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KukiKhel Rajgal IDPs living in caves decade after Tirah operation

They rebut official claims, say CNIC address SOP flawed

SAMAA | - Posted: Sep 24, 2021 | Last Updated: 4 weeks ago
Posted: Sep 24, 2021 | Last Updated: 4 weeks ago

Some of the women have been living in the caves for at least eight years. And if you ask them if they want to return home to Tirah, they wistfully talk about their goats and fields. We sit around here all day with nothing to do, they say. 

These women and their children form the loose ends of hundreds of Kukikhel tribe families who were displaced from Rajgal Tirah starting in 2012 when the worst of the fighting started. The Kukikhels are a subtribe of the Afridis who inhabited their own turf in the Tirah valley in what is now Khyber district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly Fata). Like most Pashtun tribes, the Kukikhels have fallen victim to the long-term violence, the Frontier Crimes Regulation, displacements and isolation. This tribe is famous for resisting militants in the form of the Tehreek-e-Taliban and Mangal Bagh all by themselves for years. 

The Jamrud hills where the families are staying. Photo: Meena Gabeena

How it started: 2012’s operations in Tirah

With the military operation in 2012, the displacements started to take place. The TTP attacked the Kukikhels and killed dozens of them. The security forces gave them two choices: leave their lands or reconcile, which they refused on a matter of principle. An estimated 2,000 families left around then, but the numbers are hard to pin down. 

Then from 2013 to 2017, amid fresh operations, 22,000 families had to flee. These numbers emerged later after the IDPs protested for a hundred days and the government agreed to register them. However, they now tell me that only 1,400 people were registered and received aid. But 22,000 Kukikhel families wanted to register so they could return. They complained that they were not being allowed to go back home and were not even being registered as IDPs. 

Some families have used stones to build walls in the Ali Masjid area of Jamrud. Photo: Meena Gabeena

After a year of living as IDPs without receiving relief from the government, some of them held demonstrations to ask questions about their repatriation. The then KP Governor Shaukatullah Khan told a jirga of tribal elders in Jamrud, Khyber Agency: “The repatriation of IDPs from Tirah Valley, Khyber Agency is now a mere matter of days.” But the days turned into almost a decade. The TTP turned Tirah into a sanctuary. The military operations continued.

What could we do? We were surrounded by the drums of war. Our little children saw grenades thrown and bomb attacks. We had livestock which were like members of our family that we had to leave behind. We had cattle and goats. We had our own fields and we would grow our own food. We left it all behind. (Shandana Bibi) 

Ali Masjid in Jamrud: refuge in caves

Many of the internally displaced families sought refuge in the caves at Ali Masjid in Jamrud. Ali Masjid is only three hours away from Islamabad and around 20 minutes from Peshawar. A USAid-funded road provides some access up to the foot of the hills and a small bazaar has opened at the bottom.

The few belongings that they could carry were robbed by Lashkar-e-Islam’s Mangal Bagh’s militants. They fled for their lives. There was no camp set up for them by the government to which they could temporarily be moved. Some of them had relatives in Jamrud and sought refuge there. Some families often have a second home, but the majority of people live below the poverty line. They grew poorer away from their self-sustaining lives of growing their own food and keeping their own livestock.

In 2010, army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani apologised to the Kukikhel after 63 tribespeople were killed on April 10 in the attack on suspected Taliban militants on the remote village of Saravilla, Tirah. “The Kukikhel tribe resisted attempts by the Taliban to extend their influence to Saravilla, something rare in a region where the militants have executed people who stand up to them,” Reuters had reported. “Many members of the tribe are serving in Pakistan’s military.”

Many people lost their family members during the haphazard displacement. Some of them still don’t know if those family members have died or if they are missing. “We are just women left behind,” said one woman. “Our men have either been killed or are missing or are finding work in other towns and countries. De da Plaar Wruk De.” His father is lost, she says, pointing at her 11-year-old son.

I travelled to Ali Masjid and Warmando Mela with the support of some of social workers Noshad and Ihsan Gul for a day to provide some relief items to 65 internally displaced Kukikhel Rajgal families with the help of political parties’ local leadership union. Not a single woman turned up when the relief packs were distributed. My aim was to speak to specifically the women who just like the Kukikhel men have faced the terror of war and displacement but with a huge added burden of patriarchy which keeps them vulnerable to abuse, invisible from photographs, protests, jobs, a voice, education. 

I insisted on meeting the women and ended up going to Ali Masjid. They told me there was no government school for girls in the area where they were now staying and girls had to go to private schools or no school at all. 

I found some women filling water from a hand pump and chatting with each other there. They told me they had been living in the caves in the mountains. Each family has an average of 14 people living together. In the last ten years they could have scraped together enough money to build at least a hut, but the uncertainty meant they were unable to make such decisions. They could be asked to leave the area any time. 

Tirah IDP children in Jamrud with Meena Gabeena
Many of these children have been born as IDPs. Photo: Meena Gabeena

We would be 14 to 20 people sleeping in one room. Our relatives have been very kind to us but people can give you home for a month, for a year, for even three years but we don’t personally feel good being a burden on our relatives for 10 years now. (Khwazha Bibi)

Some help trickled in along the way. People would give them solar panels and essentials where possible.

The trouble is that they could not go back to Tirah and if they did their homes are so badly damaged from the fighting that they need help rebuilding. A senior representative in the CLCP verification Jan Baz reminded Prime Minister Imran Khan in a video that he had promised to help.

From 2013 to 2017, hundreds of law enforcement personnel were killed and the PAF joined in the operation against militants. “With every bomb from the PAF, a home, a shop, a tree or field was prone to be razed to the ground. Today no home is intact in the Tirah Rajgal area,” says Noshad.

“They tell us peace has returned but they don’t let us go back to our broken homes and neither do they give us any compensation for the destruction of our homes,” said a young political activist. In August 2021, only 40 families were allowed to return. They were only given tents and kitchen utensils by the administration but no money or basic food. The IDPs have been told that 95 more families will be returned by September 26.

What the Kukikhels need: official line versus ground reality

The women and men asked for simple things when I spoke to them. 

– They want to be recognized as internally displaced persons because that’s who they are.
– They want to be provided with basic needs that include food and non-food items.
– They want to return to their homes.
– They want compensation for their livestock and their damaged homes most urgently upon return.
– They want closely located girls schools

Internal official correspondence provides a window into the way the system is not able to respond to the people’s needs. 

On Aug 19, 2020 there was internal correspondence that the people would be returned after level 3 clearance of the area. They were described as “temporary dislocated people”.

On March 8, 2021, the Relief Rehabilitation & Settlement department at KP wrote to the Prime Minister’s Public Affairs Unit about the compensation for the Kukikhels.

On March 26, 2021, the Prime Minister’s Public Affairs Unit responded to a request for compensation for the Kukikhel tribe sent by Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan.

The information given in the letter has been challenged by the Kukikhels and endorsed by the local political opposition union as not accurately portraying their situation. The comparison gives an insight into the bureaucratic difficulties encountered in such cases.

Here is the official table:

TribeTDP familes registeredFamilies returnedRemaining TDP families
Shalobar Qambarkhel10,93010,9300
Bar Qambarkhel9,6179,6170
Others 16010951
Not entered2,1951,929266
The official correspondence The position of the Kukikhels 
The Kukikhel tribe in its application has demanded for repatriation to their area of origin. It is further added that the return of the leftover TDPs families, including the Kukikhel tribe, was discussed at the appropriate forum. However, it was communicated by the TDP M&R Secretariat/HQ-11Corps that their return would be scheduled after level-3 clearance of the area, which is in process (Flag-C)Using the term “leftover TDPs for the KukiKhel Tribe is a “blatant lie”. The fact is that the whole Kukikhel Tribe is still barred from going to their origin of displacement (Tirah Rajgal) as it is still a “no-go area” and the claim is that the area is still not clear. The entire tribe is not even allowed to collect their dry fruit let alone return. In the table, it has been claimed that out of 1,373 registered families, 1,313 families have returned already which is false. Up till now not a single family has been allowed to return. The Kukikhel are IDPs from Tirah Rajgal, not from Jamrud near Peshawar.
It is further clarified that the majority of the families have two addresses, one is at Tirah and the other one at Jamrud, while the criteria for qualifying for the TDP status is that both the present and permanent addresses must be from the affected areas.The people of Tirah make CNICs on addresses of lower Khyber (Jamrud and Barra) as each Afridi tribe also owns land in these areas. Tirah is a remote area. The first road was paved in 2003. There was no government presence or any sort of registration offices. This is still the case. So it was natural for them to make CNICs on [those] addresses. Kukikhel IDPs repeatedly protested against these discriminatory SOPs since 2013. Whoever made these SOPs certainly didn’t consider the ground reality as people in ex-FATA are identified by their tribe and subtribe and not by their CNIC address. CNIC addresses of registered Tirah IDPs are also of lower Khyber (Jamrud) and can be verified in a simple audit of registered IDPs forms to which the CNIC is attached. 
As an estimated 5,000 plus families demand registration which cannot be entertained at this stage. Fresh registration is closed as a policy decision as it involves financial implications and demand of registration from other areas. Their area is still closed for return. As and when it is cleared by the security forces, their dignified return will be actualised.The figure of unregistered IDPs is above 20,000 families, a clue of which was provided in the 2018 registration for Tirah IDPs at the Levies centre Shakas Jamrud, Khyber. The 2018 return plan was blocked for unknown reasons while the security forces had given the FDMA a go-ahead in 2018. It is a matter of utmost concern that an area which was declared clear in 2018 is said to be “not clear” for return in 2021. 
Upon return, registered families, who sign their voluntary Return Form (VRF) will be provided return grants of Rs35,000 per family. While unregistered families will be provided non-food items etc. (on vulnerability basis). First they were deprived of assistance as IDPs for the past ten years and now on return they will be deprived of compensation even if their destroyed properties are verified by the civil administration, military officials and local committees during the CLCP survey. 

The Kukikhel letter puts forward their stance. “We request to honorable prime minister, Imran Khan, honorable president of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, to investigate these contradictory statements, fix the issues so that all Kukikhel IDPs are fully supported and their earliest rehabilitation is made possible to reclaim their lost livelihood.”

The people said that their land and abandoned homes had been illegally occupied. In many locations installations and complexes had been built in residential areas where locals will feel “an intrusion in their privacy” and it will also restrict the movement of women who work outside the homes in the fields and forests. 

“After repeated protests, a Citizen Losses Compensation Program survey was started last year in October. Tirah Rajgal’s CLCP survey along with de-mining is being conducted and verified by army teams, the civil administration and local committees. It is time to speed up the CLCP survey and compensate every family whose homes and properties were destroyed (as verified in CLCP). These families must also be compensated for their loss of livelihood from the past ten years along with compensation for their destroyed properties as currently they are being deprived of any assistance due to the discriminatory CNIC address SOP.

“We the people of Tirah Rajgal request the government to make arrangements for the return of Tirah IDPs before Eid ul Fitr 2021 to Mehbraban Kale and Tordarah of which the CLCP survey has been concluded.”

Forty families returned in July 2021 and 95 families plan to return at the end of September. All of the families are going to the periphery outside the main Rajgal Valley. “The main Rajgal valley is still a no-go area for locals. Also a CLCP survey in Tirah Rajgal has been stopped for the last five months or so. The survey was started in October 2020 and till now (Sept 2021) hardly 300 homes have been surveyed in one square kilometer outside the main valley. Tirah Rajgal is a large area and the homes are in the thousands.”

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One Comment

  1. Zahid Khan Afridi  September 25, 2021 2:44 pm/ Reply

    Dear Madam,

    Thank you for coming and distributed food packages among the IDPs of Tirah Rajgal.

    We appreciate and support your efforts done for our community.

    Best Wishes,

    Zahid Khan Afridi chairman Sayya Welfare Organiziation.

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