Tears rolled down the cheeks of Sajjad Khan when he saw destroyed houses, markets and government buildings and chopped trees along the road during a visit to his native village in Malakdin Khel area of Bara a week ago.
This 26-year-old member of the Khyber Khasadar Force was part of the security team of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor, who visited Bara on January 26.
He told Dawn that his family’s sprawling compound was hit thrice by mortar shells, which damaged most of the living quarters.
“I’ve yet to muster some courage to see the destruction,” he said.
Sajjad Khan said he heaved a sigh of relief after knowing that no member of the family was present at the compound when mortar shells hit it but at the same time, he was upset over the damage done to the building.
The government school in Kohi Sher Haider, where he had early education, was also destroyed in the attack.
The destruction was so much that he hardly recognised his classrooms.
Militants took along all remains of the building after blowing it up with dynamites some years ago leaving behind only a small mound of rubble.
Looking out from the window of our vehicle while traveling to Fort Salop in Malakdinkhel area via Kohi Bazaar, the Khasadar Force soldier said with a big awe, “Oh my God, they (militants) destroyed this house too, where one of my class fellows lives.”
He repeated the sentence at least a dozen times.
The attack also turned some houses of his relatives and family friends into ruins.
“We saw at different places a number of buildings, including mosques and seminaries, in Dogra, Mandai Kas, Nala, Kohi Chowk, Speen Qabar and Alamgudar localities with bullet marks and big holes created by mortar shells,” Sajjad Khan said.
How can IDPs could go back? Their houses are unsuitable for living, by and large. Shelter is their immediate requirement along with restoration of power supply and reopening of link roads, says Bazaar Gul of a Bara-based political organisation
Qazi Rauf, a local journalist who also accompanied the governor during the visit, said most houses were hit by mortar shells but it had yet to be established who fired them, militants or the military.
“Nobody is willing to take responsibility of wrecking havoc on the people’s houses,” he said, adding that scores of local residents mostly women and children lost life in attacks.
With the government yet to announce a final date for the return of 600,000 registered displaced persons to their homes in Bara, most of IDPs are worried about their damaged houses.
Like Sajjad Khan, Gulabat Khan, 52, is upset at the days ahead for his family when they will be asked to vacate their three tent temporary abode in Jalozai camp and go back to Bara.
“I had a rare chance of visiting my house in Akkakhel one and a half years ago and I saw the roofs of all five rooms of my house collapsed and its windows and doors stolen by unidentified people,” he told Dawn.
Officials of the Fata Disaster Management Authority said they would pay Rs400,000 for destroyed houses and Rs160,000 for partially damaged ones.
“But we have yet to begin a survey of the affected houses in Bara as the area was only recently ‘de-notified’ by the security forces,” an official of the FDMA said, adding that the authority awaited a go-ahead from security officials to send their team for ascertaining the condition of houses and damaged government structures.
Bazaar Gul, the founding member of a Bara-based political organisation, Khyber Union, asked how most IDPs could go back as their houses were unsuitable for living by and large.
“Shelter is our immediate requirement along with restoration of power supply and reopening of all the link roads,” he said.
Gul said the road closure and excessive checking at checkpoints was another major hurdle to the IDPs’ early repatriation.
“The local political administration along with security forces stationed in Bara need to revise their security plan and make arrangements for the easy movement of returning families,” he said.
The current dilapidated condition of link roads in Bara was also a source of grave concern for IDPs, said Sajjad Khan and his colleague, Hayatkhel, who belongs to Shalobar tribe.
“Five years ago, the condition of roads in Bara was much better and traveling from one part to another was convenient,” Hayatkhel said.
He also had fond memories of the days he spent in Bara prior to the formation of militant groups and the subsequent military operations, which, he said, had adversely affected the security situation in Bara.
“I along with my friends would hire a taxi from Peshawar even at midnight and go to Shalobar via Shahkas Road a decade ago,” he recalled when he worked as a carrier of smuggled goods from Bara to cities in Punjab and would come back late in the night to his house in Shalobar area. He said most damage to Bara roads was caused by movement of tanks and other heavy military vehicles during the last five years.
“It will require a decade and huge funding to repair these roads as improvised explosive devices planted by suspected militants to target military convoys also caused immense damage to the roads,” he said.
According to the official estimates, the buildings of 95 of the total of 323 local educational institutions were destroyed, while 48 were partially damaged.
The FDMA officials said they had sought from the federal government Rs162.57 million for the reconstruction of damaged educational institutions.
The authority has also demanded Rs9.89 million and Rs399.07 million for the repair of damaged buildings of health units and roads in Bara.
During the visit, Governor Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan said Rs850 million had been released for the restoration of damaged infrastructure in Bara during the first phase with a focus on the immediate restoration of power supply and provision of clean drinking water to the people along with the repair of partially damaged school and health unit buildings.
He also announced a comprehensive development plan would be executed after displaced families returned to Bara, which was expected to happen after February 15.
The governor also laid stress on the restoration of the ‘lost glory’ of Bara Bazaar and said he would soon meet local traders for making a strategy to revive economic and business activities in the historic bazaar.
“I am personally interested in persuading the people of other parts of the country to resume coming to Bara market for shopping as it had remained a huge center for foreign goods in the past,” he said.
Prior to the military operations, Bara also had vast and fertile agricultural lands, where local farmers would cultivate wheat, corn and vegetables. There were also some orchards in isolated localities of Akkakhel.
“All is lost now as over 80 per cent of Bara population were forced to flee homes leaving behind their agricultural land barren and uncultivated for five years,” said Suhbat Khan, a local farmer.
He said the tunnels built in Sipah area for cultivating agricultural land were choked with sand and mud due to a lack of maintenance as the relevant people too fled the area for insecurity.
Suhbat Khan regretted that no attention was paid to the cleaning and restoration of the Speray dam, which was constructed in early 70s by the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government and was still considered a lifeline for most Bara farmers.
He said the dam water would cultivate vast cultivable lands in Sipah, Shalobar, Malakdinkhel and Bar Qambarkhel areas through small water channels.
“These channels require immediate repair in order to prevent seepage of water,” he said.
Published in Dawn February 1st, 2015