Getting the people of South Waziristan to return is key to preventing militants from regrouping and using the northwest region to threaten Pakistan and the West.
The elders' reluctance stems from a perception that the tribally ruled area remains dangerous. They also are resisting demands they form a militia on their return to fight any remaining Taliban in the region, which would make them a target of insurgent attacks.
"There is no peace," said Hakim Khan, an elder from the region's powerful Mehsud tribe staying in Dera Ismail Khan, a major town not far from the tribal zone. "Why does the government want to send us back?"
After months of prodding by the United States, the Army launched a ground offensive in South Waziristan in October to retake it from the Pakistani Taliban, an al Qaeda-allied group whose leaders and rank and file include many Mehsud tribesmen.
The United States has praised the offensive, saying it is critical to keep the tribal areas from being safe havens for militants attacking Western troops in Afghanistan and the Pakistani state. But many insurgents, including top commanders, are believed to have fled to other parts of the tribal belt, including neighbouring North Waziristan.
Dera Ismail Khan: Tribal elders are refusing to return to a former Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold bordering Afghanistan despite Army claims the region is safe, jeopardising hopes to bring back the 290,000 people who fled last year's military offensive.
First Published: Friday, April 30, 2010, 12:22