ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan will on Sunday start returning the first batches of nearly a million civilians ordered to leave their homes ahead of an anti-Taliban offensive in North Waziristan on the Afghanistan border, officials told Reuters on Friday.
“It will take time to send so many people home but when things get better in these areas, we will start to shift more and more people,” minister for frontier regions Abdul Qadir Baloch said.
The offensive in North Waziristan began in June 2014 and displaced nearly a million people.
Civilians will also be allowed back in other regions, Baloch said.
“We have almost two million people to send back, between North Waziristan, South Waziristan and Khyber agency,” he said, referring to parts of the northwestern tribal areas that have served as the base of some of the country’s most feared al Qaeda-linked militants. All three regions border Afghanistan.
Military offensives in Khyber and South Waziristan began in 2009; civilians have been allowed to return to only parts of those areas. Khyber saw more fighting last year.
A generation of Pakistani militants have used the areas to launch attacks on the Pakistani state and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Jeremy Laurence