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Contributors: Saleem Rehman, Shah Jee, Gohar Wazir and Nabi Jan Orakzai
PESHAWAR, 10 March: People from the federally administered tribal areas who were forced to leave homes due to militancy and the subsequent military offensives against the militants are now returning to their ancestral hometowns with the onset of a new era of peace and stability.
Apart from certain pockets in the tribal belt, most of the areas have been cleared by the security forces following which a phase-wise repatriation process of the displaced tribesmen was started in March last year by the federal government.
Due to the decade-long reign of terror in Fata and the military offensives started against militants, the infrastructure in these areas has been badly damaged. Beside schools, health centers, bridges and other government facilities, private properties and businesses worth billions of rupees were also ruined in the aftermath of militancy.
In the mass exodus, thousands of tribesmen also lost their businesses they had been running for years as they had to move to safer places. Some were lucky enough as they shifted their businesses along with them, many were left to live miserable life out of their hometowns.
However, as the people started returning to their homes, business activities are also gaining momentum in these areas. To sustain livelihood, people have started reestablishing businesses they lost. Though, they faced losses, yet they are jubilant over the restoration of peace in their respective areas.
Sufi Hameed, a local trader of Bajuar’s Inayat Kalay thinks situation is far better than the time when they were leaving their hometown. He says since the tribal people are naturally hardworking, they wasted no time in reestablishing their businesses in the agency. “The whole Bajaur agency was affected due to militancy but now situation is far better. Those who had left the area due to a military operation have now returned and started businesses. The commercial activities are increasing with every passing day,” says Hameed, who remained president of the Taj Market traders’ association. He also urges other fellow tribesmen to come and resume their business.
Another tribesman Saeed who runs a local restaurant in the Inayat Kalay bazaar says he is happy because his business is flourishing. “People are returning now as businesses are going well,” he says.
However, some people say it will take some time for their businesses to get to the previous position.
A Bara-based trader Abdul Wahid says businesses are not restored completely as the iconic bazaar has been recently reopened. He hopes commercial activities will gain impetus as the local authorities lift restrictions on free movement of people in the area. Zahidullah Afridi is also jubilant on his return to his native area. He says the Bara bazaar will regain its old hustle and bustle once the local transport service is fully restored. “Trading is totally dependent on transportation. Once these transport stands are established outside the bazaar, trading activities will get boost,” he explains.
Sardar, another tribesman from Bara says he has no business to run. He labors either in fields or somewhere else to earns bread for his family.
Businesses in other tribal areas have also been affected due to militancy and the military operations. Fazal Khan, who owns a general store in Mir Ali, says his shop was destroyed in the military operation. “Now I don’t have the money to rebuild the walls of the shop damaged in the operation. We will see later how we manage the situation,” he maintains. A resident of Miran Shah Zohaib mourns as all his business has been vanished. Zohaib’s fellow tribesmen Riaz and Noor Rahman are also feeling annoyed that the war has badly affected their businesses.
The tribal areas have some big bazaars with distinct identities. Bara is one of such business centers known for imported stuff all over the country. People use to come to Bara even from Punjab and Sindh provinces for shopping as it was a hub of foreign merchandise and people could easily find items of their choices. But this historic bazaar started losing its charm as the law and order situations were getting worse day by day in recent years. After a military offensive was started against the militants in 2009, more than 110,000 families left Bara subdivision and curfew was clamped in the area indefinitely. Thousands of people lost their business as the Bara bazaar, which hosted more than 10,000 shops was also closed.
Now the bazaar has been reopened. People have resumed business activities and they are hopeful the market will regain its lost glory. According to Yar Asghar Afridi, president of the local traders’ association, before it was closed in 2009, there were more than 10,000 shops in Bara bazaar and nearly 300,000 people were doing businesses here. They were not just from Khyber Agency, but also from the surrounding areas. He says as the bazaar remained closed for a long period, the traders have incurred losses worth billions of rupees. He further says that almost all the shops have been damaged in the bazaar as heavy weapons and ammunition were used by militants and the military against each other. “We demand from the government to announce a financial package for the trading community as every shopkeeper needs to spend up to Rs70,000/- to renovate and rebuild the damaged shops,” said Yar Asghar. He further demands that government should rehabilitate electricity and water supply to the market.
Some traders are optimistic about the future of Bara bazaar and say trading activities will further gear up in coming days. They vow they will personally work hard to boost their business as they can’t rely on government assurances.
There are other traders who are still waiting for government‘s support. “We were hopeful that government would provide financial aid to us to restart our businesses but the cold-shoulder response of the government has disappointed us,” said a dejected trader. “Pledges were made with us but to no avail,” he complains.
“We are facing water and electricity problem though some developmental projects are underway,” says another trader optimistic about the future of the Bara bazaar.
“The local people are very hardworking and resilient. We must appreciate them as they started their business in tents,” says a shopkeeper.
Talking to TNN Assistant political agent Bara Muhammad Arif said that the iconic bazaar will be developed into a business center of international standard and the government has allocated Rs1 billion for its development. “Roads have been completed whereas work is in progress on sanitation and provision of electricity,” he added.
“Seven security checkpost have been set up in the bazaar to keep situation under control as maintaining security is our prime objective. Besides, a 40-member committee has been set up to look after the affairs of the bazaar. We are moving forward in consultation with the local elders and market association office bearers and hopefully we will bring more positive changes,” he maintained.
Bajuar Agency is a success model for the rest of the tribal agencies of FATA where business flourished after more than 200,000 people displaced by militancy returned to the agency in 2012. According to official data, almost all the displaced people of Bajuar agency have been resettled in their areas in 2012. Some 50 families are still living in Jalozai camp as they prefer stay in the camp on their free will apparently due to their own tribal disputes.
As normalcy returned to the area, people restarted their businesses and they are satisfied with the outcome of the marketeering and trade.
Attaullah, who had been very successful medicine businessman in Charmang area of the agency, experienced extreme poverty and worst days of his professional life after being displaced from his hometown due to militancy and military operations. Now he has returned and restored his business again. In interview to TNN, he says situation has improved a lot and his business is also getting better with time.
He recalls that the en-masse migration of people from the agency had severely spoiled his medicine business. “Before the insurgency was started, I had a flourishing business. But when the situation turned ugly and the people were forced to leave, we also left our homes and business. Everything was ruined,” he informs.
He says he faced hard days as an internally displaced person in Peshawar but soon he started a business to support his family.
Attaullah says he returned to Bajuar after the security forces restored peace in the area and restarted his business afresh. “Everything is going smoothly now,” he adds.
He urges all his fellow tribesmen who had earlier shifted their businesses to safer places out of the area due to the military operation, to return to the agency and contribute to the revival of local economy and trade.
Efforts are also underway to restore peace and tranquility in the restive North Waziristan Agency as the military has been carrying out the decisive Zarb-e-Azb operation to clear the area from militants since June 214.
Due to the Zarb-e-Azb operation more than 1.5 million people migrated from the area and a large number of them temporarily settled in Baka Khel camp as well parts of Bannu district.
However, several thousands of people have been sent back homes since repatriation was started in March 2015, after security forces cleared vast part of the agency.
The government has announced Rs 3 billion package for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of major business and commercial centers. According to government functionaries, these bazaars will now be reconstructed as per latest design and requirements.
North Waziristan had once busy bazaars and business centers in Mir Ali, Miran Shah and Data Khel. These bazaars were popular for timber, automobile, dry fruits, tea, auto parts and other kinds of commodities. These businesses were ruined as people migrated from the agency when the Zarb-e-Azb operation was launched against the militants.
The local business community of all the bazaars of the agency has now been demanding compensation from the government for the losses they faced. A committee comprising elders of different tribes and representatives of traders’ association has been formed to negotiate with the government for the compensation.
According to Deen Payo, the head of the traders’ committee, there were more than 13000 shops in the three main bazaars of Mir Ali, Miran Shah and Data Khel but all these shops have been destroyed in the military offensive.
Payo adds that the local traders have also come under huge debts of traders from other cities as they used to borrow goods from them on credit but could not serve the debt in time. “We have compiled lists of all these shopkeepers and traders and handed over to the government authorities. We demand of the government to help out us in this difficult time as we have almost gone bankrupt,” Payo urges.
Another trader say they left their shops full of edibles such as flour, sugar, ghee, pulses, cement and other household items which have been spoiled and devastated. He also demands that the government should announce financial package for them.
Some people are critical of the conditions set by the local civil and military authorities on mobilization of returnees saying even if the bazaars are reopened, it would be impossible for outsiders to come and start business here. “Before the military operation, local people use to run huge joint businesses with partners from other areas as goods were being sent from Mir Ali and Miran Shah to other parts of the country,” Dedar Wazir says. He adds now it would be difficult for people to risk their investment in Waziristan.
The local traders and owners of shops and markets were assured by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor that they would be compensated to reconstruct their damaged structures.
At present, two new markets are being constructed in Gora Qabristan and Khadi in Miran Shah bazaar whereas local people are also building markets and plazas in comparatively rural areas.
Meanwhile, an official of the Fata secretariat Fazal Ulla claims that the government has initiated a number of programs for the revival of commercial activities in Fata.
He says the government has established a rehabilitation and reconstruction unit which overlooks developmental activities in Fata. Besides, a Post Crises Need Assessment (PCNA) cell is also functional which collects data about the damages and losses so that the affected people can be compensated, he reveals. According to him, provision of financial compensation package to the affected traders is also under consideration.
This is a transcript of radio magazine program “Da Manzal Pa Lor”on the issues faced by Temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs) from FATA. The program is produced by TNN’s producers Shan Muhammad and Abdul Qayyum Afridi in Pashtu language for broadcast on six radio stations in FATA and KP. Da Manzal Pa Lor aims at highlighting the problems faced by TDPs as well as bridging the gap between the government, humanitarian agencies and the displaced population.