In the last week of July 2016, after about 12 years following the complete control of Taliban over South Waziristan Agency (SWA) in 2005, I visited my hometown, Ladha, along with some journalists and military personnel in a convoy. When reached Maidan, a village of Ladha tehsil, the only thing I could see was destruction and demolition. There were no humans; nonetheless, the wild animals like pigs were seen promenading in the surroundings. The six villages of two Mahsud sub tribes – Langerkhel and Shamankhel – in Maidan, were totally wrecked and converted into rubble as a result of heavy rains, snowfall and absence of their residents for about 8 long years due to the military operation Rah e Nijat, initiated in 2009. The destruction and growth of wild plants and grass everywhere made it difficult for me to determine the walking paths in my hometown. The hundreds of years old water channels, built by our forefathers for irrigating fields, were totally lost. A road was being constructed across the fields which, once, were the most precious asset of the tribe. The streams of cold and sweet water, the only source of drinking water for local populace, were badly affected. The debris of destroyed houses, shops and everything underneath them, had been looted by unknown miscreants, who had, so far, not been uncovered. The scene of destruction and devastation was not limited to the Maidan village only, but the whole Mahsud area was badly affected. The situation, particularly, in Ladha and Makeen tehsils was even worse.
The above illustrated situational description got clearer when a group of 16 journalists from SWA and Dera Ismail Khan visited different areas of the agency upon invitation of General Commanding Officer (GCO) Major General Khalid Javed of Division Wana. Colonel Imran and Assistant Political Agent Muhammad Shoib were guiding the journalists.
When reached at IDPs transit point at Khirgi in SWA, the Political Agent Zafar ul Islam Khattak and IDPs in-charge Colonel Imran told the journalists in detail about the post rehabilitation comprehensive operation and different government strategies to help the IDPs. He told that it was the 14th and final phase of the Mahsud IDPs repatriation, which would continue till December this year, and by then, all the Mahsud IDPs, who left their homes due to operation, would return back.
An old man, Mehmood Langerkhel, who was waiting at this transit point to go back to his home with mix expressions of bliss and worries on his face, told me, “I’ll have to live under open sky with my family because my house has been destroyed during the war. I am left with no saving in my hands but still I am happy because I am going back to my hometown after 8 years”. After conversation with him, his face expressions of delight and fear, occupied my mind for quite a long time.
Then, we left for Wana from Khirgi transit point via Jandolla and Serwekai. We were welcomed by Col. Iftikhar at Molay Khan Serai and by Col. Adeel and Mr. Nadeem, Principal Cadet College, in Wana. They welcomed the journalists and briefed them about the developmental projects and military activities in the locality.
During our brief stay at old Serwekai before reaching Wana, the people present at the spot shared their problems with us. An old tribal Rehmat Ullah, who was looking extremely dejected, told, “My house was destroyed, a little grandson died and my arm got fractured by bomb shelling at our village during the war. After burying my grandson, we left our village. Now, when we are back after some 8 years, there is nothing left here. The electric cables on poles and transformers are lost while the two tube wells of the village have become useless. Thus, we neither have the electricity supply structure nor the drinking water.” Saying this, he asked me awfully, “Even if we get back all these facilities, is it possible that someone returns me my beloved grandson…?” Alas! I had no answer to his this question. “While passing through this route, please stop for a while and listen to our problems and try to resolve them,” he requested me to deliver this message to whom we were going to meet.
At dinner on that night, GOC Major Gen. Khalid Javed told us about the different aspects of military operation “Rah e Nijat” in detail including the losses which the tribesmen had to face in the wake of military operation, rehabilitation and retaliation processes of IDPs and different development projects. He explained everything in detail and clarified that devastation becomes fate of the people in the war areas. In such circumstances, no any distinction is made between enemies and friends. Major Gen. Khalid Javed, while appreciating the behavior of Mahsud tribe, said, “The patience and judiciousness showed especially by the Mahsud tribe, during the Rah e Nijat operation, is unforgettable and a true proof of their patriotism and sacrifices.” He added, “The construction of prime quality roads and other development projects, which are completed or soon to be completed, are reward of the matchless sacrifices of Mahsud tribe. These projects will also guarantee their prosperous future.”
The list of development projects, completed with the help of government aid, different NGOs and even with the expenses of security forces, is too long to be incorporated in this article. But, I must mention the establishment of two cadet colleges and three army public schools where hundreds of tribal students are enrolled. This, indeed is a remarkable achievement, because it will go a long length in propelling the local youth into professional colleges. Once they pass out from these institutions, they will play a positive role in the development of their country and transformation of their families.
Apart from these, the establishment of UAE funded Government Degree College Ladha, with fully equipped science laboratory, and two beautifully constructed hospitals with modern medical equipment in Sholam Wana and Molay khan Serai, are definitely valuable gifts by our brethren from UAE.
Kamran Habib, a tribal and a resident of Molay Khan Serai, said that the hospital buildings in Molay Khan and Wana Sholam were commendable and the modern medical equipment present in these hospitals were compatible with the hospitals in Islamabad and Lahore. Nevertheless, due to the negligence and absence of expert staff, these machines might become useless. While pointing out the insufficiency of doctors, Kamran demanded to appoint more doctors in these hospitals and to take timely measures to protect the machinery from becoming useless and ineffective.
According to GOC, a modern agriculture park in Wana Larr would be established. Moreover, a 55 km long dual carriage road along the Pak-Afghan border from Angoor Ada to Razmak in North Waziristan would be constructed. This road would be linked to the Wana-Makeen road through Mahsud tribe areas of Tangi Badinzai, Dray Daki and Ramishta Badar. Thus, it will connect SWA with the Gawadar-Kashgar highway near Dera Ismail Khan.
The disclosure of this information by GOC Khalid Javed has created a hope regarding the future of tribal region. The establishment of an agriculture park will not only support the agriculture but also promote industrialization in the area. This, in turn, will lead to the construction of new towns comprising of residential bungalows, hotels, rest houses and offices.
Thus, by manufacturing drinks from the fruits and vegetables and exploiting other available natural resources, this area will definitely become the busiest trade market for Pakistan, Afghanistan and the nearby Middle Eastern countries. Similarly, the Miranshah-Razmak-Makeen road will provide remarkable trade opportunities to the Mahsud tribe. Hence, these projects will play the role of backbone for the development and prosperity of area and will definitely change the fate of Mahsud and Wazir tribes.
Nevertheless, all these projects will prove fruitful only if the tribesmen will accept the fact that an irreversible change has occurred in their area. Now, they have to start anew life to avail all the available facilities. Further, they have to quit the old tribal customs and futile life style which is totally based on arrogance, rivalry, jealousy, deceit and obstinacy. They will have to prefer the collective objectives over their individual goals. They will have to ensure women rights as per the Islamic teachings and educate both male and female children. In spite of relying on others, they should learn to take decisions to secure their own future. It is the only panacea for them to take advantage of the golden opportunity that is knocking at their doors.
At last, I must add that to sustain the target achieved by Rah e Nijat operation in SWA, to direct the tribesmen on the development track and to incorporate them in the national mainstream, it is necessary to set small military cantonments on immediate and permanent basis in the agency. It will not only help in materializing the above mentioned plans and strategies but will also help providing military power at hand during the untoward circumstances. Otherwise, everything done so far may go in vain.
An abridged version of this article was published in Dawn: http://www.dawn.com/news/1280874