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Displaced Pakistanis prepare for risky return to South Waziristan

Officials say the military has secured the area after an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban. But recent attacks heighten concerns and underscore the fact that the militants were dispersed, not wiped out.

November 28, 2010|By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times

"To begin a return of refugees now is unrealistic," said Imtiaz Gul, an Islamabad security analyst and author of "The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier," a look at militancy in Pakistan's tribal areas.

"Taliban militants are a mobile enemy. They don't sit in one place, waiting for the army or drone to come. The army may have dislodged them from South Waziristan, but many hide here and there, and when they get an opportunity, they will strike."

Pakistani authorities say the military's continued presence in South Waziristan should reassure those who return. They acknowledge that the army doesn't have the manpower to post troops in every village, and say it will rely on cooperation and intelligence from the people to help keep the Taliban from reemerging.

"Unless they're totally erased, the Taliban will try to come back," said Khan, the disaster management official. "We can't expect them to hold wreaths of flowers for returning refugees."

Many of the displaced wonder what they will find when they do return. Malik Mukaram Khan, 45, said military airstrikes and mortar fire razed his farmhouse in the village of Sararogha, destroyed his apple orchards and the small fabric shop he ran, and killed his cow and two dozen sheep.

He'll have to start from scratch to support an extended family of 16. But it probably will be better than scraping by in Dera Ismail Khan, where no one will give Mahsud tribesmen work out of fear that they may be Taliban-linked. Baitullah Mahsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader killed by a drone strike last year, was of the same tribe, as is his successor, Hakimullah Mahsud. But most Mahsud tribesmen are not members of the militant organization.

When he considers the future, Khan said, he thinks short-term: "I think I may not be able to survive the next month."

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