Shakai, Shawal and Spinwam are familiar names because they were often mentioned during the years of militancy and military operations in South Waziristan and North Waziristan, but these remote places are now experiencing a change due to return of peace and reconstruction and development activities.
During a recent visit to the three places in an army helicopter arranged by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), one saw at Shakai in South Waziristan a newly built road linking the once inaccessible and faraway areas, schools imparting quality education and markets with shopkeepers and customers at Shakai. The Shawal valley in North Waziristan is waiting for its displaced inhabitants to return after being cleared of the militants. It is also ready to embrace development as projects to build roads, schools and healthcare units are finalised. And at Spinwam in the hot plains of lower North Waziristan, the bazaar is almost back to normalcy, scores of reconstruction and development projects have been completed and the tribesmen now want more such schemes and also electrification of their villages, gas supply, roads and hospitals.
At Shakai, Colonel Aamir and Lt Colonel Imran of the Pakistan Army’s 9th division had a lot to say about the reconstruction and development projects that had been completed in South Waziristan or were currently being executed with funding from the federal government and foreign donors. The spacious, 335 kilometres long roads that they claimed were better than those in Islamabad, the three Army Public Schools that were imparting the same standard of education as in the big urban centres of Pakistan, the two cadet colleges in Wana and Spinkai Raghzai where quality education is being provided to tribal students and the technical education and vocational centres that teach skills to the tribal people to be able to earn a decent livelihood. Government schools and mosques have also been rehabilitated.
They also mentioned the purpose-built markets, drinking water supply schemes, small dams, the 11 children parks and the sports stadiums that are part of the plans for every tehsil. Due to shortage of electricity, solar power is being widely used at some of these projects. The 100-bed, United Arab Emirates-funded Shaikha Fatima bin Mubarik Hospital at Sholam with the first state-of-the-art dialysis centre in Fata was proudly mentioned as a project ready to be opened to serve the people. The Gomal Zam Dam, built with assistance of the USAID, has been made operational and is producing 17.4 megawatt electricity and irrigating large tracts of land.
Figures on the repatriation of the temporarily displaced persons to South Waziristan were also provided to the media and the arrangements made for their rehabilitation were highlighted. Depopulated villages are coming back to life and at places students of schools and cadet colleges along with soldiers are welcoming back the returning families with flowers and food. As many as 71,000 families had to leave the area populated by the Mehsud tribe and their repatriation is underway. However, it remains to be seen as to how many would like to return after having settled down in the cities, admitted their children at better educational institutions and undertaken business activities.
Spinwam is different as the weather there isn’t pleasant and its population stayed home because the military didn’t order it to leave when the Zarb-e-Azb military operation was launched in North Waziristan in June 2014. It hasn’t suffered much damage and the last terrorist attack in Spinwam took place in 2011 when a suicide bombing occurred outside an army office. Brigadier Shazul Haq Janjua, who has served thrice in North Waziristan, pointed out how the situation has changed in Spinwam, Shewa and also Mir Ali as his troops dominate the area and are now able to respond and act even during the night in case of a threat or any other need. One saw him standing in the Spinwam bazaar, his tall figure visible from afar in the company of his soldiers.
According to Brig Shazul Haq Janjua, the mindset of the tribespeople in his area of command has changed as they have got admitted their girls in educational institutions in Peshawar and elsewhere and registered 2,000 to 3,000 weapons in Spinwam.
“The militant mindset is no longer visible. The tribesmen don’t carry weapons now. They were earlier made hostage by local and foreign militants, but now they support the army and want development projects,” he said. He added that smuggling, particularly of livestock, from Spinwam to Afghanistan’s Khost province via Kaka Ziarat has been stopped by sealing the border and a number of projects, including veterinary hospitals, executed to facilitate the people. He said there are gas deposits in Khushali village and chromite too in North Waziristan and this could serve as a base for mining activities to create jobs and bring prosperity.
He stated that the road from Mir Ali to Miranshah has been rebuilt and three markets have been built in Mir Ali sub-division and four more were being planned. “The old Mir Ali market was used to store and make improvised explosive devices. We put red flags on the shops and houses,” he added.
Shawal is a different place altogether. It had a bad reputation as the stronghold of militants, but the valley is pleasing to the eye. The temperature was a pleasant 17 degree centigrade in the hot summer month of May at the Makki Garh Top security post located 9,400 feet above sea level in the mountainous and forested Shawal valley as a cool breeze caressed one’s face. However, the soldiers now deployed in this scenic valley had also experienced the worst of the weather when they launched an operation in the freezing cold last winter to capture Shawal from the militants.
Brigadier Shabeer Narejo, who led the final assault on the militants’ stronghold of Shawal valley, proudly recalled the way the battle unfolded. “Acting on the orders of the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif on February 24 this year to secure all of Shawal and reach the “Zero Line” on the border with Afghanistan, our troops advanced into the valley and scaled snow-clad mountain peaks that were 7,000 to 12,000 feet high. There was snow everywhere, it was raining and the temperature was minus 12 degree centrigrade,” he remembered. He said the decision to launch the final push into Shawal in the bitter winter cold was made to give an element of surprise to the militants. “We struck when the militants least expected us to undertake the attack. The army was better equipped to fight in the winter than the militants. Our supply line was so secure and our logistics so organised that we never felt any shortages and none of our soldiers suffered frostbite,” he pointed out.
Learning to teach
Malaika Wazir is from North Waziristan, but she has chosen to teach in the neighbouring South Waziristan. She joined the brand new Army Public School in Shakai as a teacher and is happy that she made the right decision.
When a media team visited her spacious and nicely built girls’ school recently in the company of Pakistan Army officers, she confidently agreed to talk to the journalists and answer questions in Urdu and Pashto on camera. Despite being young, she spoke in a mature and measured tone.
The veiled woman, her face fully covered except her eyes, spoke about the benefits of education and the need to educate the tribal people to enable them to make progress and become better citizens. She talked about the enthusiasm of her students and their quest for education.
Malaika Wazir was full of praise for the army for establishing the two separate Army Public Schools for boys and girls at Shakai to impart quality education in such a remote tribal region.
In the classroom for students of class one, Malaika Wazir taught in Urdu and occasionally switched over to Pashto in her Waziristani accent to make her small pupils understand the lesson. She went back and forth in the two languages as she was aware her students weren’t familiar with Urdu. This was mixed with English and her cheerful students wearing colourful clothes enthusiastically responded as their teacher made sure they understood every word that she spoke.