Return to Swat

The news of the beginning of the return of the internally displaced to their homes in Swat is, indeed, welcome.

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Published: Mon 20 Jul 2009, 1:02 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:32 AM

The official reports from Pakistan noted that at least 8,000 people had returned; at present the military has allowed the return to only a few key locales within the troubled region that had seen a large military offensive being launched against the militants. With the initial trickling having begun, the country still faces a mammoth task in seeing to the safe repatriation of an estimated two million people. In one of the largest internal migrations in recent times, the United Nations Commission for Refugees has likened the crisis to the one in Rwanda.

The positive news is that Swat Valley, once an idyllic tourist attraction, is now returning to normal. The people of Swat had faced serious hardships at the hands of the Taleban militants led by Mullah Fazlullah. Random killings, public hangings and flogging of women, torture, enforced possession of property and recruitment of children for militancy, were common during the Taleban control.

The militants had not only succeeded in terrorising the civilians, they had effectively challenged the state to a point where it became impossible to ignore retaliation. Though Swat may yet not be completely cleared of militants — reports of search operations continue to come in daily — it is on the way to reaching its previous status of peace and stability. The other challenging task at hand is the socio-economic aspect of the IDP’s who are returning to destroyed homes and non-existent livelihoods. The task of rebuilding lives is daunting. In addition, the fear of the militants’ comeback and adequate security arrangements is of paramount concern. The destruction of infrastructure, lack of water and electricity supply, as well as shortages in food and health supplies are some of the first hardships the returnees are likely to face.

The return launched last week by the government may have been hastily planned, considering that there was no arrangement to provide for the basic resources and facilities for the displaced returnees. However, it is hoped that the government will speed the process and facilitate the displaced persons in every aspect, the foremost being security.

Fleeing for their lives, these traumatised people have suffered enough, with loss of lives of kin as well as their homes. Besides Swat, there are close to a million who have fled the fighting in the tribal agencies and continue to await an end to those operations so they can return home to safety and rebuild their lives with dignity. It is the duty of the government to curtail other state expenses at this time and provide for these people who have paid the heaviest price, caught between the militants and the security forces.

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