A United Nations team visited Pakistan’s battle-scarred Swat Valley today as hundreds of refugees made their way back to the troubled area.
At least 23,040 families from the Swat, Malakand, Dir and Buner districts will return to the valley as part of a three-phase repatriation programme over 14 days to help thousands of displaced families living in crowded camps return to their homes.
The United Nations Department of Security and Safety sent a security assessment mission to the region, members of which will meet district officials and assess the repatriation plan on the ground.
Amjad Jamal, a UN World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman, said that they were joining the mission to help the refugees return to normal life.
“WFP is joining the Security Assessment Mission with two of its staff members to look into the possibilities of opening humanitarian hubs for Swat,” he said.
“The objective is to quickly assess the needs of the conflict-affected population and to identify a strategic and coherent response to enable a timely and sustainable recovery,” he added.
The team will put together an assessment report which is expected by the middle of next month.
Internally Displaced Persons Emergency Response Unit co-ordinator Aghar Ali confirmed that 665 families went back yesterday and 2,000 families returned to the valley today.
“The government is doing everything to improve the situation in the Swat region. However, it will take time before facilities are completely back to normal,” he said.
“So far we have not faced any untoward incident and the (repatriation) process in going smoothly,” Mr Ali added.
However, there were reports of discontent among some of the refugees who felt that the ousted Taliban militants could return once again. Analysts feel much more work is required in the region to ease the residents’ concerns.
“There is a lot of apprehension. A similar thing happened in 2007 when Pervez Musharraf was in power,” Shaukat Qadir, a former brigadier of the Pakistan Army said. “The army had promised a permanent presence which did not happen. So people lost faith.
“The only way for the apprehensions to be eased is for people to see that something is happening. They need something visible – to see that the army is carrying out its promise,” he added.
Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, said last week the security situation and basic services needed to be acceptable before people were rehabilitated. The army also claimed that it had “eliminated” Taliban forces from the Swat Valley situated in the North West Frontier Province.
The Taliban sparked violence nearly two months ago after they broke a peace deal and expanded operations into districts just 60 miles from the capital Islamabad.
They were expected to disarm in exchange for the implementation of Sharia law in the Malakand division, an area which includes the Swat Valley.
More than two million people had been displaced as a result of the fighting and have been living in crowded conditions in camps on the borders of the North West Frontier Province.
Meanwhile, a UN official visited the spot where former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated before the arrival of a mission to investigate her death.
The three-member commission is expected to arrive in Islamabad on Thursday and will look at the cause of her death and determine the facts and circumstances behind the incident.
The official was escorted by police commandos during yesterday’s visit and later met interior minister Rehman Malik, interior secretary Syed Kamal Shah and senior security officials to finalise the programme for the inquiry’s mission.
Former Pakistan People’s Party leader Ms Bhutto was killed after a public rally on December 27 2007.