The ongoing war against terrorism in FATA and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has made huge strides to restore peace and stability in the region.
However, there is one aspect which is often neglected in the rehabilitation process – the mental and psychological health of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by the military operation.
The Pakistan Army launched the Swat operation in 2009 which led to an unprecedented three million people to migrate and settle in camps in various areas KP.
In 2014 the army launched the decisive Operation Zarb-e-Azb and an offensive in North Waziristan, leading to a further two million people to flee from their homes.
Now the operation is reaching its conclusive stage, and the process of rehabilitation had started to allow IDPs to return to their homes with dignity and honor. However, the process which was supposed to be complete by December 2016 is still ongoing which no further deadlines.
Many returnees received monetary compensation to rebuild their homes which offers solace among a life of uncertainty, but there is no comparison to the life of hardship endured.
Mingora resident Khadija, 29, had never even dreamt to leave her home along with her husband and children, until she was compelled to move to a temporary abode in Dera Ismail Khan.
Khadija, who had never stepped foot outside town without her husband, was huddled into a vehicle to the IDP camp, and made to live in apathetic conditions which she never even imagined.
Khadija hustled to receive food supplies provided by the military, stood in long queues as migrants fought over resources and lived in a squalid camp with fear that her privacy may be violated.
This pushed her in stress and depression leaving a profound impact on her physical and mental health. Khadija was cleared to return war-ravaged town and destroyed house and start from starch to rebuilt their homes and lives.
Life is not easy for returnees
Gulalai Ismail, of Aware Girls, a non-front active in KP campaigning for the women rights, said that the biggest problem is the mental stress and depression among woman who were forced to migrate from their homes.
She has the effects of the Swat operation linger and a large number of the population including men and women are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This is an anxiety disorder which develops after a traumatic event and affects our mental health, moods, sleeping patterns and other diseases besides affecting our personality.
Ismail said that it is not an easy task to leave the comfort of your home and live a life in squalid camps, only to return home and rebuilt yourself. She said that it was rather unfortunate that peaceful residents paid the biggest price in the operation.
Sanitary and hygiene issues
Gulalai said that women also faced several personal hygiene and sanitary issues. Most of the restrooms were built far from the camps, leading women to walk long distances to relieve themselves particularly at night leading to further stress and embarrassment.
She said that during a visit to a camp, she witnessed women suffering such issues as restrooms and places to fetch water were built far away from the camp. Also, the conditions of restrooms were dismal such as lack of light and broken locks which further led to fears of violations of privacy among women.
This led to urinary infections and kidney failures as many women struggled with basic sanitary issues. Cases of sexual harassment were also reported.
Increase in domestic violence
Gulalai revealed that many women, who returned after life as IDP, told her that they suffered domestic violence and abuse, adding further misery to their lives.
The men, also suffering from stress and depression, laid their frustration on their wives and children. Most of women said that their husbands have never even raised their hands before the operation when they lived peacefully in their homes.
Increase in mental and psychological disorders
A representative from a small-scale organization working on mental health in KP said that an overwhelming number of the returnees are suffering from mental and psychological disorders.
He said that an environment of uncertainty and restlessness further exacerbate the condition, as many suffer from insomnia and other sleeping disorders.
He feared that many women and children may suffer from long-term probably life-long effects, even though many men might recover due to stronger physical health.
Gulalai said that many children told her that they face increasing difficulties in their education as many suffer from learning and attention deficit disorders. This affects their education as their also suffer from sleeping disorders.
Gulai suggests that it is imperative to develop rehabilitation centers where mental and psychological issues are also treated, but lamented that such institutions cannot exist where even basic healthcare is not provided.
“It is our old habit that we never learn lessons from the past,” she said while referring to problems faced by IDPS during the Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014.
The phase of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war affected areas is ongoing, and while peace is restored in the region, but the mental scars will remain for a long time to come.