Wednesday, 4 April 2018

April 2013 Mass migration in Tirah

Mass migration in Tirah
April 2013 published by The NEWS on Sunday
After falling to TTP, around four thousand people have moved down from the valley and still more are coming
By Javed Aziz Khan

They were killed, houses set on fire, villages occupied and made homeless to look for shelter as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kohat, Hangu and Peshawar. The people of Tirah Valley would have never thought to be wandering for shelter after leaving their homes in one of the most beautiful valleys at the mercy of militants.

Tens of thousands of Afridi tribesmen have come down from Tirah to the settled areas of Peshawar, Kohat and Hangu as well as the tribal Kurram and Orakzai agencies after militants have taken control over most parts of the remotest valley of the Khyber Agency.

The clashes in the valley were going on for the last many months as militants wanted to take control of the area and make it their stronghold to control operations in Peshawar Valley. The local tribesmen supported by an armed group, Ansarul Islam (AI), were offering stiff resistance since a fresh attack in January. However, the AI and tribal volunteers had to surrender after inflicting heavy losses in terms of lives and properties. They had to leave Maidan, the main town of Tirah Valley, which has now fallen to the militants associated with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and supported by Lashkar-e-Islam (LI).

Leaving Tirah was never an easy decision for the Afridi tribesmen. Some of them had never gone out of the valley in their entire lives but they had no other option, only to pack up and go down the mountains. Climbing down the rough mountains for up to seven hours or taking a ride on ponies was the only option for those leaving their homes. They had to walk, take pony ride and then board a coach, truck, tractor trolley or whatever they got in their way to Orakzai and Kurram Agency.

Till a few years back, Tirah was known only as the summer hill station for the tribal Khyber and Orakzai Agencies. People of Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram Agencies used to spend their vacations in the area, mostly with their relatives since it was not a developed tourist spot. The access to the area was not that easy as one had to walk up the mountains for several hours due to the road condition.

Located close to the Durand Line, Tirah remained virtually independent since the colonial times. It was in 2003 when, for the first time, Pakistani forces entered the Tirah valley after militants started spilling over to different tribal areas, first from Afghanistan and later from the North and South Waziristan.

The huge mountains along with the difficulty of its passes and the fierceness of its inhabitants protected it from all the invaders whenever they tried to take control of the valley, comprising the major towns of Maidan, Rajgal, Waran, Bara and Mastura.

The five chief valleys are Maidan, Rajgul, Waran, Bara and Mastura. Maidan, the summer home of the Afridis, lies close under the snow-bound ridges of Koh-e-Sufaid. The hot summer used to take the tribesmen of Khyber and Orakzai Agency to this remote hill station which has now been vacated by even its own inhabitants.

The authorities are receiving the IDPs coming down from Tirah at Kalaya town of Orakzai Agency from day one. They are being provided with transportation and other facilities from Kalaya to take them to New Durrani Camp or Jalozai camp near Peshawar, Adnan Khan, the spokesman for the provincial disaster management authority (PDMA) told The News on Sunday.

The PDMA authorities have unofficially estimated that around 4000 people have come down from Tirah already while more are feared to come down to the settled and tribal areas due to the situation in the valley.

Around 274 families have so far been registered at the Jalozai camp located in Nowshera district, close to Peshawar. They are being provided assistance by the PDMA after registration. The assistance includes cooked food for first week and once they are settled, they are provided with ration and other facilities, said Adnan Khan.

There are reports that PDMA and the Civil Secretariat for Fata are looking for a suitable site somewhere in Peshawar where these IDPs can be registered and later taken to Jalozai. However, the district administration of Peshawar is hesitant in allowing registration in its area because of the law and order situation in the provincial capital. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also halted its assistance to the Tirah IDPs till security arrangements are made.

The UN body suspended its operations temporarily after a bomb attack at the Jalozai Camp last month when a large number of people were waiting for their turn to get ration from a food distribution center. At least 17 people, including a female worker of a local NGO and a government official, were killed and several were wounded in the blast. The situation further added to the miseries of the IDPs.

Apart from UNHCR, a number of foreign and local NGOs are working to help the Tirah Valley people, who were initially not being considered even as IDPs for technical reasons by most of the world bodies. The Al-Khidmat Foundation was one of the first local NGOs to have rushed to help the coming IDPs. They have set up camps at various places to enlist the Tirah IDPs and have appealed for assistance so the helpless and homeless tribesmen can be facilitated.

We are registering those who are coming down at different points. There are still a large number of people who are coming down the valley,said Shah Faisal, the tribal chief of Al-Khidmat Foundation. Shah Faisal said those coming down the valley are narrating horrifying ordeals while many disclosed that over 200 bodies of those killed in the fighting with militants remained unburied for several days.

A number of IDPs from Tirah Valley on April 2 protested at Jalozai camp for not being provided basic facilities. These IDPs gathered outside the camp of the PDMA and protested that they are being forced to share tents with those displaced from Bara. The situation has not only bothered the new IDPs but the old residents of the camp are also unhappy with the decision of the authorities.

A large number of families and individuals are temporarily residing with their relatives, some have hired rented homes while others are still looking for shelter in or off the camp in Bara, Peshawar, Kohat and Hangu. Media reported that LI men have distributed pamphlets in Bara area of Khyber Agency, warning the locals not to shelter those coming down from Tirah or face the music. Many of these pamphlets were found pasted on the main squares, mosques and important building in Bara.
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