NORTH WAZIRISTAN: The displaced tribesmen from Shawal in North Waziristan blocked Bannu-Miranshah Road on Sunday, demanding to be allowed to go to their villages to harvest the pine nut (chilgoza) crop.
The protesters said that pine nut crop was ready but the authorities were not allowing them to go to Shawal to harvest it.
Shawal, a remote mountainous area of North Waziristan tribal district is situated on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
It is known for its pine nuts forests -- once a leading supplier of the expansive seeds of pines that is much in demand all over the world as edible dry fruit.
Since the launch of military operation Zarb-i-Azb in 2014 and the ensuing displacement of nearly a million people from North Waziristan, the region has remained closed for security reasons.
Officials say a delegation is in Shawal to determine the number of people required for harvest
Among the few displaced tribes that have yet to be repatriated to their lands some belong to Shawal and most of them still live in Bakakhel camp for the internally displaced persons (IDPs).
On Sunday, tribesmen from the Kabulkhel, Janikhel and Bakakhel clans came out in protest on the Bannu-Miranshah Road near the Bakakhel camp and blocked the road to traffic, asking the authorities to allow them to fetch the annual harvest of pine nuts from Shawal.
“The pine nut crop is ready but the authorities are not allowing us to go to Shawal to harvest it,” said a tribesman participating in the protest. He said that they even got permission from the local administration but they were not allowed to travel beyond Pash Ziarat [an area in Shawal].
“Crop worth billions of rupees is ready for harvest and if we are not allowed to go, the people of the area will suffer tremendous losses,” he said.
Among the protesting tribesmen, some said that annual crops worth billions had been lost during the last six years, since the year 2014 when they were displaced in the wake of military operation.
Official sources said that a jirga comprising tribal elders and three members of the provincial assembly had asked the authorities to allow a mission of 100 people to travel to Shawal to assess the size of the crop and when to harvest it.
“Responding to the demands of the jirga, instead of 100 tribal representatives, we have sent 500 people,” said an official source. He said that they were currently in Shawal assessing the crop and to determine the number of people required for harvesting it.
Official sources said that terrorism-related incidents had occurred in Shawal recently.
“When it is time to harvest the crop, we will allow the required number of people to go to Shawal. But before that, anti-terrorism operations in the area against militants must be concluded,” they added.
Official sources said that they did not want to waste the crop. “We hope that by next year, the security situation will improve. Before that the area has to be cleared of terrorists and the displaced people brought back to their homes,” they added.
Once a favourite munching nut in winters, chilgoza is fast becoming a delicacy few can afford as price of the crunchy dry fruit has shot up beyond the means of ordinary customers.
Market rate of chilgoza was Rs7,000 per kilogram the last winter in Peshawar. Dry fruit sellers say that price of pine nuts has witnessed unprecedented rise over the years as the supply has diminished considerably.
Alongside Shawal, chilgoza pine tree, a wild species, also grows in Gilgit, Chitral, and the Suleiman range in Balochistan province.
But in recent years, conservators say that pine forests have shrunk at a fast rate in the region. Short supply of pine nuts from border areas near Afghanistan, Balochistan and northern areas of the country has resulted in tremendous increase in the prices.
Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2020