The Tulips of Bajaur

The Tulips of Bajaur
What is now the district of Bajaur and was once a political agency in FATA, is famous for its wild tulips and mustard flowers. However, if you want to avoid utter disappointment, please consult folklore for the district’s past glory, as fairytales are the only place where this glory exists now.

“Look to the topography, doesn’t it look like Zurich” one of our companions exclaimed, mesmerized while traversing a part of the district last week.

Ironically, for seven long and agonizing decades, our policy makers have put the state and the now Merged Areas on a path which in actuality leads to nowhere. In the process, instead of giving something to the people, they have been deprived of whatever nature bestowed upon them.

Since the British era, the entire region from Bajaur to Waziristan has been turned into a black hole just for strategic considerations, at unspeakable human cost. Ironically, instead of mitigation, suffering in the region snowballed with the passage of time, as the people were forced to live in a land that was a strategic black hole.

FATA has been merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with great fanfare, and its numerous advocates, some of whom were sponsored and others were just useful idiots playing the role of cheerleaders, portrayed the merger as a revolution. However, that haphazard move, prompted only by strategic considerations, has backfired.

During my interactions with common people, elders and officials in Bajaur, the majority of them were expressing their disappointment on the situation after the merger. “The merger gave us only the inefficient and corrupt police system,” an elder maintained.

This situation reminds one of the verses of renowned Pashto poet Sahib Shah Sabir:

wakht chi pa ma bandi ihsan kavi no sa dasi kavi, 

zama serman obassu ma la ti saadar joravi.’

 (“If time obliged me, it would fleece my skin for a shawl.”)

Like its other newly merged sister tribal districts, Bajaur is also full of immense potential in terms of natural resources, but unfortunately, one can only feel the presence of the state in the form of its coercive writ and force. The infrastructure in the region, especially the link roads, are worse than medieval paths. For numerous union councils, electricity is still some celestial phenomenon. The localities where transmission lines have been installed only get electricity for two to four hours, out of a total of twenty-four.

Health and education facilities either do not exist, and if they do on the tehsil levels, are mostly dysfunctional or inefficient.

However, a Pashto proverb can be helpful in depicting the situation: ‘put someone to death and consequently, he will accept fever.’ Instead of asking for amenities and development, the locals beg for peace, and pray for an end to the bloodshed. Many of their influential community leaders have been murdered brutally by state-sponsored terrorists, and those who have survived are still facing grave threats to their lives. This situation has severely restricted their mobility, which in turn has created a vast social and political gap that erodes the sociocultural fabric.

Moreover, social and cultural values, and norms still command great importance for the people of this region. Thus, they exhibit an unusually high sensitivity to any outside arbitrary interference or action that causes ruptures. In contrast, our top policy makers habitually formulate policies on the bases of strategic and security considerations, at the cost of ignoring and discarding people’s aspirations and needs.

From the jirga of elders to the common man, everyone has shown unison on one demand: the opening of border points on the Durand Line.

An elder, while addressing a jirga in the presence of the Deputy Commissioner of Bajaur lamented that closure of the crossings had disturbed social relationships immensely with kith and kin living on the other side of the Line. ‘We belong to the same blood lineage, we are still intermarrying but to visit my sister, daughters or cousins beyond the Line, who are a few kilometers away from my hometown, I have to go via Dolorosa, from here to Peshawar, Torkham, Jalalabad, and then to the destination.

The people have been deprived of the special status and facilities, which the borders tribes enjoyed during the British Raj and up to a few decades ago. This facility included free and unrestricted social interaction among the tribes living on both sides of the Durand Line.

This restriction is a constant cause of resentments in the area. Apart from this, the closure of the border also affects the livelihoods of the people living near the border areas. ‘You can find in every city of Pakistan someone from Bajaur as a labor migrant, due to lack of livelihood opportunities here. The opening of at least two points: Nawa and Ghakhi Passes will not only facilitate social interaction among the relatives living across the Line, but the resumption of border trade will create livelihood opportunities for the locals,' an elder explained.

When I put this question to Anwarul Haq, the Deputy Commissioner of Bajaur, he admitted that the “Pakhtun is a mobile being, and restricting his mobility definitely creates resentment with political repercussions.” Being a native of the region himself, he had a deep understanding about the nitty-gritties of local social, political and economic dynamics.

This is just a policy issue that does not need any material resources or funding, but can prove to be a top-notch confidence building measure to win over the trust of the locals. Thus, concerned quarters should review this proposal.

Besides, the district has great potential in the sector of agriculture and fruit orchards. However, despite the potential, there is not a single fruit orchard that one can see while passing through the vast landscape.

Apart from this, in some aspects the region has pristine nature, and thus should be protected from haphazard construction that will breed concrete monstrosities which will only degrade the environment and enrich a select few at the expense of the many. Thus, the focus should be on effective land use planning and building codes. Last but least, the district has also immense tourism potential, but only needs the required infrastructure for accessibility, boarding and lodging.

It is time to heal old wounds, not to scratch them further. They deserve a healing touch.