The army has given the go-ahead to civilian authorities to start the phased return of over one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) to North Waziristan Agency (NWA) in what appears to be the first clear sign that military is nearing completion of Operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’, which began on June 15.
Under the plan, currently being worked out, the IDPs will be allowed to return to their homes in areas which have been cleared of terrorists, said a senior military official familiar with the development.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said army chief General Raheel Sharif approved the phased repatriation of the IDPs after reviewing progress so far made in the North Waziristan operation.
The army chief spent a day in the corps headquarters in Peshawar on Saturday, where he was given a detailed briefing about the operation, as well as possibility of allowing the IDPs to return to their homes.
He said the early return of the IDPs was his top priority.
The security official told The Express Tribune that General Raheel directed security forces operating in the area to create conditions conducive for early return of the IDPs.
The repatriation plan is expected to be finalised after consultations with civil and military authorities. But the army wanted the civilian authorities to play their due part for the IDPs rehabilitation.
“It is not the military’s job alone but also other civilian authorities who will have to come forward and play their role,” commented another military official.
“As far as the military is concerned, we are ready to facilitate in whatever possible manner to ensure the orderly return of IDPs,” he added.
When asked, the official, however, did not provide any time frame for the completion of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
The official said the operation will continue in the areas where militants are still hiding while the IDPs will be allowed to return to their homes in parts of the NWA now under the complete control of the security forces.
The Express Tribune has learnt that the army may not formally announce the completion of operation for ‘strategic reasons’ in order to keep up the pressure on militant outfits in the region.
“The army troops will remain stationed in the region for some time even after the completion of the mission,” the official said.
The military has already taken control of the majority of troubled NWA. More than 1,100 militants, including foreigners, have been reportedly killed in the full-scale offensive.
The military also claimed that it has destroyed the command and control structure of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as a result of which the militant group’s capacity and ability to carry out terrorist attacks have been considerably weakened.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2014.