ISLAMABAD // Residents of Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region, displaced in October 2009 by a military offensive against Taliban militants, have this week begun to trickle back to their homes, UN and Pakistani military officials said.
Pakistan's army chief, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, said during a tour of the region that about 2,000 displaced families had returned to their homes since Saturday.
Their return, he said, was evidence that the security situation in South Waziristan was "under control".
The United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, said the resettlement was under way with 30 to 50 families returning daily to towns and villages in the Jandola and Tank areas under military escort.
Jandola and Tank are areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province that border the South Waziristan tribal "agency".
About 364,000 people were forced to flee South Waziristan and adjacent areas ahead of the 2009 military offensive.
However, experts on Pakistan's tribal areas said that military claims to have "cleared" the South Waziristan of militants were misleading, and could put returning residents at risk.
Ashraf Ali, the president of Fata Research Council, an Islamabad-based think tank, said: "The military's concept of 'clear' is to secure towns and major roads."
Fata, or federally administered tribal areas, is the official name for the seven tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan.
Mr Ali said Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants had altered their appearance to avoid being identified, but retained an ominous presence in mountainous areas of South Waziristan.
"They have issued three separate warnings, telling the displaced people not to return for their own safety. Those warnings ought be to taken seriously," Mr Ali said.
Analysts said the TTP had re-emerged in August, and resumed attacks on troops positioned in the mountainous areas populated by the Mehsud tribe, killing eight soldiers.
In November, the TTP extended its influence to the Wana area, forming an alliance with six commanders of the Wazir tribe.
Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP chief, had shown political acumen by appointing Wali Mohammed as their head, the analysts said.
Mr Mohammed is admired as the son of Nek Mohammed, an Ahmedzai Wazir who founded the Pakistani Taliban. He was killed in 2004 in the first recorded United States drone strike on Pakistani territory.
The TTP had prepared the ground for Mr Mohammed by killing Maulvi Noor Mohammed, a highly respected cleric and former member of the federal parliament, in a suicide attack on his Wana seminary in August.
He had been instrumental in negotiations between the Pakistani authorities and militant commanders of the Wazir tribe.
In 2006, he had persuaded Maulvi Nazir, the dominant Ahmedzai Wazir commander, to expel Arab and Uzbek militants living in the area.
He also forced their hosts, other militant Wazir commanders, to flee after fighting in which 400 militants were killed.
Mr Nazir signed a peace agreement with the government prior to the launch of the military offensive in 2009, sparing the Wana area.
However, his dominant position has been undermined by the new TTP chief in Wana, Wali Mohammed, who has joined hands with the commanders expelled by Mr Nazir in 2006.
Mansur Khan Mehsud, an Islamabad-based researcher, said: "The killing of Maulvi Noor Mohammed was a major setback for Nazir, because the emergence of Wali Mohammed would mean the return of the Uzbek militants."