I RECENTLY visited Miramshah and my village, Darpa Khel — after many years, owing to militancy followed by Operation Zarb-i-Azb. Much has been written on the miseries of the tribesmen during militancy and displacement. Here, I examine what their lives look like after returning home.
December in this part is dry and dusty. Trees denuded and grass lifeless; it paints a picture of epic sadness. The road is newly constructed, but traffic is very thin compared to the past.
Travelling to and from North Waziristan is extremely difficult. One cannot travel without a Watan Card, no matter how many other forms of identification one has. Then, the checking en route is humiliating enough to deter most travellers.
What are the tribal people returning home to?
Miramshah once overtook Parachinar as the most populated and prosperous town in Fata after the last Shia-Sunni battle in Kurram Agency. In spite of all FCR restrictions, it was the fastest-growing town in Fata. People from down country could be seen doing business here. Taxis and coaches going to nearby villages, down country and Afghanistan were always available. Truckloads of fruit and timber from Afghanistan, and wheat flour, edible oils and other commodities from down country, would pass through. It was rightly called Sarai Miramshah.
To my disbelief, this once-bustling town is nowhere to be seen. Bazaars, houses and godowns have been demolished; even the scrap is missing. No one is allowed to reconstruct on their land. Except for the new, government-built roadside buildings, there is no activity. Colleges are closed, there is a ban on motorcycles, no electricity, and though mobile phones worked at times, it is without data. It is so quiet. The Miramshah that I knew — my childhood paradise — had vanished.
The level of destruction that took place in recent years called for a massive reconstruction programme. The government constructed a few small parks and markets, wherever it could lay claim to state land. Though the government was behind in its own efforts, after it exempted construction material from permits and agency tax, people brought in a lot of material, seen scattered on the roadsides. This is practically the only business they can do freely.
Since reconstruction is not allowed, the Darpa Khels (major shareholders in Miramshah) started making small huts outside the town. This construction is overflowing into the khwar (seasonal waterways). No one is making major investments for fear of having to leave again.
I couldn’t stay in my house because my sister is living there with her family, after her house in Dande Darpa Khel was demolished for no apparent reason, the one case I can vouch for that had nothing to do with militancy. The story of Dande Darpa Khel is a sad one that merits special mention on a separate occasion.
The houses of those involved in militancy were demolished. Of those left, their roofs were removed for aerial surveillance. Everything inside the houses has been destroyed; what man didn’t, the weather destroyed. There is nothing left for people to come back to. Their small belongings and livestock, earned by sweating their youth away in the Middle East, are all gone. Distressed, they wonder why this happened to them when they supported the government. Recent events in Tappi and Idak increase their anxiety. What if a similar attack took place near their village? Many families returned, only to leave again.
Those who can’t leave are waiting for government support. There are no livelihood projects, and whatever little assistance that arrived is through local NGOs, as if helping friends — me looking after my khel, he looking after his. International development partners, instead of prioritising activities, are busy in futile endeavours like codifying rewaj.
People are suffering, but their voices are not being heard. The government’s focus on infrastructure, particularly roads to generate revenue and facilitate the transport of industrial goods, is understandable. But the people’s welfare is being ignored. Protests in Hamzoni and Islamabad are indicative of this frustration.
The government needs to get its act together and focus on them. Schedule for surveys, compensation for damages, etc should be announced in advance. All data should be shared. People should be allowed to manage their own affairs. Owners of lands that come under infrastructure projects should be compensated. Political agents need to take a lead role. Instead of using all their energies on tax collection, they should visit the area. The KP governor should make frequent visits to the agencies. They should support the tribes, reassure them and give them hope.
Visiting Miramshah was like visiting a graveyard. It was remodelled, clean and spacious, but without hope and happiness — like a grand mausoleum teeming with long-suffering humanity. On my way back I wondered if it should be renamed Mazar-i-Miramshah.
The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha, The Call.
Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2018