People fleeing the war-torn North Waziristan area of Pakistan and arriving in Sindh Province in the south of the country are finding themselves increasingly unpopular. Last month, roads were closed off when angry residents demanded an end to such migration, while the provincial government has made moves to ban all internally displaced persons (IDPs) from entering Sindh.
Sher Alam, 55, fled the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali at the end of June after the Pakistani government sent thousands of troops to the region. Desperate to stay alive, he travelled to the Sindh capital of Karachi, arriving on 30 June. On the bus he and the other IDPs were stopped five times by Sindh police who queried their motives for entering Sindh and sometimes demanded bribes. “They were harassing us by asking unnecessary questions and in fact, asking for money,” Alam told IRIN.
The Pakistani government, allegedly backed by US drones, has been carrying out attacks in the Waziristan area for many years in a bid to root out the Taliban and other militant groups, leading to displacements, but the humanitarian crisis intensified in June when the army announced a major operation following a Taliban attack on Karachi airport.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled their homes, with the Pakistani authorities registering nearly a million IDPs. There are no official estimates for how many may have ended up in Sindh Province, nearly 1,000km away, but experts believe it could be tens of thousands.
Sindh Province is home to the Sindhi people, who are culturally and ethnically distinct from the rest of the country. They are heavily influenced by the mystical Sufi form of Islam. For that reason they have sometimes been targeted by the Taliban, who believe Sufis to be apostates.
As more migrants have entered the region, analysts say hostility towards them has grown. In June the provincial government announced it would prevent all North Waziristan IDPs from entering the region, a decision they reversed a week later. Muhammad Abbass Baloch, commissioner at the Sukkar Division of Sindh Province, confirmed to IRIN that they no longer prevented IDPs from entering but were increasing security checks. “Every Pakistani resident can come to Sindh as it is his constitutional right… We are only checking the IDPs and collecting their data,” he told IRIN.
Radical and increasingly powerful groups in Sindh feel the checks are not enough. The Save Sindh Committee (SSC), which campaigns for the expulsion of non-Sindhi residents, has taken to ever more vocal tactics to try and force tougher measures against IDPs. Between 5 and 11 July its members blocked key roads; on 22 July they brought whole parts of the region to a standstill through a crippling strike.
“We feel sad for the IDPs who had to leave their homes and migrate but we will not welcome them in Sindh,” Jalal Mehmood Shah, chairman of the SSC, told IRIN. He said the IDP influx was causing a demographic imbalance in the province and feared that Taliban militants could enter Sindh under the guise of being displaced. “They ought to be settled in areas near to their home towns,” he said.
Analysts said groups such as SSC were increasing the pressure on the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the predominantly Sindhi party that rules the state, to introduce tough restrictions on IDPs.
“The PPP, which believes in federal politics, is also not able to [deflect] criticism by rival political groups over stopping the IDPs in Sindh,” said Imdad Soomro, a Karachi-based journalist who covers Sindh’s politics.
Pashtuns feel the pinch
IDPs from North Waziristan are not the only ones facing hostility. There have been increasing reports of law enforcement agencies and even workers of Sindhi ethnic parties harassing ethnic Pashtuns in the province.
Many from the Pashtun Mehsud tribe fled South Waziristan five years ago, during the military’s Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Path to Salvation) against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a banned militant group. Yet they complain that despite the hostility towards them in Sindh, the Pakistani military is not allowing them to return home.
“Tens of thousands of families from Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan… moved to Sindh [during Rah-e-Nijat],” said Sohail Khattak, a Karachi-based Pashtun journalist. “[Those] living in Karachi are willing to go back but the government is not allowing them,” he added.
Not all in Sindh are willing to accept increased hostility towards the IDPs, with rights activists pushing back. Shah Wali Khan, head of the Pashtun Peace and Development Movement (PPDM - a Karachi-based civil society group working in the local Pashtun community) said his movement had received multiple complaints from IDPs of police harassment. “It is an injustice for people who have left their homes for the sake of peace in the country,” Khan told IRIN.
He believes that attempts to prevent IDPs from entering Sindh are a violation of Articles 15, 18 and 23 of the Pakistan constitution relating to freedom of movement, trade and the acquisition of property. PPDM, he added, is currently submitting a petition in court against “law enforcement personnel harassment faced by the IDPs.”