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August 18, 2009

Utmankhel a peaceful but neglected tehsil of Bajaur


August 18, 2009

GARDAI: Though the most peaceful among the seven tehsils in the restive Bajaur Agency, yet Utmankhel is also the most neglected one where no visible development project has been carried out except a few in education and water and sanitation sectors.

Sharing border with Munda town of Dir Lower, Utmankhel lies in mountain-surrounded plain valley up to Khar, the agency headquarters. Its 0.3 million population, comprising the six sub-tribes of Charmang, is separated by a river that flows along the lone 20-kilometer long road passing through it.

It is astonishing to note that no single bridge could be constructed on the river to link the members of the same tribe. Utmankhels have been crossing the river by foot since time immemorial to meet their daily needs. All the schools, hospitals, government offices and even marketplaces are situated on one side of the river. Out of necessity, the tribesmen living on the other side have to cross the river every day for their routine business.

It is a perennial problem for the people, particularly women and children, to cross the river. In winter the river water gets chilly and difficult to cross, while in summer the river’s level rises and the people on the other side marooned.

This is a big problem for the entire population of the Utmankhel, but no one is paying attention to it, said Abdul Hameed, a noted tribal elder of the area. No public representative, the political administrators or the development sector officials have visited the area to announce construction of even a single bridge on the long river.

The people had pinned great hopes in former MNA from Bajaur and a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Haroonur Rashid, who only once after his election as member of the parliament visited the area and promised to construct at least six bridges on the river. But that promise never materialized.

Akhunzada Chitan, the PPP MNA for Bajaur at present, has also failed to visit his village near

Khar, let alone Utmankhel. Many people are angry with Chitan for letting them down in their hour of need during the recent military operation.

Roads in Utmankhel are in a dilapidated condition. No road other than the main Munda-Khar Road exists in the area. Tribesmen told The News they saw only once the now kidnapped officials of the multi-billion Fata Rural Development Programme (FRDP) visiting Gardai town of the tehsil to announce construction of a few kilometers roads for some distant villages across the river, including Soor Lando, Mano Dheri, Hayathi and others. These projects are yet to take-off.

There is a dearth of hospitals and health units in the area. The number of schools is minimal. Women have to fetch water from springs in most of the remote areas. No irrigation project has been launched for the development of the vast agricultural lands in Utmankhel. Poverty and unemployment is the fate of the people in the area.

“There is no militancy in our area. But if no remedial measures are taken, our jobless young men could join militant groups like those in Mamond, Salarzai, Charmang and Nawagai,” stressed Haji Tahir Jan, another elder of the Utmankhel tehsil.

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