KARACHI: Azmat Wazir was among the better-dressed people on the Ziauddin Coach that was making its way from Bannu to Karachi last Sunday. Police officials at Kashmore, however, asked him to disembark from the bus and prove his identity.
The police singled him out, not because he had a weapon or drugs, but because his National Identity Card (NIC) bore a North Waziristan address. "They [the police] even suspected my NIC was forged," he recalled incredulously. Wazir runs a tyre import business in Karachi. He was thoroughly frisked and his name, addresses and contacts noted at each checkpoint at Tramin, Guddu, Kashmore and Obaro. "I was angry at being treated like an alien in my own country but had no other option but to remain calm."
After the Pakistan Army has launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the police and Rangers have been keeping a vigilant eye on the people who hail from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, but now reside in Karachi. The inter-city bus drivers and bus stand manager say that their vehicles get delayed between three to four hours daily due to the check posts.
"We have directed our drivers and bus stand managers not to bring anyone without proper verification of their identity as the Rangers and police will get them off on the way and will also beat our drivers and conductors," said Ameer Zaman, the manager of a bus service that operates to Bannu and DI Khan, from Sohrab Goth.
According to Zaman, the IDPs' families are not coming to Karachi. "We brought a family of eight from North Waziristan when the operation initially started, but there have been no IDPs wishing to travel to Karachi since." The main reason for this, as Zaman sees it, is that the families are frightened of the stringent checking on the way as well as the threats from Sindhi nationalists who have been organising rallies against the IDPs every other day. The nationalists even stop the buses and search them for IDPs, Zaman claimed.
Gul Sher, the manager of another bus service to Bannu, says that the number of passengers has dropped significantly since the launch of the operation. He blames the decline on the harassment by police and Rangers along the route.
Advocate Shah Wali Mehsud, who is associated with the Pakhtun Peace and Development Movement - a non-governmental organisation that works for peace in Pashtu-speaking majority areas of the city - is critical of the Sindh Bachao Committee and nationalists for stopping the entry of IDPs into the province. "The strikes and attempts to refrain IDPs from entering Sindh is a violation of Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan and also injustice with people who have left their homes for the sake of peace in the country."
On the other hand, Sindh Bachayo Committee convener Jalal Mehmood Shah denied claims that nationalists were stopping inter-city buses in Sindh. He said, however, that they had the right to defend their province and IDPs should not come to Sindh because it will cause imbalance to the demographics of the province. "Freedom of movement does not apply to the people of Fata because Fata is not a federating unit of Pakistan," said Shah justifying their protests.
What Shah fears most is the spread of militancy in Sindh due to the influx of IDPs. He lamented that the inter-city buses were not being checked properly. "The chief minister says 100,000 IDPs have come to Sindh after the army offensive. But the government has not checked them," he said, adding that they did not want IDPs in Sindh, whether in segregated camps established for them by the government or otherwise.
Sukkur commissioner Mohammad Abbas Baloch told The Express Tribune that Rangers and police are checking IDPs coming into Sindh but they have not established any camps for them. "All Pakistani citizens can come to Sindh and the IDPs are only checked and their data is retained," he said, refuting the Sindh government's claims of establishing relief camps.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2014.