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Transformation of North Wazirastan

In June 2014, a group of journalists was flown to Miran Shah, North Wazirastan immediately after the security forces took control of the town. The visitors were stunned to see the volume of recovered explosive which was in hundred and thousands of tons , suicide bombers training centres, under ground tunnels, markets of IED shops. It was hard to believe that every second house was an IED making factory. The town was no go area and had deep linkage with groups carrying out terrorism all across the country. Since completetion of operation ZeA, North Waziristan has gone fundamental shift in the political and economic environment. Multi-pronged strategy has significantly contributed to the transformation of the political and economic environment in the post-conflict setting. These steps include inter alia effective border management to counter illicit trafficking and crossborder terrorism, security sector reforms, improving the mechanism of governance, and diversifying ‘formal’ economic opportunities.

The post-conflict North Waziristan exhibits considerable improvements towards establishing and promoting conditions that are pivotal for sustainable peace. Recovery of oil and gas, Health, education, reconstruction of markets, sports grounds have revolutionised the life of locals. North Waziristan had never been a peaceful place, even in colonial times. Over the past four decades, it had witnessed prolonged episodes of unrest and violence. Due to the lax administrative controls, it had become notorious as an attractive site for transnational terrorist networks.

The insurgency and the consequent military operations in North Waziristan and other former tribal
agencies had a devastating effect on the local population. The scale of human suffering can be gauged from the fact that more than 80,000 families, that is, almost a million individuals, were internally displaced and an entire system of traditional social capital and communities’ livelihood collapsed. The standard of living, already one of the lowest in the country, plummeted; all human indicators, spatial inequalities and overall economic underdevelopment made the region one of the most impoverished in the whole country. In the battle to suppress the insurgency, military operation was launched in the area which resulted to bring back a modicum of stability . As the dust settled over much of war-torn North Waziristan, military took effective measures, not only to maintain the fragile peace but also to pave a pathway towards postconflict reconstruction and development. The change for the better is fraught with dangers, as anancient society finds it difficult to part ways with its deadly past.

Owing to their geographical location as the buffer between British India and Afghanistan, North
and South Waziristan were at the centre of the British colonial strategy in the great game with
imperial Russia. The entire border land was deliberately cut off from the rest of the country. The
tribes fought among themselves to wrest scarce resources from each other. Their daily bread came
from subsistence farming and sheep herding. In case of drought, the tribesmen would raid the
neighbouring settled areas. Having breached the law, the tribal people would brace for the state’s
retribution through punitive campaigns or application of the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation

Management and re-regulation of the Pak–Afghan border under the counter-terrorism efforts to disconnect the cross-border nature of terrorism and improving the mechanism of governance and diversifying ‘formal’ economic opportunities has helped to transform area into a new direction.
New governance mechanism and border management motivated by security and development are working in tandem to ensure sustainable peace in the region.

District has three sub-divisions Miranshah, Mir Ali and Razmak . Ghulam Khan is major crossing point for formal border trade in the post-conflict environment.
Geographically, North Waziristan is one of the remotest and most isolated tribal districts. It is a
long strip of 4707 km2 of ‘unutterably rugged country’, mostly stony and barren, always difficult
and often dangerous. Wazir and Dawar (or Daur) are the two major tribes in North Waziristan and have been further divided into sub-tribes. Utmanzai Wazirs are thought to be among the most powerful tribes in the tribal regions and fall under the great Karlanri main tribe. Overall, the Wazirs have always been depicted as ‘lawless Spirits’ who could indulge in ‘daring depredations’ when it came to the defence of their land . Dawar is the second dominant tribe in North Waziristan, and its members are exclusively located along the Tochi River, past Kharqamar. North Waziristan is also home
to other small tribes. For instance, the Mehsud (primarily a South Waziristan tribe) are settled in
Razmak and Gharyum Tehsils of North Waziristan and have mostly had strained relations with
Wazirs. Kharsin, Gurbuz, and Zadran (predominantly Afghan tribes), on the other
hand, can be located in the highlands on either side of the Pak-Afghan border, historically facilitated by the porous nature of the border. Similarly, the Saidgi tribe occupies the Shawal Valley bordering
As the epicentre of militancy, North Waziristan served as the breeding ground for both the
national and transnational movements (such as Al-Qaeda, Haqqani Network, Tehrik-e-Taliban
Pakistan (TTP), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), operating
across the porous border with impunity.Therefore, an array of foreign fighters hailing from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, other Central Asian states, the Middle East and Afghanistan planned, plotted and executed multiple violent operations, in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Illicit activities in North Waziristan involving both foreigners and locals have manifested in trans-border crimes, smuggling, extortion, ransom and the promotion of illegal and underground economies.

Attending to human development and economic opportunities has been revealing. The industrial base in the district is almost non-existent, and the land-use data records note
that only 4 per cent of the total land in North Waziristan is cultivated, and the remaining 96 per cent
is non-arable, yielding meagre agricultural output . Consequently,
employment or economic opportunities are non-existent, enticing highly vulnerable youth to the
illegal economy and militancy. Cross-border intimacy and alternative opportunities attracted significant force, and North Waziristan became a hotbed of lawlessness and terrorism, fermenting a
social and physical infrastructure that fostered illegality and sustained ill-governance. The conflict
environment in North Waziristan produced a complete annihilation of physical capital/infrastructure (schools, houses, hospitals, roads) and human and social resources .
Despite a porous border facilitating unchecked cross-border socio-economic motion, Pakistan
exercised its writ over the known crossing places through the Frontier Corps, a second-line defence
force. Peripheral and fragile geography, weak governance structures and the
permeable border became ideally suited for conflict, crime, illicit trading and terrorism, subsequently
spreading deep inside the country An arbitrary system of governance created friction among the tribes. Weak and inefficient institutional mechanisms resulted in outside forces influencing the peripheral tribal structures. A Political Agent – the only state-appointed patrimonial authority – governed the entire former agency of North Waziristan, wielding enormous power in his office The poorly governed spaces led to the ‘privatization’ of the ‘public’ domains, leading to ‘nepotism patronage, bribery, extortion, and other personal or black market relationships. As a result, this region experienced an ‘abysmal development record, an arbitrary judicial system, inefficient policing, and a porous border with Afghanistan’. During an interview with a senior provincial government official, it was mentioned that ‘millions if not billions of dollars’ worth of illegal items including narcotics were smuggled through the border’.The respondents further elaborated on the illicit trading and terrorism nexus while stating that the border was minimally monitored. Smuggling has been the primary funding source among the terrorist groups operating in North Waziristan .

North Waziristan has a unique geography which creates a distinct social setting promoting traditionally intermingling communities and tribes inhabiting either side of the border. This peripheral social setting intrinsically challenged the governance structures, a challenge which was further compounded by a general void in explaining and theorizing inconsistent approaches to ruling such areas, reluctance, and haze in the State’s policy towards such borderlands . For centuries these districts remained self-governing entities with unique (indigenous) conflict resolution and justice dispensation mechanisms.

Nevertheless, the district has also witnessed a political and economic shift during the past few
decades. The Middle East oil boom in the 1970s resulted in labour migration (led by the residents
of both North and South Waziristan), bringing in large remittances . The increased access to diasporic remittances created competing economic channels. It also
brought about a socio-political change in the district that was primarily observed to challenge the
patronage system and centralized authority of Maliks, who played as a conduit between the Political
Agent and the local tribes. Structural inadequacy, negligence, incompetence, corruption and insensitive treatment of the locals have remained key low-points of the governance in
North Waziristan during the recent past.

The shift in the political and economic environment occurred in three ways. Firstly, remittances sent by the labour migration from the Middle East financially empowered the individual families and Qaum (sub-tribe), and ‘these remittances may have quadrupled the per capita annual income for the households’, secondly, economic empowerment challenged the traditional power dynamics which
were wielded to perpetuate the subordination of the weak and marginalized. As a result, the dependence on the state-backed traditional patronage of Maliks and war-backed economic patronage of warlords and Mullahs diminished. Thirdly, economic empowerment increased the demand for smuggled goods, feeding directly into the illicit cross-border economy . These indigenous and exogenous factors ‘competed against the old state patronage networks to influence the political economy of the region.

The post-conflict situation have been characterized by scholars as constituting ‘multiple
transition processes’ such as the transition from war to peace, democratization, decentralization,
liberalization, and economic stability. Consequently, the transformation from conflict to peace is a complex process and involves politically and economically ostracized decisions to ensure sustainable peace.

The post-conflict context of North Waziristan, became cluttered with some extraordinary challenges. Some of these challenges included the return of IDPs, post-conflict rehabilitation
and reconstruction, creating economic opportunities, security sector reforms and extending the
governance and institutional mechanism to supplement the peacebuilding agenda. In this vein, an
allocation for Rs.300 billion has been planned by the KP government over the next 10 years for
these districts . Similarly, with £110 million aid from the UK , out of which almost £18 million has already been spent, multiple projects have been planned to be completed by 2023.

More importantly, the state intervention and North Waziristan–KP merger alter the economic
structure from illegal to legal. Improving education and health facilities and creating job opportunities are the key priorities of the post-conflict economic reconstruction and development agenda.

The State is investing in upgrading the existing education and healthrelated infrastructure. The legal and judicial system in North Waziristan is only working minimally and is non-functional in far-flung rural areas, necessitating continuity of traditional mechanisms such as Jirga. Some enforcement of contracts, property and land-related issues, and minor disputes have been reported through formal mechanisms at the courthouses established at Bannu (the nearest town outside the district).The merger of the tribal districts in KP has materialized under the Constitution (Twenty-fifth Amendment) Act, 2018. Based on the national governance structures, local administration offices have been established, but the hiring and staffing process is pending transition into practice. Therefore, the provision of smooth utility services such as clean water, electricity, gas and sanitation facilities is lacking. The functioning of the local government is hampered by slow coordination and the existing fragmented structure.One momentous governance step was the merger of local Khasadar and Levies into the KP Police force. This process has created an almost 4000-men strong police force; however, their training and structuring as a regular force are still in the planning stages. In the post-conflict phase, well-established governance mechanisms are likely to lead the district towards peace and normality. Before the launch of the military operation, border-crossing and business access was controlled by the militants. Due to the military operations, the crossing remained closed for almost 4 years (2014–2018) and reopened in May 2018. The border environment, comprising rugged terrain, high mountains, deep streams and steep valleys, facilitated the infiltrat- ing militants. Several respondents reported that most of the militant groups that operated in North Waziristan have now moved to the other side of the border. Before the border fencing, the operatives of TTP could easily cross the border and move to Miranshah, and onwards to settled areas such as Bannu. Insisting on the necessity of a border fence, military officials contend that besides improving the overall security of the region, fencing is also likely to regularize and redirect trans-border move- ment to the known crossings. However, the locals had reservations related to trans-border move- ment.

 Consequently, Pakistan’s decision to fence the international border was a measure to control the porous border and to prevent the terrorists from crossing to either side of the border. The master plan for fencing the entire border includes comprehensive and intense surveillance, monitoring, a crossing-control plan and border vigilance. The fencing has been completed across the entire indicated length of deploy- ment of the Tochi Scouts (almost 68 km) and further to the north-east and south-west of Ghulam Khan.

Additionally, almost 150 forts are being built in the area. Most of these forts are strategically located and operational, ensuring inter-visibility, and they are being manned by almost 4000 soldiers. The forts have been supplemented and inter-connected by construction and by upgrading pre-existing posts along the border every 100–200 m. The fence has further been reinforced with small equidistant check posts, holding mobile troops responsible for round-the-clock patrolling, ensuring the sanctity of the fence and the crossing. As a military supplement to the fence patrolling, ‘defence tracks’ are being devel- oped along the entire length of the fence to facilitate communication and the inter-post and fence vigi- lance. Routine security measures (such as bomb-sniffing and large troop movements) ensure that violent activities from across the border are pre-empted and reduced to the minimum. However, ‘across the border there are only 27 Afghan Army posts, creating a serious protective void. Moreover, the Afghan border guards are not professionally competent, and posts are under-manned.
The post-conflict socio-political and economic approach adopted by Pakistan has followed a two-pronged strategy. While the border control/fencing and crossing terminal have been operation- alized to secure the region physically, with Central Asia, the Ghulam Khan border terminal was inaugurated by former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in May 2018. Ghulam Khan is the third-largest border terminal after Torkham and Chaman. The terminal has been upgraded for round-the-clock operations and by the provision of National Database and Registration (NADRA) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) processing terminals which will help monitor, regulate and institutionalize the trade passing through Ghulam Khan terminal.

Since its reopening, the traffic flow between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been more than 11,000 outbound and almost 7000 inbound vehicles. The usual trade items arriving from Afghanistan include vegetables, fruits, dry fruits, household items, while Pakistan, in addition to these items, also exports flour and cement in large quantities. Due to the proximity of the western artery of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a veritable ‘game-changer’ less than 100 km from the Ghulam Khan crossing terminal – and the ease of crossing because of expansion and planned computerized upgrading, Ghulam Khan is expected to surpass the Torkham and Chaman crossings in the next 5 to 10 years. The developmental projects by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as water supply projects, tube wells, schools and dispensaries, further facilitate the local tribes. Additionally, the availability of faster computerized processing terminals helps the regular (Gurbuz) tribe crossings, as they frequents either side of the border for marriages, funerals and other social interactions.Local livelihood and close socio-economic cross-border relations had traditionally been dependent on drug trafficking, arms peddling and smuggling. Owing to the improved and regulated border management in the post-conflict scenario, the local population is gradually shifting towards more ‘formal’ economic activities, such as farming, live- stock, skill development, extractive industry-led opportunities, manufacturing, businesses and pro- vision of localized utilities and services. The post-conflict phase is an ongoing process with inherent risks. Therefore, while considering North Waziristan transposing from being the epicentre of violent extremism and terrorism into the post-conflict phase, it is important to address the drivers (socio-political and economic conditions) which facilitated the manifestation of terrorism in the first place. Consequent policy-related interventions are important to ensure sustainable peace in North Waziristan. Therefore, post-conflict reconstruction and development agendas are diversifying the ‘legitimate’ economic and employment opportunities, including regulatory and security sector reforms, extending justice and the rule of law, and regulating cross-border trading via Ghulam Khan terminal. The post-conflict North Waziristan exhibits a steady yet profound shift in the political economy. Moreover, the structural reforms (related to governance, border regulation, and security reconstruction) are expected to supplement the sustainable peace process. The post-conflict North Waziristan has shown considerable improvements towards establishing and promoting the pivotal conditions for peace.

North Waziristan has been embroiled in the protracted conflict not only over these past few decades; in fact, it witnessed violence in colonial times. Absence of the firm writ of the government, peripheral geography, a prolonged insecure environment and porous border intersected with the illicit and illegal economy. Some of the critical political and economic factors, which contributed to the manifestation of violent conflict in North Waziristan, but district’s distinct social and geographic character largely remains untapped, meriting further scholarly attention. There is a need for an enhanced understanding of the nuanced contextual realities that signify the tribal region of Pakistan in general and North Waziristan in particular.