WANA: In the last week of July, nearly 12 years after the Taliban lost control over South Waziristan Agency, I visited my hometown Ladha along with some other journalists and military personnel. When we reached Maidan, a village in Ladha tehsil, all I could see was total destruction. There were no human beings, only wild boar.

The six villages in Maidan of two Mahsud sub-tribes, the Langerkhel and the Shamankhel, were reduced to rubble as a result of heavy rains, snowfall and the absence of their tribal residents. They fled seven years ago as the military prepared to get Operation Rah-i-Nijat under way in 2009.

Destruction was everywhere and the unchecked growth of wild flora made it difficult for me to discern the paths that had led to my hometown. The water channels made by our forefathers for irrigation have been lost, and now a road is being built across fields that were once the most precious asset of the tribe.

In this file photo taken from a Pakistani army helicopter, empty houses whose roofs have been removed by the army during an operation are seen in South Waziristan.— AFP
In this file photo taken from a Pakistani army helicopter, empty houses whose roofs have been removed by the army during an operation are seen in South Waziristan.— AFP

The streams of sweet, cold water that were the only source of drinking water for the local people have been badly affected. Even the debris of destroyed homes and shops has been looted.

This scene of devastation is not limited to Maidan; the situation in Ladha and Makeen tehsils is even worse.

I was part of a group of 16 journalists from South Waziristan Agency and Dera Ismail Khan visiting SWA on the invitation of General Commanding Officer Major General Khalid Javed of Wana division.

When we reached an IDPs’ transit point Khirgi, Waziristan, Political Agent Zafarul Islam Khattak and Colonel Imran, who is in charge of the IDPs, briefed us about the post-operation rehabilitation and different government strategies to help the IDPs. They explained that this is the 14th and final phase of the Mahsud IDPs’ rehabilitation, which will continue till December this year. By then all the Mahsud IDPs will have returned home if everything goes as planned.

An old man, Mehmood Langerkhel, was waiting here to go back home. He told me: “I’ll have to live under an open sky with my family because my house has been destroyed. I am left with no savings, but I am nevertheless happy that I am going back to my hometown.”

Subsequently, we left for Wana via Jandola, Serwekai. We were welcomed by Col Iftikhar at Molay Khan Serai and in Wana Col Adeel and the principal of the cadet college, Mr Nadeem, welcomed and briefed the journalists.

Before reaching Wana, during our short stay at old Serwekai, the people there shared their problems with us. Rehmatullah, an old man, said sadly: “My house was destroyed, one little grandson died and my arm was fractured during the shelling on our village. After burying my grandson, we left our village and now, there is nothing left here.

“Not only have the electric cables on poles and transformers been lost, even the two tubewells of the village have become useless. We have neither electricity nor drinking water.”

Having said this, he bemoaned: “Even if we get all these facilities back, can anyone return to me my beloved grandson?”

That night over dinner, Maj Gen Javed told us about different aspects of the military operation, the losses faced by the tribal people, the rehabilitation process for the IDPs, and about different development projects.

He observed that devastation becomes the fate of people in a war zone. He spoke excitedly about the tribal people: “The patience and understanding shown by them during the operation is unforgettable.”

He added: “The construction of quality roads and other development projects that have been or are soon to be completed will not only be a reward for the matchless sacrifices rendered by tribals, but also a guarantee of their prosperous future.”

Uplift projects

The list of development projects undertaken with the help of the government, different NGOs and by the security forces is so long that it is not possible to write it down here. But I must mention the establishment of two cadet colleges and three army public schools, where hundreds of students from the tribes are currently enrolled. This is a remarkable achievement that will go a long way in propelling the local youth into professional colleges.

Apart from these, the establishment of the UAE-funded Government Degree College Ladha with a fully equipped science laboratory and two beautifully constructed hospitals with modern medical equipment in Sholam Wana and Molay Khan Serai are definite positives.

A resident of Molay Khan Serai, Kamran Habib, said that hospitals in Molay Khan and Sholam Wana were commendable and the modern medical equipment available there is comparable to that in any hospital in Islamabad and Lahore.

But due to negligence and absence of skilled workers, these machines may become useless. Raising the issue of the insufficiency of doctors, Kamran called for the appointment of more doctors and for measures to protect equipment.

According to the officials, a modern agriculture park is to be established in Wana Larr and a 55-km dual carriageway is to be constructed along the Pak-Afghan border from Angoor Adda to Razmak, North Waziristan.

This road will link the Mahsud tribe areas Tangi Badinzai, Dray Daki and Ramishta Badar to the Wana-Makeen road via two link roads. This will facilitate the linkage of South Waziristan agency to the Gwadar-Kashgar highway near Dera Ismail Khan.

This also holds out a hope for setting up of factories in the area, perhaps even a new town. The Miranshah-Razmak-Makeen road will also provide trade opportunities.

But all these projects will bear fruit only if the tribal people accept that an irreversible change has occurred in their area. Now they must start a new life, benefiting from all available facilities and giving up tribal customs. They will have to prefer collective objectives to individual goals.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2016

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