JANOKHAR: “Fidaye Salman ta salamuna" [Salute to the suicide bomber Salman], reads the conspicuous banner featuring a teenager's face.

The banner is affixed on a wall at the entrance of Janokhar, a small town of 800 people tucked some 50 kilometres away from Peshawar in the Frontier Region (FR). The village's entrance is a bazaar bustling with Afghan traders carrying on their day’s activities – the traders come from a refugee camp nearby.

Given the size of the town, the banner is hard to miss. It further reads in Pushto: “Salman has embraced martyrdom in [a] suicide attack on Nato forces in Afghanistan [which has] killed many Americans.”

There is no organisation or affiliation mentioned.

“No one knows who put it up,” a shopkeeper, who requests to stay anonymous shares. While no individual or group has claimed responsibility for it, he continues, no one from the town has dared take it down either.

A scene in Janokhar village, FR Peshawar. —Photo by the author
A scene in Janokhar village, FR Peshawar. —Photo by the author

The menace of terrorism

It takes almost two hours to travel from Peshawar to the (FR), the tribal areas south of the provincial capital.

Entering the region at Shamshatoo, the traveler is received by Khasadar and levies forces deployed a security check point. Shamshatoo is also the site of the refugee camp where many Afghan refugees stay.

Similar check points are scattered around Tank, Kohat, Banu, Dera Ismail Khan and Laki Marwat, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of the FR tribal areas. Most FR residents belong to the Adam Khel tribe, but the region is also host to a diversity sub-tribes like HasanKhel, Jawakai, Janokhor and Ashokhel.

“We have survived three military operations against insurgents,” Zaman*, a resident of Janokhar says. Janokhar’s population is made up of only 100 households, with an average of 8 members in each household.

Like the rest of PR, Janokhar’s residents live amidst lush, hilly fields that display no hints of the region’s tumultuous past -- one ridden with repeated incidents of clashes between militants and the Pakistani army.

“Peace has been restored,” Zaman assures. Young men like him join the local militia, run by to provide support to the local administration. They help sustain peace by fighting militants when required.

“The residents would never let militants occupy the region again,” he says confidently.

The region is looked after by the deputy commissioner Kohat through an assistant political agent. But while military operations are on a pause, other problems remain. FR’s residents are habitual to isolation and a lack of facilities. Educational institutions are non-existent, Zaman shares, and there is no internet.

The menace of terrorism, too, hangs in the air.

The government has taken measures against militancy by banning all materials that glorify terror under the National Action Plan. Yet the poster glorifying a suicide bomber pasted on Janokhar’s bazaar entrance stays up in fearless defiance.

Living in isolation

Thin-bearded Sher Alam fiddles with the volume on his phone music box. A pashto song plays louder.

“There was no cellular network here in the past few decades,” he says, lamenting his village’s isolation from the rest of the country.

Only a single cellular tower was installed, and that too, far away from the village, up in the mountainous Cherat.

There is no school in the PR region either – for boys or girls. The older generations living in the village are mostly illiterate, but Zaman feels the government is deliberately keeping the children illiterate, too.

“They are keeping us in ignorance,” he remarks bitterly. “We are in dire need of schools and colleges.”

Fata’s directorate of education released a report last year that marked the region’s literacy rate at 37.6 per cent for both sexes. Gender-wise, the figure was 62.1pc for males and an abysmal 12.1 pc for females.

A home-made “wooden antenna"

Given the general lack of access, residents of Janokhar are often forced to take matters into their own hands.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTCL)’s landline service does not cover the entire FR. Contacting friends and family is a daily conundrum for residents. According to Fata Development Statistics, there are only two PTCL offices in FR who have issued a total of 275 connections to the region’s population of over 74,236 people.

Two years ago, Alam remembers desperately searching for a spot with good connectivity, so he could call his brother in Karachi. While roaming around the village, Alam stumbled upon a place where his phone’s screen lit up with network bars.

“Signal raghay!” [Signals appeared] Alam remembers exclaiming in excitement. “I didn’t change my place. I stayed in the spot where I found the signals.”

That’s when Alam had an idea.

He went to the village guest house in the morning, a space jointly constructed and managed by residents for gatherings and entertainment. Alam told the villagers he had stumbled upon a “signal place”, where one could message or call people in other towns and countries.

Alam and two friends installed what they call a “wooden-antenna”. They took rabbit-ear shaped tree bark and anchored it into the ground. Next, an empty shampoo bottle was attached horizontally between the two ears.

The rabbit-ear shaped "wooden-antenna" installed at Janokhar village in FR Peshawar. —Photo by the author
The rabbit-ear shaped "wooden-antenna" installed at Janokhar village in FR Peshawar. —Photo by the author
30 year old Sher Alam talks to his friend on the phone via the "wooden-antenna" he installed in Frontier Region Peshawar, a region particularly isolated from the rest of the country.  —Photo by the author
30 year old Sher Alam talks to his friend on the phone via the "wooden-antenna" he installed in Frontier Region Peshawar, a region particularly isolated from the rest of the country. —Photo by the author

Alam fixes his phone upon his creation, showing how the makeshift poles help hold it in place. “Three bars of signals are enough to connect with friends,” he comments, dialing a number.

According to him, this is the only point in the village where residents can access the cell phone network. It has become the village’s PCP – “public call point,” he explains, placing his phone to his ear: “Pakher alaka sanga ye?” [Salam man, how are you?]

*Middle name used to protect identity due to fear of security threats.

The author is the Media Technical Adviser with GIZ’s Independent Project Reporting based in Peshawar. He tweets @Izhar2u

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