Asia

Pakistan Taliban talks cast shadow over South Waziristan

  • 15 April 2014
  • From the section Asia

Since the Pakistani military's 2009 offensive in South Waziristan largely drove out the Taliban, the region has seen development and trade. But peace talks in neighbouring North Waziristan are creating uncertainty over its future stability, as BBC Urdu's Shumaila Jaffrey reports after visiting the region with the army.

Irfan Khan is 18. He left his home in the Chagmalai area of tribal South Waziristan and migrated to Karachi to escape the war when he was only eight.

One of the lucky few who have made it back home, he is now thriving.

Irfan works in a football stitching unit built by the military in his village, earning around $150 (£90) every month.

"During the war it was hard to live here, so we went to Karachi," he says.

"I started my school there but couldn't continue it; then the military called us back to Chagmalai and put me in this football unit. It has given me a decent living, I am very happy now."

Avenues of trade

A few years ago the concept of a peaceful and settled life was completely alien to the people in South Waziristan. They had never thought of getting roads, schools, hospitals and employment schemes.

Since the Pakistani military recaptured the territory from the Taliban, it has brought a lot of development in the area.

But the development didn't come easily. More than 640 soldiers have lost their lives during and after the operation; 31 of them were killed during the construction of roads.

Young men stitch together footballs in South Waziristan
Young men make footballs at a unit built by the Pakistani army in Chagmalai
Road signs in South Waziristan
People in South Waziristan say new roads have brought more business opportunities

Aklas Khan, known as Baba South Waziristan, was once a staunch supporter and facilitator of the Taliban, but when he saw the bloodshed and misery inflicted by them on the local people, he disassociated himself from the militants.

"Earlier all the men used to carry guns in our area, but now it's banned. People cannot keep and display weapons [without a license].

"There are hardly any incidents of murders, kidnappings and robberies in our area, we want to live peacefully now".

The military has constructed 800km (500 miles) of road that connects South Waziristan to Afghanistan. The road has opened new avenues of trade between the two countries.

Hazrat Ali is a truck driver. He takes vegetables, fruits and other day-to-day items from Pakistan to Afghanistan. He used to make one trip a month, but since the road has been constructed, he takes two trips in a week.

"The road has made our life easier," he says.

"There are dozens of check posts on the road, the military is patrolling round the clock, trade through Angoor Adda border has increased manifold."

Threat to peace

The military has created a strong defensive shield around the area.

An army officer works at a checkpoint with a list of suspected militants on the wall
Photos of suspected militants are hung on the wall of a checkpoint

Every person who wants to enter South Waziristan has to register at a military checkpoint.

There is a long list of people displayed at the checkpoint; these are the people that the military consider to be a potential threat to the peace of the area.

The list includes the names of members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Many believe that peace in South Waziristan is linked to the future developments in North Waziristan.

During the army action, the Taliban were forced to retreat to North Waziristan, and over the years it has become a safe haven for militants from the Taliban and al-Qaeda as well as other jihadist organisations.

Their presence in the north is a constant threat to the peace and stability in South Waziristan.

Dialogue

Although 16,000 troops are deployed to stop any possible infiltration of the militants, ambushes on army convoys, roadside bombs, and IED attacks have not stopped and there have been clashes more recently as well. The area is clearly not totally secure.

And despite the development that the military has brought to South Waziristan some people are weary about their presence. They believe the army's presence has curtailed their freedoms and affected their traditional way of life.

Military checkpoint in South Waziristan
Anyone entering South Waziristan must register at a military checkpoint

So the violence of the past still haunts people, but they are now more concerned about the future.

There is a lot of interest in the peace talks recently started between the government and the Taliban.

Ghanam Zaad Khan is a local trader. He hopes that the talks will work.

"We have seen a lot of suffering and pain during the war. So we feel that the dialogue is the better option - but if there is another military operation, we will flee again."

But there are some who believe that the government and the Taliban cannot make any compromise without addressing the concerns of people from South Waziristan.

"Our people must put their demands on the table as well. We have suffered huge losses during the war between the Taliban and the military," says Ghanam Zaad Khan.

"Somebody will have to compensate for it. If they don't we can become worse than the Taliban."

As another round of direct talks between the government and the Taliban start, clouds of uncertainty are looming large over South Waziristan.

Many believe that stability in the area has become hostage to future developments in its troubled neighbourhood.