AFTER exhausting, without success, all venues available to them in Bannu and Peshawar, Waziristan’s traders converged on Islamabad to demand compensation for losses incurred during Operation Zarb-i-Azb. Their sit-in at the National Press Club ended peacefully after assurances were made by the DG ISPR. A follow-up meeting in Miramshah was held with the DG ISPR and GOC 7th Infantry Division. The traders seemed satisfied.
There is a Pashto proverb: when God created heaven and earth, all the rocks and debris left behind were offloaded in Waziristan.
Waziristan has a very harsh and hostile environment; life there is difficult by any standard, and the anti-development Frontier Crimes Regulation has only stifled its economy. More than 70 per cent of Fata’s population lives below the poverty line; its social indicators speak volumes for the criminal neglect this area has endured.
The administrative centre of North Waziristan, Miramshah, was once a bustling town, an economic hub on the verge of becoming a large city. Militancy ruined everything that came its way, but Miramshah bore the brunt of it. In June 2014, as the operation against the militants began, about one million residents left their homes and became IDPs in service to their country.
There was nothing left to salvage in this once bustling town.
After spending over two unforgiving years in exile, they returned to a home in which there was nothing left to salvage. Even the rubble had been cleared. People had left their shops intact, but no effort was made to inventory the goods. Determining losses at this point is impossible. Along with their shops, they lost their earnings and are now under severe debt. Starting over is impossible. Only if a benevolent government, which promised them compensation, were to show grace would the traders be satisfied.
Many development partners also committed to support the IDPs, yet somehow the local administration has been nonresponsive and funds remain unutilised. The Annual Development Programme’s expenditures have been dismal. The Multi-Donor Trust Fund livelihood projects, administered by the World Bank, are nonstarters as funds remain unspent even in their second financial year. If they are unable to spend the available Rs26.5 billion earmarked for the ADP for 2017-18, how can they ask the federal government for an additional Rs100bn? Meanwhile, surveys of destroyed properties were haphazardly conducted, and complaints were lodged against the Fata Disaster Management Authority’s (FDMA) inefficient conduct.
Traders were becoming frustrated with this attitude; they met with the political agent, commissioner Bannu, and talked to the media to highlight their grievances but to no avail. They then moved to organise a sit-in at the Peshawar Press Club but no one from the Fata Secretariat, the FDMA or the KP Governor’s Secretariat came to show support or give them hope. The Fata administration conveniently absolved itself of any responsibility. Since the destruction was caused in part by a military operation, it seems they are shifting all responsibility on to the armed forces. The army has done its job. We might have a hundred differences on the way they conducted the operations, but rehabilitation is the civilian government’s job.
Fata shouldn’t remain a black hole any longer, it should be open to all to visit and assess ground realities for themselves. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s recent rally should be followed by similar rallies by other political parties. The recent decision by the KP governor to exempt food items from permits has been appreciated by all, but why only food items? Collecting these funds is illegal, and all goods should be exempted from taxes and permits.
The governor should lend the affected a compassionate ear and give the local administration strict timelines. The chief secretary should place his best team in Fata as quick operational decisions need to be made. He should be giving targets and keeping a strict vigilance. The Fata Secretariat should be proactive in implementing projects with funds available and equip the governor to plead for more funds. The FDMA should have teams on the ground, meeting people to find ways to ascertain their losses. On the contrary, it was only during the visit of the DG ISPR that we saw the Fata administration visit Miramshah.
Winning hearts and minds is a difficult job, especially when people have been through such rough times. It’s not a job for the army alone; it’s a job for the nation as a whole. We all have to play our role, starting from the political agent up to the governor, including philanthropists, international development partners and friends of Pakistan. Why should people be forced to go to Islamabad every time they try to seek their due rights? The enemy is too close to leave our people at their mercy. Things have started moving in the right direction, all we need is to pick up pace.
The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha, The Call.
Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2018