In June 2014, the Pakistan Armed Forces launched a joint military offensive against terrorists and militants in the region. This was a renewed effort against militants in the wake of the attack on the Karachi airport on June 08.
Up to 30,000 soldiers are part of the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb to flush out local and foreign militants hiding in the agency. This has strongly improved security situation across the country and received widespread support from the people. Several soldiers have been martyred in the fighting but their sacrifices helped bring peace and prosperity to the area.
OUR VISIT TO NORTH WAZIRISTAN
Arshad Sharif travels to Miranshah, capital of the North Waziristan agency to see the development in the area which occurs after death and destruction due to heavy fighting between the military and insurgents. In 2014 it was impossible for an ordinary citizen to travel to the main market of Miranshah, which witnessed horrific public executions as terrorists administered their own version of justice.
The town of Ghulam Khan Kalay near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is now one of the main stopovers of trade and commerce between the two countries. It was difficult to travel to the town of Mir Ali but the situation has improved significantly in the area and several command and control centres of the terrorists have been dismantled. While recording for his program Powerplay, Sharif is seen traveling on the carpeted road to Mir Ali in an open army vehicle.
On 19th April, 2016 the Pakistan Army declared success in the operation in Shawal area of North Waziristan.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif visited the embattled area where he was briefed about the operational gains. More than 800km of area was recaptured in Shawal and heavy causalities were inflicted on the terrorists.
There is now a modern ‘Pakistan Market’ in the area. Maj Gen. Nouman Mehmood (GOC) said they have been instructed to develop the area in two phases by the Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif. Therefore, they have constructed a 150-shop market in Miranshah as the temporarily displaced persons (TDPs) are returning to the region and have reached near Mir Ali. Almost 25,000 people have returned to the area between Miranshah and Mir Ali.
This has been done so that they have a source of income after they have returned. A similar project is also been formed in Mir Ali which has been publicized by the political agent. They also aimed to construct similar markets in the region and repair and renovate older projects.
None of those who have returned have fired even a single bullet. The intake in schools has also increased and many hospitals and schools have been renovated. The area has huge copper deposits and a jirga between the locals and the political authorities has decided to export copper to other areas. The FATA Development Authority should explore the area for further opportunities.
The theme of the market is Pakistan and the architecture has been inspired from various parts of the country. The flag of Pakistan remains the most prominent feature of the market, as it is painted on the shutter of every shop. There are not just shops but also a park and a mosque. All shops are tiled with attached bathrooms as well with one kilometer of carpeted roads in the market. Due to non-availability of electricity, there are solar panels which are one of the modern facilities in the area.
The area has huge deposits of copper and chromium. They have been used by the PAEC and the FATA Development Authority. Previously these were explored in rudimentary ways often by excavators and miners. The proceeds were shared between the political agents and the local tribal people and were rather insignificant.
Therefore, a mechanism has been developed by which the money will be shared equally among households of the area to provide a decent income for their livelihood.
FAMILY PARK AND SPORTS COMPLEX
The first-ever family park has been constructed in the agency where women and children can go out of their homes for recreational purposes. There are female attendants in the park and swings for the children. Lush green and manicured lawns speak of the development in the area. School girls were given tours and brochures were distributed to encourage them to visit the sports complex.
This has been greatly welcomed in the area and has shattered taboos in the predominantly conservative society. Once the hub of extremists the area echoes with screams and joyful cries of children singing the national anthem and other national songs brimming with patriotism. The presence of young children on swings and slides enjoying their childhood is a sight of behold speaking volumes how much the restive region has progressed. However, it is time that a policy needs to be developed for the children of the area.
Apart from that a web of roads has been laid in the area to facilitate transportation and communication. Water supply has been provided to those towns and villages where TDPs have returned. There is also at least one school in every village. Previously development was done only on paper but it is now overseen by the Pakistan Army. The system has not changed and is still provided by the FATA Development Authority but a new monitoring system has evolved to ensure it is duly completed and there is real development on ground.
There is a complete new mechanism being developed to ensure teachers and doctors are also available in the area. They were present earlier too but had to leave the area due to the security situation, yet they were withdrawing salaries. Their attendance has been made mandatory and absentees have been warned of dismissal from job.
There is no television, mobile phones or even power supplies. However, it is hoped that electricity will be provided by end of the year. Mobile phones were present but were destroyed as they were being used by the terrorists and new proposals are being sought. Television is a modern medium which can bring change and is hoped to reach the area as well.
In short, operation Zarb-e-Azb has not just restored peace in the agency, but it has also paved a way for prosperity of the natives, who have seen enough bloodshed and hardships in the past and are now willing to live peacefully.