PAKISTAN: Tension in Waziristan prompts fear of further displacements

ISLAMABAD, 2 September 2009 (IRIN) – Two suicide bombings which have claimed 38 lives over the past week have heightened tension in the tribal agency of South Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan: People fear a fierce army operation may be about to be launched.

The attacks – the first at the Torkham border post between Pakistan and Afghanistan on 27 August, and the second three days later in Mingora, the principal city of Swat – targeted security forces and have been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

“The security forces are determined to defeat anti-state elements and the operation against them is continuing at all levels,” Brig Tahir Hamid, the army officer in charge of the operation in Swat, told the media after the Mingora attack.

The suicide attacks, which have raised fears of a Taliban revival, mean there is a greater likelihood of a full-fledged military operation in South Waziristan – now seen as the most important stronghold of the militants, say observers.

Last month, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan announced its new leader following the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the man thought to be behind attacks which have claimed hundreds of lives in Pakistan over the past two years.

“All the terrorist elements have not yet been vanquished. There is a need to do more to defeat them,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), said.

Displacement in North, South Waziristan

At least 126,300 people have already fled from the adjoining North and South Waziristan agencies and have been registered, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in the Tank and Dera Ismail Khan Districts. It is not yet known how many more may join them, but people continue to leave the area each day.

“I am shifting my wife, my parents and my four children to Peshawar. I don’t want to be caught in a situation where roads are closed due to fighting, or transport becomes impossible to find,” Azim Wazir, 40, told IRIN from Wana, the principal city of South Waziristan.

Waziris are familiar with the destruction conflict can bring and there have indeed been periodic displacements from the agency.

UN agencies have been preparing for possible displacements from Waziristan. UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan Martin Mogwanja told a press conference in Islamabad “the number of IDPs eventually depends on the scale and nature of the military operation.” He also said goods had been stockpiled at a base in Bhakkar District, Punjab Province, in preparation for such an eventuality.

As people displaced from Swat, Dir and Buner districts of NWFP return home and start re-building their lives, a fresh wave of displacements could lie just ahead, analysts say.

“We are scared of this. Things are very tense here and we believe it may be just weeks before we find ourselves caught in war,” Azim Wazir said.

[original]

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