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The invisible people

The people from Fata speak out against their marginalisation in every field of life

The invisible people

Many towns in the tribal areas of Pakistan are still without electricity, cellular phone and internet services, even without schools, hospitals, and roads. People are still transporting patients to hospitals on their back or donkeys.

While the political elite of the country is discussing Fata reforms, the people of Fata are not fully aware of the process. They have no interest in the reforms — whether tribal areas become part of any province or remain independent. They only want basic rights and facilities.

“Motor vehicles got access to our village after 2008-09 when the road was constructed,” says Munir Khan Afridi, a 40-year-old tribesman from Maidan in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, presently settled in Peshawar.

“Construction of a category-D hospital has recently started while there is still no high school for boys or girls,” Afridi adds. According to him, the population of Maidan in Tirah Valley is over 60,000.

The entire population of Tirah had to leave for Peshawar, Kohat, Hangu and other towns after militants stormed the valley in 2013. “All the houses in Tirah were set on fire by the militants, pushing the people further into backwardness. Now, after the military has arrived in the area, roads, schools and hospitals are being constructed,” he says.

Since there are no basic facilities in tribal areas, those who want to live a better life have shifted to Peshawar, Islamabad, or other major cities of the country. A large number of tribesmen have earned respect and status in their respective fields due to their hard work.

The people whose houses were completely destroyed have been given a meagre amount of Rs400,000 by the government while Rs160,000 was given to the owners of damaged buildings,” informs Afridi.

He claims there was no writ of the government or political administration in the remote Tirah till about a decade ago. The road to Tirah was constructed in the mid 1990s, while it reached Maidan and other nearby towns after 2007-08. There were doctors opening clinics but in case of emergency locals had to take their patients to the nearest hospital either on their backs or donkeys. They would take them to Bara or Sadda to take a cab or pick-up to Peshawar or Kohat.

“Before the construction of the road, we had to leave Peshawar before sunrise to reach Tirah by 8 or 9pm via Kohat, Hangu, and Orakzai,” Afridi adds.

A large number of people of eight tribes (Kamar Khel, Malik Din Khel, Adamkhel, Akakhel, Bar Qmabarkhel, Sipah, Koki Khel, and Stori Khel) living in Tirah are only interested in amendments in the Frontier Crimes Regulations, otherwise they are happy with their jirga system instead of the lengthy legal process in the rest of the country.

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“The people want to abolish the controversial sections of the law implemented in the tribal areas so no one can be treated unfairly. The strong jirga system maintains law and order in Tirah,” he remarks.

The people of Tirah fielded their candidate in the last general polls, who secured a good number of votes, but could not make it to the National Assembly.

Tirah or parts of Khyber Agency are not the only ones without basic rights and facilities. There are innumerable villages and towns in other agencies and Frontier Regions where people are still living in the 18th century. “The people of Fata are the most backward, poor, uneducated, unemployed and neglected people of the country. The government must restore their honour and prestige. Right now they are living in the country like second-class citizens. The black law of FCR be abolished,” says Zahid Shinwari, ex-president of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

Shinwari, who hails from Landi Kotal, sub-division of Khyber Agency, says, “An attractive economic and investment package is a must to explore the area’s potential. Job opportunities for the unemployed youth must be created. People must be trained to combat militancy. Resolving trade issues and normalisation of bilateral trade with Afghanistan should be undertaken on a priority basis as much of Fata’s economy depends on it. The scale of the economy has already plunged to less than USD1 billion from USD2.5 billion in 2010,” he says.

Dr Afsheen who lives in Waziristan says, “Many towns in my area lack hospitals, schools and even clean drinking water. Some well-off have installed solar panels to run fans and light a few bulbs. They rely on agriculture and transport for livelihood, or send one of the family members abroad”.

She is of the opinion the right of appeal against the verdict of a political agent must be given to locals.

The situation is the same in Sikandaro village in Uthmankhel tehsil of Bajaur Agency that has remained more peaceful than other parts of the Bajaur Agency. Even then education and health facilities are scarce in the area. The children have to travel for at least five kilometres to reach a government-run school, while health facilities are available only in Khar, the agency headquarters, which is about 20 kilometres from the village.

“Owing to non-availability of schools in the vicinities, a majority of children, especially girls remain uneducated. The health and education facilities can be managed if people make a little effort and take some pain. But one can’t even think of having internet, political freedom and civics rights,” says Mohammad Faizan, a resident of Bajaur Agency.

People of the area and other towns of Bajaur are helpless against the Frontier Crimes Regulations, which are implemented in favour of those who have contacts in the political administration, security agencies or tribes. According to Faizan, the major achievement one expects from the Fata reforms is the acknowledgment of basic rights of the impoverished tribal people and access to courts.

“The situation in the restive parts of the agency like the Mamoond, Salarzai and Chamarkand tehsils of the agency is very bad. A majority of schools were demolished by the Taliban and they are yet to be rebuilt,” Faizan says. “The lack of job opportunities in the entire agency is another major source of agony for the people. Agriculture or overseas employment is the main source of income of the people of the agency. Those who can’t go abroad go to major cities of the country to do petty labour and look after their families back home,” he adds.

Since there are no basic facilities in tribal areas, those who want to live a better life have shifted to Peshawar, Islamabad, or other major cities of the country. A large number of tribesmen have earned respect and status in their respective fields due to their hard work. Some are paying back by contributing towards the improvement of their people, especially by supporting education in their hometowns.

A group of educated Wazirs have formed Wana Welfare Association that is working to educate thousands of poor children in Wana and the rest of Waziristan. Elders from other tribes, too, have been contributing in their own ways. Still, a lot of work is to be done. 

Javed Aziz Khan

Javed Aziz Khan copy
The author is former president of Khyber Union of Journalists and covers conflict, political, social and human rights issues in KP and Fata. He may be reached at [email protected]

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