their “record was clear”, with no history of engaging in militancy.
“A sum of Rs. 400,000 is paid to compensate those whose properties have been totally destroyed in the operation while Rs. 150,000 is paid to cover for partial damages,” he said.
However, the tribesmen whose houses are damaged or demolished are not at happy with the amount paid as compensation money.
They say prices of construction materials have gone up and one could not build a proper house with just Rs 400,000.
“You cannot build a single room with this amount let alone a full house,” said Ahmad Khan Wazir, a resident of NWA.
While repatriation to NWA has picked up in recent days, there are many who on seeing the debris of their wrecked houses on their return have decided to come back to towns in mainland Pakistan where they have rented houses for the last two and a half years.
“It will take time to restore normal life in the war-torn Waziristan because rebuilding life is not easy in an area where one has to get through many security check points,” said Muhammad Tairq Khan, an IDP from NWA living in Bannu.
“Once the people go back, reconstruction will naturally happen but only after they are rehabilitated in their own villages and towns.”