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Premature for refugees to return, say NGOs

world Updated: Jul 11, 2009 01:05 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

The announcement by Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) would start returning to Swat and adjoining areas by Monday is being welcomed by many but being termed a political stunt by some quarters.

“How can you start sending people back when the army operation has not ended,” asked Dr Mubina Agboatwala, whose organisation, HOPE, has been treating IDPs at camps around the North-West Frontier Province. She said the return of the IDPs was a “complicated affair” that would take months to put into operation.

Earlier this week, the minister of information, Qamar Zaman Kaira, and spokesman for the military, Major General Athar Abbas, informed that the military operation in Swat and adjoining districts was “complete” and various areas of Malakand division have been taken back from the Taliban. Abbas added the army would stay on in the valley to conduct search-and-destroy operations,

It is estimated that around 2.5 million people have fled from the Swat Valley and its adjoining areas of Dir and Buner ever since the army action started.

Khadim Husain of the Aryana Institute of Regional Research, which carefully monitors the movement and welfare of the IDPs, said that such messages coming out from the TTP “rattle and scare people wanting to return.” Husain says that the infrastructure has been repaired to some extent in the urban areas of Swat but in the rural areas it was completely destroyed. “They have little to live on,” he said.

He also said that there is an absence of any meaningful political initiative to ensure that IDPs return safely.