BANNU: The World Food Programme (WFP) on Monday began distributing aid for hundreds of thousands who have fled a military offensive in Pakistan, as refugees expressed increasing frustration at delays in assistance and prospects for peace.
It has been just over a week since the army announced the start of its long-awaited offensive in North Waziristan, dubbed ‘Zarb-e-Azb’.
The operation is aimed at flushing out Taliban and Qaeda militants from the North Waziristan tribal district along the Afghan border, their stronghold for several years.
The armed forces have unleashed their full arsenal of weaponry including jet fighters, tanks and artillery, killing around 300 people they have described as militants.
The operation has forced more than 450,000 people to flee, according to official figures, with many reaching the nearby town of Bannu just outside the tribal zone.
Sakeenullah Khan, a 32-year-old tribesman from Anghar village, said that for all the army’s talk of a quick operation lasting just weeks, he was not hopeful of returning home soon.
“The IDPs (internally displaced people) from South Waziristan are still out of their homes and so are those from Khyber, so we doubt peace will return soon,” he said, referring to other army offensives in recent years.
Forty-year-old Meera Jan, who spoke to AFP from a refugee registration point, said he had already lost his small business after fleeing smaller military strikes over the years.
“I have left my home three times to save my children. I have lost my small business and my house was destroyed, but we never saw any compensation from the government,” he added.
In addition to their long-term worries, the refugees face immediate concerns such as a lack of basic supplies, including food.
They are forced to live either in tents under the scorching summer heat or to pay exorbitant rents for houses.
The WFP began distributing rations including wheat flour, cooking oil, lentils and high-energy biscuits on Monday through a local non-government partner, after police were forced to disperse thousands of protesters angered by hours of delays.
Noor Bat Khan, a 60-year-old resident from Esori village in North Waziristan, criticised authorities for taking so long to act and for not setting up enough centres.
“The authorities should set up more distribution points as it will be difficult for the displaced persons to wait for their turn in scorching heat,” he said.
Said Nawaz, a 44-year-old who had just arrived in the town from Khutab Khel village in North Waziristan following a temporary curfew relaxation, said he hoped the military would drive out the insurgents for good this time.
“We were stuck between the militants and the military for years. Now the government should bomb every house, mosque and markets to eliminate them. We need peace after our sacrifices,” he said.
“You can live under one government, but Waziristan was being ruled by two - the Taliban and the army. So you need to abolish one of them.”
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