Pakistan Army’s Efforts For Development Of Newly Merged Districts (NMDs) – OpEd


FATA was a hotbed for the recruitment and training of terrorists after 9/11. Terrorists established their strongholds in this area as the state authority and governance was never extended to these lands since 1947. As Pakistani laws were not implemented there, the area was known as ‘Aalaqa Ghair.’

From 2002-03, the Pakistan army entered the area to uproot hideouts of these terrorists and stop growing terrorism in Pakistan. The Pakistan security forces conducted scores of full-scale military operations, causing internal displacement on a large scale. The region was reclaimed with colossal human and material costs. The meager infrastructure built-in 70-plus years in the entire 27,220sq km of the region was obliterated.

These areas of Pakistan were deprived of their right to good governance and adequate administration. A survey conducted by the KP government just before the merger indicated that approximately 65% of FATA’s total population lived under the poverty line. Health and education facilities were almost non-existing. There was a doctor for almost every 8000 people. There were few basic health units and maternity hospitals, but most of these were inactive for many years as the law and order situation in the region prevented any medical staff from working safely. The Polio virus was only found in this part of the country as polio workers and teams were attacked multiple times. The inadequate police force had made law and order precarious as well.

Like healthcare, education infrastructure was destroyed by the terrorists during the prolonged occupation of these areas before the Pakistan army uprooted them and began a mammoth task of restoring education, healthcare, and business infrastructures in NMDs. The initiatives the federal government and Pakistan Army took began to transform the entire region for the better. Once peace was restored after a ruthless and bloody war on terror, the Pakistan army focused on turning this breeding ground of terrorists into one of the safest places in the country. 

As people in these districts follow strict codes based on Pushtun traditions, Pakistan Army took each tribe into confidence and proposed projects according to the needs of each area. 

Pakistan Army began to carry out rehabilitation and restoration in 2015 when the government of Pakistan announced the rehabilitation of FATA. This explains Pakistan’s success model in insurgency-infected areas. This model is based on the strategy of carrying out the kinetic operation on the one hand while pushing for reforms and rehabilitation on the other hand. These reforms eventually led to the merging these restive areas into KP province in May 2018. 

5 key areas were identified in this regard 1) Health 2) Education 3) Socioeconomic uplifting 4) Strengthening law and order, and 5) Strengthening social cohesion and peace building. 

In the health sector, a major transformation was witnessed when the Pakistan army with the cooperation of foreign and local funding restored District Headquarter Hospitals (DHQs) in all 7 NMDs, along with the restoration and uplifting of 38 healthcare facilities where new modern equipment and trained staff was provided to ensure better healthcare services for locals. To expand the scope of DHQs, bed capacities in these hospitals have been instead as well. Apart from DHQs, major hospitals were established with the cooperation of friendly countries such as Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed and Sheikha Fatima Category A Agency Hospital benefiting more than 6 million people in FATA, Swat, and Malakand divisions.  

Pakistan Army played a key role in initiating the polio eradication campaign by providing security to polio teams. Consequently, the polio cases dropped to 8 in 2017 from 306 reported in 2014.

In the education domain, the Pakistan army spearheaded the restoration of existing schools and the establishment of modern, state-of-the-art educational facilities for both male and female students across the tribal region. Due to prolonged violence in the region, education was the worst affected area of administration. As per reports, adult literacy was just below 30% while the national average is around 75%. Pakistan army along with the KP government has built more than 300 small and large schools. Pakistan Army took the educational initiative and established cadet colleges. Cadet College Wana, Spinkai Mohmad Gath, the education complex Bajaur Khan, and the education complex in Parachinar are a few examples of the Pakistan Army’s commitment to local youth. Due to these state of art educational facilities in the area, enrollment of students at various levels has increased. 

The biggest challenge in the NMDs after the return of peace was the recovery of socioeconomic activities in the area so that economic activities could return. This was a critical requirement for IDPs to return to their homes and to ensure law and order in the region. Local youth were an easy target for terrorist organizations for recruitment due to poor socioeconomic opportunities in the restive tribal areas. In this regard, building communication means was a daunting challenge. In this sphere, Pakistan Army’s FWO has built around 1300 km of major roads; So far, projects completed by Pakistan’s Frontier Works Organization (FWO) have included 18 major roads extending 1,205 kilometers, two large bridges, and a tunnel. The newly reconstructed Peshawar-Torkham Road is the most significant for accessibility of FATA with landlocked Afghanistan and the Central Asian states. FWO also built the Torkham-Jalalabad Road inside Afghanistan to facilitate two-way traffic between the neighbors.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have a new land link through the Dera Ismail Khan-Wana-Angoor Ada Road, which closed more than a century ago. The 80-kilometer Bannu-Miranshah-Ghulam Khan Road is the northern prong of a central trade corridor that passes through prominent towns of North Waziristan and Tochi Pass. The 75-kilometer Wana-Shakai-Makeen Road completed by FWO links Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, with North Waziristan from where the 73-kilometer Makeen-Razmak-Miranshah Road stretches to the Afghan border.

Roads are pathways of economic activities generated in business hubs. To build business hubs in NMDs, Pakistan Army once again came to the fore and established markets and business centers including more than 3000 shops divided into various markets and bazaars. Mir Ali Market in the North Waziristan district is a prime example of these business hubs.

Rehabilitation process in NMDs and the role the Pakistan Army has been playing in it since 2015 and even before is a shining chapter of our national history. This shows the inseparable bond between the people of Pakistan and the Pakistan Army. Pakistan Army has transformed war-torn areas into thriving social centers. This transformation is the only success story in more than 2 decades-long global war on terror. Pakistan Army’s role in nation-building is not confined to NMDs. Pakistan Army carries the tradition of preserving the dignity, honor and freedom of people of Pakistan across the entire country. This tradition is as old as Pakistan and there is no doubt it will grow stronger with time.

Shahzad Masood Roomi

Shahzad Masood Roomi is a lead research analyst at Brasstacks security think tank in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and an assistant editor of monthly Brasstacks Security Review magazine, which presents a Pakistani prespective on regional and global strategic and political issues. Shahzad Masood Roomi area of expertise is military and strategics.

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