The Pakistani military has been engaged in a major offensive in the tiny Bajaur Agency since early August. On August 24, at the behest of Bajauri tribal elders, the Tehreek-e Taliban announced a unilateral ceasefire. At the time, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik condemned the proposed ceasefire as unacceptable, and demanded instead that the militants publicly surrender in Islamabad.
The fighting displaced hundreds of thousands from Bajaur into squalid refugee camps. Only a week later, at the behest of tribal area legislators, the Pakistani government announced a ceasefire of its own, in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. When it was announced, Minister Malik assured the displaced that they could return home “without any fear“.
But the promised ceasefire never materialized. Though Tehreek-e Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar insisted his faction has not as of yet broken the ceasefire, attacks by Pakistan’s military against militants in Bajaur and the surrounding area have continued unabated, prompting tribal area legislators to threaten to leave Pakistan’s coalition government.
More pressing than the inner workings of Pakistan’s tenuous coalition government, however, is that the Red Cross has reported that the refugees are still unable to return home. Complicating matters is a lack of clean water for the refugees, which has lead to an outbreak of cholera among the displaced. The vast majority, an estimated 80 percent of the refugees are women and children. The Red Cross described the situation in Bajaur as “very volatile,” making it unlikely, despite the assurances of the Pakistani government, that they will be able to return home any time soon.
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