BANNU: The World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday began distributing aid for hundreds of thousands who have fled a military operation 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” after a sword used in battle by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
The operation is aimed at flushing out Taliban and Al Qaeda militants from the North Waziristan tribal district along the Afghan border, their stronghold for several years.
Pakistan’s well-funded armed forces have unleashed their full arsenal of weaponry including jet fighters, tanks and artillery, killing close to 280 people they have described as militants, though the toll and identity of victims is impossible to verify.
The operation has forced some 435,000 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 operations by the army in recent years.
Forty-year-old Meera Jan, who spoke 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 yesterday through a local non-government partner, after police were forced to disperse thousands of protesters angered by hours of delays. AFP