Pakistan Launches High-speed Broadband in Tribal Areas
PM vows to restore normalcy, infrastructure to region long devastated by terrorism
[Islamabad] Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday announced the launch of high-speed broadband services in South Waziristan, a tribal district that had been globally recognized as a hub for terrorists and suicide bombers.
Khan, addressing a gathering of tribal elders after inaugurating a hospital in Maula Khan Sarai in the district last week, said, “The launch of high-speed internet is in line with bringing development in South Waziristan, an area that had long suffered the brunt of terrorism.
Tribal areas of Pakistan have suffered immensely due to militancy in the past, and it is time to compensate them
“After consultations with Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence chief Gen. Faiz Hameed, it was decided to launch internet services to facilitate the residents’ [access to the web], particularly [for] students, as most educational institutions have started online classes,” the prime minister continued.
“Tribal areas of Pakistan have suffered immensely due to militancy in the past, and it is time to compensate them,” he said.
Khan called the youth the country’s biggest asset, stressing that technical education would help them acquire the skills needed to meet the challenges of the contemporary world.
During his speech, the prime minister also said that “South Waziristan has a huge potential to produce olives,” adding that his government is working to trigger an “olive revolution” by planting saplings to create jobs and revenue.
“Our government will promote education in the area by building more schools, colleges [i.e., high schools] and universities,” Khan said. He also inaugurated a project for the extension of Cadet College Wana.
South Waziristan, a district bordering Afghanistan in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province, is one of the deadliest areas where the Pakistan Army has been battling armed fighters linked to banned, US-designated terrorist outfits Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al-Qaida for more than a decade.
The internet facilities were suspended due to law-and-order issues in the Waziristan tribal areas during a surge of militancy and subsequent military operations.
Students in the tribal areas have long demanded that internet facilities be restored, especially in light of the novel coronavirus, which is preventing them from attending online classes.
The tribal students could not benefit from broadband services and suffered a lot. Tribal students were deprived of the internet in this modern era, which was beyond comprehension
In April 2020, thousands of students across the tribal belt held a series of protests demanding internet access.
Abdul Samad Khan Dawar, a tribal students’ rights activist, told The Media Line that “the tribal students could not benefit from broadband services and suffered a lot. Tribal students were deprived of the internet in this modern era, which was beyond comprehension.”
Dawar was optimistic that “after Imran Khan’s decision, tribal students will be able to pursue their education easily.”
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has issued directions to all cellular mobile operators to immediately start broadband services in South Waziristan.
The remote and mountainous region, with its lush green valleys and natural springs, has an estimated population of 800,000. Unfortunately, terrorists had turned this earthly paradise into hell for its inhabitants for more than a decade. Its capital, Wana, is about 335 miles southwest of the provincial capital, Peshawar.
The terrorists systematically destroyed state institutions in South Waziristan, including hospitals and schools.
The Pakistan Army, with the assistance of the civil administration, has since made great progress in transforming the region into a civilized and terror-free region and restoring the infrastructure.
The people of Waziristan have long been doughty fighters. History tells that even Alexander the Great was not able to conquer the region.
The British Army launched several large operations against the Waziristan tribes from the 18th century until 1947, when Pakistan gained independence. Due to continued failure to take over Waziristan, the British termed the area “Hell’s door knocker.”
After the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, thousands of al-Qaida and Afghan Taliban supporters crossed the border and established bases in North and South Waziristan.
These elements splinted into small groups and began attacking security forces across the border. They also established suicide-bomber training centers in remote areas.
Pakistani forces subsequently cracked down on these terrorists. Scores of soldiers lost their lives, but the forces eventually wiped out the terrorists and destroyed their hideouts.
The Media Line spoke with analysts and officials about the state initiatives to revive normalcy in the region.
It was pathetic that the government was unable to provide internet in tribal areas for the last decade, when the Pakistani military had declared most parts of the tribal areas purged of militants
Rehmat Mehsud, a Rawalpindi-based leading analyst who hails from Waziristan, told The Media Line that “following the long-standing demand of students from the ‘troubled tribal areas,’ and on the backdrop of the outbreak of COVID-19, Prime Minister Imran Khan traveled to the volatile South Waziristan district and announced the operationalization of high-speed internet service.
“However, it was pathetic that the government was unable to provide internet in tribal areas for the last decade, when the Pakistani military had declared most parts of the tribal areas purged of militants,” Mehsud added.
“The demand of the students for provision of the internet facility was legitimate, but on the other hand, it was feared internet would be used by anti-state elements for their vested interests. The provision of the internet to parts of tribal areas was viewed as a security matter,” he said.
Responding to a question from The Media Line, Mehsud said, “The internet service will not have an immediate impact on the literacy rate, but yes, in the long run, it will multiply educational activities in the area.”
Maj. (ret.) Adil Farooq Raja, a prominent, Islamabad-based security analyst and a former troop commander in Waziristan, told The Media Line, “The prime minister’s announcement is a welcome development.
“The new generation of South Waziristan was frustrated, which was a natural outcome of the almost-two-decadelong ‘war within’ which inflicted collateral damage. Khan’s decision will allow them to vent their frustrations,” Raja noted.
“Due to self-imposed tribal norms and feudalism, this area has remained underdeveloped for decades,” he continued. “No efforts were made to bring these tribes into the national mainstream, which ultimately promoted poverty and illiteracy, and religious extremism as well. Meanwhile, it further strengthened the militancy, too,” he added.
“Keeping such facts in view, the Pakistan Army launched a massive education campaign in the tribal belt, because it is education which can bring a positive, developing transformation in society,” Raja said.
He further said that “the Pakistan Army engineers have been engaged in building roads, bridges, schools, basic health units and water supply schemes to provide facilities to the residents.
“The Pakistan Army succeeded in South Waziristan by a combination of infrastructure development work chartered through funds and with excellent counter-insurgency operations about which the Pakistan Army practically wrote the book,” Raja said.
Saeed Ullah Wazir, a Peshawer-based senior administrative officer, told The Media Line, “Waziristan has a soil rich with large fields of valuable minerals such as gold, copper, marble, etc. Unfortunately, due to decades of insurgency, it was difficult for the administration to explore for these minerals, but now with the support of the Pakistan Army, camps are being set up to explore for oil and gas as well.
“Waziristan’s soil is also the greatest producer of pine nuts and due to huge production, Pakistan is reported to be the second-highest exporters of pine nuts after China,” he said. “The Pakistan Army is fully supporting local farmers [in efforts] to avoid a high percentage of pine nuts’ wastage, and to promote better farming, cutting, roasting and processing.
“To improve commercial activities and to support farmers, an agricultural park was established in Wana town. It was established with the assistance of the local administration and security forces,” he continued.
“The agricultural park includes a state-of-the-art pine nut processing plant, a 1,000-ton-capacity cold storage facility, warehouses, and 128 shops,” Wazir said.
Due to the nonavailability of internet services, traders were facing some real problems, but now the situation will be improved. With online facilities, the agricultural park trade activities will bring a new-shared prosperity and development to South Waziristan
Haji Salman Khan Mehsud, a tribal elder and a prominent trader, told The Media Line, “The agricultural park is a providing much better facilities to the local traders and exporters. Due to the nonavailability of internet services, traders were facing some real problems, but now the situation will be improved.
“With online facilities, the agricultural park trade activities will bring a new-shared prosperity and development to South Waziristan,” he added.
“During the insurgency era, we suffered a lot. Our business collapsed, we were displaced. But now after a decade, we are much safer than before, and this is only possible due to the well-coordinated efforts by the Pakistan Army and the civil administration,” Mehsud said.