The civilian exodus from South Waziristan is growing. As the military digs in for what has been described as a decisive fight against the TTP, the impact the conflict will have on the tribal area’s non-combatants should be viewed with concern. Officials say 100,000 people have already fled the area while it is feared that a similar number will follow as the operation continues.
However, it is believed that the refugee crisis will not be as bad as the one witnessed earlier in Malakand division, where close to two million people had to flee as the army finally took action against the militants. The operation in Swat triggered a massive humanitarian crisis, with assistance pouring in from across the world. A repeat of such a crisis is unlikely because the population of South Waziristan is about half that of Malakand’s conflict areas. Officials say the need for setting up refugee camps may not arise as most of the Waziristan IDPs are expected to take shelter with relatives in neighbouring districts.
Nevertheless, one cannot be complacent. The Waziristan operation is expected to be a tougher challenge for the army compared to what transpired in Swat simply because it is believed that there is greater support for the militants in that area than there was in Swat. Analysts say the operation may last for two months, but in such matters giving and sticking to time frames can be difficult. Winter is fast approaching and if the conflict drags on, life will become even more tough for the displaced. One hopes that the government has learnt from the experience of the Swat IDPs and that contingency plans are in place. Also, while all humanitarian assistance should be extended to the affected people, the authorities must be wary of extremists trying to sneak out posing as refugees.