Pakistani army monitors FATA schools, health facilities

By Ashfaq Yusufzai

A Pakistani soldier July 10 in Khyber Agency monitors the distribution of medicine to local residents. [Ashfaq Yusufzai]

A Pakistani soldier July 10 in Khyber Agency monitors the distribution of medicine to local residents. [Ashfaq Yusufzai]

PESHAWAR -- The Pakistani army has started monitoring schools and hospitals in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to improve education and health care.

"Taliban militants have damaged about 300 health facilities during the past decade, a majority of which have been reconstructed thanks to successful military action against miscreants," FATA Health Director Jawad Habib Khan told Pakistan Forward.

FATA has more than 800 health facilities with 10,000 staff who serve a population of 6m, according to Khan.

During the worst years of terrorist violence, most FATA patients had to seek care in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), even for minor ailments, because many FATA healthcare workers stopped going to work. Teachers who feared school bombings similarly disappeared from their jobs.

However, the army's counter-terrorism Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which has gone on non-stop since June 2014 in the tribal belt, has killed thousands of terrorists and sent surviving terrorists fleeing.

"We required the army's support for protection of the health facilities in FATA," Khan said. "Now, the army is present in all seven agencies and six Frontier Regions in FATA. The health facilities are quite safe."

Besides guarding healthcare facilities and schools, the army has orders to document absenteeism among staff, Khan said.

The involvement of the army -- Pakistan's most respected institution -- is meant to ensure the delivery of healthcare and to show the public the benefits of Zarb-e-Azb, he said.

Public rejects Taliban war on education

The public holds the army in high esteem and welcomes its protection of medical facilities and schools, said Akhunzada Chattan, a former National Assembly member from Bajaur.

"We need army men to assume a monitoring role in education and health sectors in FATA," he told Pakistan Forward.

"The Taliban militants are under the misconception that modern education isn't allowed in Islam," he said.

The people of FATA have rejected the Taliban's idea of Islam and want the army to stay in FATA, he said.

Checking staff attendance

Army monitoring teams are coming to FATA to visit schools, colleges and medical centres to compile data on teachers, students, doctors, support staff and missing facilities, military officials told local political agents, according to a July 14 Dawn report.

Monitoring in FATA already has started, officials said.

Local government officials feel more secure with the army present, said Shaukat Khan, deputy director of education in FATA.

"The employees had been collecting their salaries but stayed home because of lawlessness," he told Pakistan Forward. "Now there is complete peace as the army has been deployed everywhere."

Troops who did reconstruction and rehabilitation in North and South Waziristan have turned their energies to the monitoring process.

In June, KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra suggested giving the monitoring role to the army after receiving complaints about corruption and low-quality work in development projects in FATA, Shaukat said.

Staff attendance has improved in response to visits by the army and Frontier Corps, said Dr. Jamal Khan at the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Wana, South Waziristan.

Civilian officials provide support for the army teams, he said. "There is complete co-operation between civil and military authorities," he told Pakistan Forward.

Negligent and absent civil servants will face disciplinary action after the army submits its reports to relevant commandants, he added.

Schools and hospitals start to fill up again

Local teachers and doctors are grateful for the return of security.

FATA has 5,572 schools with 574,512 pupils, said Umer Shah, principal of the Government High School in Wana, South Waziristan.

"We hope that enrolment will increase when the staff resume attending," he told Pakistan Forward. "Hundreds of children who had migrated from their hometowns ... will return when they learn that schools have begun imparting quality education."

Army monitoring will improve staff attendance and therefore health care, said Muhammad Jamal, a physician at the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Ghalanai, Mohmand Agency.

"In the past, our staff stayed away because of increasing militancy," he told Pakistan Forward. "Now they are coming and the number of patients has increased."

"In May, we received 3,241 patients, but that number shot up to 6,122 in June," he said.

The army's considerable resources will benefit the financially strapped medical and educational sectors of FATA, Peshawar-based security analyst Khadim Hussain told Pakistan Forward.

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