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Militancy, military operations wreak havoc with FATA economy

PESHAWAR: Militancy followed by military operations in Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) during the last decade have literally wreaked havoc with the business activities in the tribal region, bordering war-torn Afghanistan.
Starting it from Khyber Agency — which is just a stone’s throw away from Peshawar — Pakistan Army launched a full-fledged military offensive in its Bara sub-division in September 2009. The drive was aimed at flushing out Lashkar-i-Islam militants led by Mangal Bagh, a tribesman from Sepah clan of Afridi tribe.
Thousands of people in Bara had no other option but to move to safer locations ahead of the military operation. Commercial activities in the region including in the main Bara Market came to grinding halt due to the exodus.
The time the government gave to the tribespersons to vacate the area was too short to even take with them their daily use goods. The local traders allege that the political administration had not issued prior notice to them before closure of Bara Bazaar.
However, in 2015 the political administration announced repatriation of the people displaced from Bara sub-division. Whereas, in February 2016, then Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan formally reopened the main Bara Market which was once a flourishing trading spot, providing livelihood opportunities to thousands of people.
The traders, nevertheless, are still faced with a plethora of problems. Abdul Wali Khan, a local trader who re-started business of silver ornaments in the Bara Bazaar, says that the bazaar has yet to regain its past glory.
Like Khan, most of the traders in Bara Bazaar complain about financial losses.
Restarting businesses after years of pause was a difficult task for them as they had already spent almost all of their savings during the period they were forced to live the life of an internally displaced person.
After six years when the Bara Market was reopened for commercial activities, they found the circumstances quite different. “Traders were extremely disappointed when they came to know that millions of rupees were required to pay in advance to get a shop coupled with high rent,” says Khan, adding that even some traders borrowed money from other people to restart their businesses.
Bahadar Khan is a representative of Shalobar tribe in Bara Trade Union who makes serious endeavours to resolve the problems of local traders and businessmen.
He complains that on September 01, 2009, the Bara residents were given a 24-hour deadline to vacate the area ahead of military operation. The local traders were also ordered to shift their trade goods to safe places, however, that was next to impossible to shift all of their trade goods on such a short notice. Resultantly, all of their goods left in their shops, he adds.
“On February 5, 2016 government announced reopening of Bara Bazaar, but the announcement was mere rhetoric as we found that all of our goods left in the shops and a number of our markets were completely destroyed.”
He claims that as many as 11,600 shops were registered with Bara Traders Union and out of them more than 2,000 were completely destroyed. The Bara bazaar was a source of employment for more than 30,000 people.
Furthermore, he says, a number of factories in the area are presently closed, while the crush plant is also closed which is directly affecting local trade activities. Local traders were hoping that the government would announce compensation for the affected traders and would take steps to resolve their problems however no such announcement has so far been made.
But at the same Khan is appreciative of local administration and security forces’ role to address the problems of traders. He admits that in 2009, a market, housing over 3,000 shops, was established at Batta Tal, a suburban area of Peshawar abutting Khyber Agency’s Bara sub-division.
Raza Khan, head of a trade union safeguarding the rights of Bara factory owners, says then governor Sardar Mahtab Ahmed Khan announced in July 2016 reopening of factories in Bara, pledging all possible help to factory owners. “The announcement was never translated into action.”
He claims that in 2009 as many as 133 factories were operational in Bara, accommodating around 20,000 employees.
Two hundred youth who have recently been passed out from government-run rehabilitation centres have also been provided job opportunities in these factories. They earn 20,000 to 30,000 rupees a month by applying the skills they learnt in the rehabilitation centres.
North Waziristan
Malak Abdul Sattar had an established wholesale business of cloth in Miranshah’s Zafar Town. Now he is dependent on the financial assistance provided by the aid agencies and the government to make both the ends meet.
In June 2014 when the government announced the launch of military operation codenamed Zarb-i-Azb, he had in his shop a huge stock of new variety to meet the demands of customers who would throng his shop ahead of Eidul Fitr.
“We were assured that all of our belongings will be safe and we would be able to resume routine businesses after the area is cleared of militants.” But Sattar finds the whole market destroyed when he comes back to his hometown in 2016 after the completion of military operation.
This was in this perspective that the North Waziristan traders staged protest demonstrations in Bannu, Peshawar and in Islamabad in April last.
Malik Ghulam, who heads a committee formed to protect the rights of affected people of Waziristan, tells Peshawar Today that on April 20 a representative jirga of affected traders of North Waziristan held a meeting with Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director Genera Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor and officials of NWA political administration.
The meeting unanimously decided to hold a jirga in Miranshah on April 22 which was also attended by ISPR chief. The jirga decided to constitute a 25-member committee which was tasked to assess the losses the local traders incurred during the military operation.
“The jirga has so far received 3,200 applications from Mir Ali and 4,500 from Miranshah traders who suffered losses.”
Shafeerullah, a senior official at North Waziristan political administration, informs Peshawar Today that two committees have been set up — one each for Miranshah and Mir Ali bazaars — to assess the quantum of damages the traders suffered.
“The government has extended its all-out support to these committees and the traders would be properly compensated in the light of the recommendations the committees come out with.”
He goes on to add that a 1,391-shop market has been constructed in Miranshah, adding that all facilities have been ensured in the market.

The Miranshah bazaar new look after its construction by Pak-Army

The local traders, however, claim that there were more than 7,300 shops in Miranshah bazaar and around 5,000 in Mir Ali bazaar before the launch of military operation in North Waziristan in June 2014.
The political administration contests the claim of the local traders. It puts the number of shops in Miranshah bazaar before military operation at 3,400. “We’ve visual proofs of the bazaar which will help us verify their claims,” says Shafeerullah.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, alongside Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa inaugurated on April 30 the newly-constructed Miranshah Market Complex constructed by Army Engineers.
It includes 1,344 shops, parks, car parking areas, solar lights, driveways and water supply network. The premier also inaugurated Ghulam Khan Trade Terminal in North Wazirstan Agency as part of Central Trade Corridor.
The newly-constructed trade terminal and communication infrastructure in tribal areas will connect the local traders with China Pakistan Economic Corridor at Dera Ismail Khan.
Bajaur Agency:
Similarly, trader community in Bajaur Agency was also adversely affected by the military drives in this tribal region during the period from 2008 to 2012.
Haji Bahadar Khan, president of the Khar bazaar traders, tells Peshawar Today that business centers in Inayat kaley, Sadiqabad Patak, Nawagai, Qazafi, Tangi Bazaar were badly affected during the military operations.

Loisam bazaar, he says, had more than 400 shops before the military swoop which has now been razed to ground. “Presently not a single shop exists in Loisam bazaar.”
He says that they recently met the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor and apprised him of the losses the Bajaur traders suffered owing to the military operations to restore peace in the region. “But our all efforts in this regard have yet to bear any fruit.”
He complains that they cannot re-construct their shops at their own as it has been made mandatory upon them to get Non-Objection Certificate before any construction.
“The government should give reasonable compensation to the affected traders, shopkeepers and house owners,” he says, adding government should also open trade routes with Afghanistan.
SMEDA
According to Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) the World Bank with the cooperation of multi-donor fund conducted a survey in 2010 titled ‘Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA: Post Crisis Needs Assessment’ to assess the damages caused by militancy.
They survey was aimed at reviewing various aspects of militancy and pointing out aspects of to revive peace and to provide employment opportunities to defeat militancy in the region.
The survey had recommended a huge fund for revival of the war-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and FATA. However, only Rs 4.9 million were released for FATA and Rs 9.1 million for KP.
SMEDA Project Director Asad Mehmood tells Peshawar Today that the first phase of FATA economic revival was launched on 9 May 2012 and they received 5,345 applications. Grants were released to 408 applicants, he says. The first phase of the project was completed in September 2014.
Mehmood says that work is underway to devise strategy for the second phase of the project. A total of Rs 4.6 millions fund has been allocated for the second phase and affected shopkeepers and traders from Bara, Mir Ali, Miranshah and South Waziristan would be compensated, he says.

Islam Gul Afridi

He is a senior Journalist covering FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for national and international media. He is also reporting for Peshawar Today. He can be reached at islam.gul.afridi@gmail.com

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