After six months in a tent by the Jhelum river in Muzaffarabad, the ruined capital of Pakistani Kashmir, it is time for Jumadali Khokar to go home. April 07 marked the official start of the reconstruction phase of the region's recovery from the devastating earthquake that struck on October 8, killing 73,000 and displacing 2.5m.
For Jan Vandemoortele, the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator, the formal end of the relief phase of his mission is cause for celebration. "It's beyond belief that we're beyond relief," he says. "Six months ago, there was a sense of hopelessness. Many predicted a second wave of deaths, disease and epidemic, but it didn't happen."
The fast-emptying camps will soon be closed to all but the neediest. Mr. Khokar, who lost his four-year-old son in the earthquake, has no option but to return to the rubble that was once his family's three-room house. As he packs tent and stove into a hired Hyundai pickup, a return to the old life in Kashmir's Neelum Valley has little appeal.
"The government is making us move out," he says. "The roads are dangerous, there's no water and no hope of electricity. To be honest, I'd rather stay here." That is not possible. Run by the Turkish Red Crescent, the campsite he shared with 150 families stands on private land. Its owner, good deed done, is anxious to reclaim possession.
The issue of forcible returns is a sensitive one. The Pakistani military establishment is reluctant to see the camps turn into recruiting grounds for jihadi militants, just as international aid organisations are aware of the risk that they may be starting to encourage a dependency culture among some of the poorest people in Pakistan.
"There have been a few over-zealous commanders," worries Mr Vandemoortele, describing how in the town of Bagh, a 4pm departure deadline was set for April 08. "It was a bit like a hotel check-out. Sometimes there's been a bit of a push factor, but so far it's been a largely voluntary and informed return."
At least 100,000 out of an organised camp population of 300,000 will remain in situ beyond the coming winter, seven months away. Some will be widows and orphans. Others will have not only lost houses in the earthquake, but also seen the ground they stood on vanish in landslides. Many will be struggling to assert property rights.
Altaf Saleem, chairman of Pakistan's Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority, estimates 70-80 per cent of those in organised camps will go back voluntarily. Around 5.0 per cent are "freeloaders who will be persuaded to move out", he says, leaving just 15 per cent - or 45,000 people - with "genuine" problems.
With 2.5m displaced, there is a new race against time to build 600,000 homes before the onset of a second winter. The compensation system should help. Each household will receive Rs175,000 ($3,900, euro 3,200, £2,250) for building materials in instalments that are back-ended and subject to the approval of army engineers who must certify homes are quake-proof.
"It's logically do-able, but when will the stores be set up to sell these provisions?" asks Darren Boisuart of the International Organisation for Migration. "What if you're a tenant and need the permission of a landlord, who may be dead, to access this cash? What happens if three families were sharing a home? In a feudal society this is difficult."
No one doubts that there remain tremendous challenges, but six months after the earthquake, there is an emerging consensus among aid organisations and donor countries that military-ruled Pakistan has handled a natural disaster of unprecedented logistical complexity with professionalism and resolve.
"They haven't made any big mistake yet," says John Wall, country director of the World Bank, comparing Pakistan's management of the earthquake with missteps by countries such as Turkey, Sri Lanka, India and Iran in comparable situations. "It's not been perfect, but chaos and confusion is par for the course."
While some complain that the army squeezed civil society out of the relief effort, created space for jihadi groups and was opaque in its use of funds, they are a minority. Even in circles that are not normally pro-Pervez Musharraf, the country's military ruler, there is a genuine appreciation of the role the Pakistani army played.
"Most people feel that he's done a reasonable job on the quake," says Shalmaz Wazir Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy and former member of parliament for the Pakistan People's party. "In the speed of its response, the army did the best job it could do. Civil society could certainly not have done without it."
Jumadali Khokar agrees. "Whatever help came, it came because of the military and the aid agencies, not the state government," he says.
Under syndication arrangement with FE