AP ENTERPRISE: Rebuilding a former Taliban haven

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm •  Published: April 10, 2013
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It's also unclear when, if ever, the military will be able to hand over power to a civilian government in South Waziristan, a territory about the size of Delaware.

"The progress is slow," said Abdur Rahim Khan, who is running in the May 11 election for a parliament seat in a South Waziristan district. His own village has not yet been resettled and most of his potential constituents are scattered around the country.

One of the military's most high-profile projects is the roads being built in areas previously only accessible by four-wheel drive, camel or on foot. The U.S. government's development arm is paying for most of the roads. Part of the plan is to open a new corridor to give traders easy access from Afghanistan to Pakistan's central Punjab province, the heart of the country's agriculture and manufacturing.

In Sararogha, local businessman Danet Khan said the new roads save time and money. On the gravel roads, the average vehicle only survived four or five years. Now the smooth two-lane highway through his village cuts travel time dramatically.

The military has built shopping areas where villagers now sell goods out of small shop fronts with roll-down metal doors painted with a green and white Pakistani flag. A barber — something forbidden under the Taliban — cuts hair in one of the stalls, though he says most residents don't need a shave because they still prefer long beards. Hayat would like to bring in a CD shop, something also banned by the Taliban.

Soccer fields, schools, poultry farms and homes for widows have been built, and the military is trying to rehabilitate a leather factory sacked by the Taliban.

With few jobs at home, families here have historically survived on wages from family members sent to work in the Pakistani port city of Karachi or the Persian Gulf. So the army built a vocational school to teach local men skills like computers and electricity repair. Since many people also joined the militants simply because they paid well, the school potentially deprives the Taliban of new recruits.

"They don't have any opportunities. They need something to live on. That's why they joined the Taliban," said one student studying to be an electrician, Sajjad Ahmed.

A cadet college run by Pakistani military officers was provided after requests from local residents who have been starved of quality schools and plagued by an absence of decent teachers.

In the long term, the future of this region will be influenced in large part by what happens in Afghanistan. American troops are scheduled to leave at the end of 2014. Pakistani military officials worry about a repeat of the civil war that followed the 1989 pullout of Soviet forces.

And the final goal of handing South Waziristan to a civilian government is a long way off.

"Right now we are ok and feel safe as long as the army is around, but I am not sure about the future," said one local resident, Malik Fareed Khan.

The tribal areas, known as agencies, have historically been seen as a security buffer between Afghanistan and the rest of Pakistan, administered mostly by government officials appointed by Islamabad and following a different legal system from the rest of the country. That system left a legacy of neglect and a feeling among locals that they don't answer to the central government.

But for real stability, the tribal areas need to be better connected with the rest of Pakistan.

"The military is playing its role but at the end of the day, you need to answer those questions to be successful in bringing total peace," said Hayat.

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Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mahsud contributed to this report from Dera Ismail Khan.

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Follow Rebecca Santana at http://www.twitter.com/ruskygal.



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