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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

PAKISTAN: Waziris hope for stability after reported death of militant leader

WANA, 9 August 2009 (IRIN) - It’s business as usual in the small bazaar at Wana, the principal town of South Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. But the air is heavy with gossip about the reported death of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, in an attack several days ago by unmanned US drones.

The fate of this notoriously ruthless militant has big implications for the stability of the region and its 400,000 inhabitants, who have become accustomed to fleeing and returning to their homes intermittently over the past few years.

Mehsud’s death was announced on 7 August by Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the news made headlines around the world.

However, Hakimullah Mehsud, one of the leaders of the Taliban in Pakistan, told the BBC that reports of Mehsud's death were "ridiculous". "The news regarding our respected chief is propaganda by our enemies," he said.

Local residents remain cautious about the news until hard evidence is forthcoming. “We believe he is dead, but we did not see the body, so how can we say anything for sure?” local resident Amanullah Wazir, who asked that his real name be withheld, told IRIN.

Many residents hope that if Mehsud is dead it could bring a sense of stability to their lives. Since June, when the Pakistan army began its offensive against the Taliban, 40,000 people have fled North and South Waziristan, according to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Waves of displacement

Spread out over 11,585 sq km, the two adjacent territories have seen waves of displacement over previous years as a result of fighting between government troops and militants.

“Many who could do so have set up homes in Peshawar [capital of North West Frontier Province] or other places because there is so much instability in Waziristan,” Kamran Arif, a Peshawar-based lawyer and human rights activist, told IRIN.

Some of these displaced people now wonder if they will be able to return. “We left our home, a few kilometres outside Wana in October 2007. Now that this news has come in, perhaps the fighting will stop in Waziristan and we will be able to go home,” Maryam Bibi, a 40-year-old internally displaced person (IDP) in Peshawar, said.

For several weeks there has been widespread anticipation of an intensification of fighting in Waziristan that would lead to the displacement of many more people.

“There would be enormous issues if there were more large-scale displacements at this point. There is simply insufficient preparedness and a lack of resources,” an official with the NWFP government’s Emergency Response Unit, who did not want to be named, told IRIN.

Heavy economic losses

People in Wana and surrounding villages also complain the fighting has caused heavy economic losses. “I used to drive a truck and transport goods out of Waziristan, including pine-nuts and fruit. But now people are producing less. Some orchards have been destroyed and I suffer because business is slow,” Dilawar Ahmed, 30, said.

Waziris hope this situation will now change. While the military operation in Waziristan continues and until it finally ends, local residents say they will be anxious about their future and the possibility that they may have to abandon their homes and seek shelter elsewhere.

After the recent return of 765,000 IDPs to Swat and Buner districts, some 1.3 million people remain displaced in Pakistan, according to a 7 August UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs situation report.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


Copyright © IRIN 2009
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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