Pakistani refugees return home – to Taliban
Some heeding the government's call to go back to their villages are encountering militants. In other areas, daily life begins to resume.
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"More than 100 Taliban are here right now in Malakpur village," says one resident, who says that everyone stays hidden in their homes. "There is so much fear that we cannot speak to neighbors – even husbands cannot say something to wives."
The militants set up barricades and are checking identification cards to locate their enemies – officials, party workers, and tribal leaders. For this reason he refused to share his name over the phone, nor can his story be independently confirmed.
Those who fled Buner but remain in contact with their villages have heard similar stories from other places, just weeks after the military ended its three-month-long offensive to clear the Taliban from the area. Yet these internal refugees are being told it's safe to go back to some of these same regions, suggesting the government may be urging people to return home too quickly.
Government turns to clearing camps
Repatriation efforts are voluntary. In the Chota Lahore camp in Swabi, however, the administration is using a mixture of carrots and sticks to push people out.
One family, headed by Faida Manshah, eagerly bundled up their possessions – a red bucket, some carpets, an electric fan, and some food ration bags – Friday night upon being told by camp administrators that their village of Kalfani was clear. A bus would come in the morning, and they desperately wanted to be on it.
Another inducement to leave: The bus tomorrow is free – miss it, and they would have to pay for transportation. "We are praying to God that we don't come back to this camp," says Mr. Manshah.
Yet there's a danger of that, given the close proximity of his village to Dewana Baba, a region that internally displaced persons (IDPs) mentioned over and over as a hotbed of Taliban activity.
"My brother made a visit there and he called me: 'Don't come here. Here again, fighting will start' " says Bakhti Mullah, an IDP in Chota Lahore. "But if the government gives permission, we will go back, because here is no food, no water. If I die, I want to do it at home."
Militants attack under Army's nose
Mr. Mullah has heard the military will launch operations to clear the area soon. But there are troubling reports of military inaction.
Earlier this month, a group of militants burned down the home of journalist Behroz Khan in a village near the town of Pir Baba in Buner. This occurred just a kilometer away from a military checkpoint. And the villager trapped in his home in Malakpur says his valley lies only 500 meters from a military encampment.