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Mass exodus in N Waziristan as tribesmen flee for fear of air strikes on militants

Nearly 50,000 Pakistani tribesmen have fled from lawless North Waziristan fearing more air strikes on suspected militant hideouts.

Pakistani Taliban patrol in their stronghold of Shawal in Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan. (AP) Pakistani Taliban patrol in their stronghold of Shawal in Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan. (AP)

Nearly 50,000 Pakistani tribesmen have fled the lawless North Waziristan Agency since last month as fears of a military operation in the area grew after air strikes on suspected militant hideouts, a media report said on Sunday. A large number of tribesmen have started migrating from Saidgi, Bangi Dar in North Waziristan and other areas besides villages in the agency headquarters of Miramshah.

However, Political Agent Siraj Ahmad Khan told journalists that he had directed administration officials to tell the tribesmen not to leave the agency as there was no fear of an operation. “A military operation is not imminent and there is no need for the tribesmen to flee,” Siraj claimed. The exact number of people evacuating could not be ascertained. Administration officials also declined to comment, as some remain in denial that there is a mass exodus taking place.

However, local tribesmen told The Express Tribune daily that nearly 50,000 tribesmen have fled the agency since last month. While some officials dismiss the evacuation as ‘routine’ and say that the tribesmen will return after a month, the vehicle stands at Miramshah Bazaar, Ghulam Khan Tehsil and Mirali Bazaar reveal a contrary situation, the daily said.

North Waziristan is one of seven semi-autonomous regions in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan and governed by tribal laws. The exodus of people comes in the backdrop of stalled peace dialogue and the military’s targeted air strikes against the militants in the tribal areas.

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While the government seems to still hope for a peace dialogue with the Taliban, it was forced to sanction the limited air strikes following the beheading of 23 Frontier Corps personnel. Analysts see the air strikes as a morale booster move for the security forces, which has been targeted by the Taliban repeatedly in the recent past despite peace parleys between the banned group and the government.

Government sources have maintained that they are still in support of dialogue and the air strikes should not be seen as beginning of a full-fledged military operation.

First published on: 23-02-2014 at 14:12 IST
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