The land of the unsurpassed

Economic reform is key to prosperity

The land of the unsurpassed


outh Waziristan is a district in the Dera Ismail Khan division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It was the largest agency in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The FATA-KP merger in 2018 was not popular and has not resulted in a significant improvement in living standards.

The region has huge tourism potential. It is home to beautiful valleys amidst high mountains. The Peer Ghar peak, the highest in the region, is 11,556 ft above sea level and offers a splendid view of the Sulaiman range.

South Waziristan also has lush green meadows and dense forests in the Shawal region. Unfortunately, the security situation and the poor infrastructure make it unattractive for most tourists. Unlike Swat, Mansehra, Dir and Abbottabad, the place has received no serious support from the government to develop the tourism sector.

South Waziristan needs a comprehensive survey to assess its development needs and a master plan for development based on its findings. The development projects should improve infrastructure, facilitate communications and create employment opportunities.

Waziristan has a unique culture that values bravery, brotherhood, unity, resistance and strength. It derives most of its core values from Islam which is the dominant religion.

Terrorism and military operations to root it out have resulted in much destruction and brought hardship to the residents of the area.

The whole region has been a virtual battlefield for the past two decades. It has seen much bloodshed, destruction, anger and fear. For years it was home besides local tribes to extremist fighters from Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries.

The long insurgency has taken its toll on many businesses and practically isolated the people from the economic hubs of the country.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has a visible presence in the area. Militants belonging to some other outfits too roam the hills and the valleys mostly go unchallenged. Some of them are quite entrenched in the local communities where their presence is taken for granted and seen as normal. Their relations with the local communities have grown more cordial recently. It is believed that some of them might like to stay on once a comprehensive agreement is reached between the government and the TTP leaders meeting in Afghanistan to discuss peace and rehabilitation.

During a brief visit to the area recently, I came across several members of the banned outfits. Knowing that we belonged to the same area and spoke the same language, we got along pretty well. Some of them talked about their life in the mountains and how hard it was for them to call the inhospitable terrain their ‘home’. They mentioned that their families were residing on the other side of the Afghan border.

The terms of the current ceasefire agreement, pending talks for a permanent peace, require that the fighters come no closer than 300 metres of security installations and maintain peace.

The reconciliation process has allowed some of the Taliban fighters to engage with the local people. Some of the tribal elders see this ‘subtle expansion’ as a potential threat.

Many houses were destroyed or partially damaged during the military operations in the region during 2009-2010 and a large number of people had to move away from their dwellings. They were called the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and temporarily housed in camps away from Waziristan. They later moved to various cities in pursuit of livelihoods and education.

After the end of the military operation, the people returned to their homes and were welcomed. They discovered a lot of destruction and piles of debris where properties and civil infrastructure had been. Owning up the responsibility for their rehabilitation, the federal government had undertaken a survey and issued cheques for up to Rs 400,000 per CNIC to every household. However, in many cases the amount was not enough to rebuild their homes.

The programme has been suspended with the change of government even as many households await assistance.

The authorities also need to address the residents’ concerns with regard to provision of basic health and education facilities and employment quotas.

Agricultural activities too have been affected and need incentivisation and assistance to enable the farmers to revive abandoned farms and earn decent incomes

South Waziristan has a traditional trade route to Afghanistan via Angoor Ada which is in the Wazir-dominant area. The Mehsud tribes have been demanding the development of another route through Shawal region in the interest of ease of doing business.

Establishing a route through Shawal can enhance connectivity with Afghanistan and significantly increase the volume of trade. The resulting prosperity can also help wean some of the local youths from extremist ideologies. There is a feeling in South Waziristan that despite being the largest tribe in the district, the Mehsuds remain marginalised. It is complained that the Mehsud area is a Zero Economic Zone. Both the provincial and the federal governments need to address this complaint. Many Mehsud youths are reluctant to work in Wana (Wazir-dominant area) and will welcome a special economic zone of their own.

A great deal needs to be done to improve the living standards of the people of South Waziristan who have suffered a lot on account of terrorism and insurgency as well as the counter-insurgency operations.

The government should also undertake exploration and development of the region’s mineral resources.

The writer is a student of government and public   policy at the National Defence University,   Islamabad. 

The land of the unsurpassed