ISLAMABAD - Some 10,000 Afghan settlers are reported to have left North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and other parts of FATA to go back to Afghanistan in the backdrop of the displacements triggered due to the launch of surgical strikes in the northwest.
These Afghans are among the foreigners who had moved from across the border in the recent years and were illegally staying in the tribal region. An overwhelming majority of these people is believed to be militants associated with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Although, any accurate or official figures regarding the number of Afghans and other foreign settlers in the NWA and other parts of FATA are not available, the officials at FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) cite rough or tentative estimations based on respective surveys conducted by the FDMA, FATA Secretariat, Provincial Disaster Management Authority (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and the security agencies which suggest around or over 100,000 illegal Afghan settlers including women and children might have moved to Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan from the NWA's Miranshah, Mir Ali, Razmak and Spinwarm areas since last month following the launch of aerial strikes.
Ministry of SAFRON (States and Frontier Regions) Spokesman Aqdas Shaukat on Wednesday last had confirmed to The Nation that Afghans in significant number moved to their homeland and their exact number was not known. "The Afghan settlers have direct ties with their relatives or kith and kin across the border which made it easy for them to return back."
To a query, he said some Afghans might have moved to Bannu and other areas along with the locals who relocated mainly from the NWA due to the surgical strikes. "This is also possible but the reports and information suggest that majority of the Afghans has returned to the other side of the border where they have family members who are facilitating their stay."
So far, the FDMA figures suggest, 25,500 locals from the NWA have relocated to Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar as the government makes arrangements to facilitate their stay at Kasho Bridge near Bannu.
"The issues like foreigners including Afghans moving across the border are being dealt with security forces. The civilian federal and provincial authorities are taking steps to recognise the relocated people as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and facilitate their stay in the IDP camps," Shaukat said.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Spokesperson in Pakistan Duniya Aslam Khan, the FATA does not have any registered (UNHCR-assisted) Afghan refugees. "The Afghan refugee camps in the FATA were closed back in 2005. There are no refugee camps or registered Afghan refugees in the NWA or FATA," she told this correspondent when asked on Thursday.
Sources in the FATA Secretariat believed it was not fully possible to check the illegal movement of the people to and from Afghanistan due to porous Pak-Afghan border. "The security pickets have been set up across the border but still you never know how many people and who enter into Pakistan's territory from Afghanistan and vice versa, everyday. This is a major reason of the largely unrestricted militants movement," they commented.
The Secretary Law and Order FATA Jamal Nasir on Wednesday admitted that complete border surveillance was not possible and the penetration of militants was hard to tackle. "It is true that porous border has adverse implications. But we are the ones to have suffered the most from this situation. The militants from the other side cross border to unleash terrorism in Pakistan. We take stringent security arrangements and preventive measures to avert cross-border terrorism but dealing with this kind of situation gets extremely difficult."
He also confirmed that Afghan settlers, in a unspecified number, have returned to their country in the backdrop of the relocation of the people from NWA due to security forces' action.
Refusing to comment whether the returned Afghans were mostly the militants, the secretary said, "I am not in a position to confirm that they were militants but I think its good for us that the Afghans who had unlawfully penetrated here have returned. Efforts would be to make sure they do not get here again."
Asked about the steps taken to stop the Afghans from re-entering Pakistan, Nasir said, "The cross-border infiltration has lately been minimum owing to the steps our security forces have taken in connection with the targeted actions taken against the TTP. But, as I said, the border is porous so there is always a room for the loopholes. But on our part, we are doing our best and the situation is different from the past."