Pakistan offensive against Taliban creates angry refugees
Some 30,000 refugees who fled the Pakistan Army's offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan have yet to receive food or other supplies promised by the government.
Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan
Antimilitary feelings are running high among refugees in this town just outside South Waziristan, where more than 100,000 Pakistanis have fled from an Army offensive aimed at destroying the Pakistani Taliban network.Skip to next paragraph
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Many bring with them tales of indiscriminate bombings and high civilian casualties. And frustration is rising as the government fails to provide aid to those displaced by the fighting since it began Saturday.
The delay feeds concerns that, unlike during the Army's relatively successful offensive in Swat during the spring, neutral or pro-Taliban leanings among residents of South Waziristan could make it harder to hold onto any gains there. A growing refugee crisis could also undermine the government's battle for hearts and minds.
"We feel this is a war against our whole tribe," says Aslam Khan, an elderly Mehsud tribesman who arrived from the town of Sararogha two weeks ago and is attempting to register himself and nine members of his family to ensure they are eligible for aid.
Long lines, no aid
Hundreds of men like him show up every morning at the city's five refugee registration points on behalf of their extended families (one man appeared to register 33 relatives). But many are turned away after hours of waiting and told to return the next day by inundated authorities. On Wednesday, fresh registrations were halted due to a shortage of forms.
Not that registration guarantees help: An aid official admits that because of delays in verifying ID cards, none of the 30,000 refugees who registered after the conflict began on Saturday have yet received food, items such as blankets or mosquito nets, or the $60 in monthly benefits promised to them by federal information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira last week.
Despite the influx of refugees, which began as early as August, the government has not prepared any camps in which to house them. North West Frontier Province governor Owais Ghani reiterated his position on Tuesday that all of the refugees can be absorbed into relatives' homes in Dera Ismail Khan, which serves as a winter home for many South Waziristan residents.
Not so, says the aid official: "Not everyone has relatives here. So now what are we supposed to do? Some people are already out on open tents, in grounds. People are being housed in single houses with one bathroom and up to five families."
Angry at the Army
Mr. Khan, the elderly tribesman, says his bitterness is compounded by the carnage he witnessed just before fleeing his hometown. He says he saw a family of four dive for cover as a jet targeting a militant hideout flew over the town's main street; the hideout was destroyed, but the family died.