PESHAWAR -- Tribal elders and officials were proud to tell a group of Peshawar-based journalists visiting in February that North Waziristan Agency is peaceful and free from militancy.
Many residents were forced to flee their homes while Pakistani forces battled militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), starting in June 2014, when the army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
After years of living as temporarily displaced persons, they have returned home to a peaceful North Waziristan, free from militants, weapons and fear, residents say.
"We can survive with a lack of basic amenities but not without peace," said engineer Fayyaz Dawar, 55, of Hurmaz village, Mir Ali.
"Thanks to the Pakistani army that brought peace to the region," he told Pakistan Forward.
Before Zarb-e-Azb, nobody dared walk around town, he said.
"Other problems can be managed," he said. "But not the law-and-order situation."
Resolve to maintain security
To keep disorder from breaking out again, the army is enforcing a ban on gun ownership.
"The army strictly banned weapon possession," Mir Ali journalist Rasool Dawar told Pakistan Forward. "Some tribesmen even handed over their arms voluntarily."
Tribe members, some gone from home as long as eight years, are stunned to find peace where terrorism and chaos once prevailed.
"We can't believe this is the same agency," Azeem Kham, a tea seller from Patasi Adda, near Mir Ali, told Pakistan Forward. "We can walk even at night without fear."
"Now there are no killings, bombings, kidnappings or threats from anyone in Waziristan," Azeem Wazir, a young transporter, told Pakistan Forward.
Sacrifices for peace
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra on February 1 visited Miranshah, where he inspected a newly built stadium, school and market prior to addressing tribal elders in a jirga.
The Miranshah stadium is the only one nationwide to have two arenas for each game, including cricket, football, basketball, volleyball and badminton, Jhagra said.
He congratulated the jirga for the stadium, for improvements to schools, and retention of an "exemplary" peace.
"Thanks to Operation Zarb-e-Azb, peace has been restored in FATA," Jhagra said, adding, "Ninety percent of temporarily displaced persons have returned to their native towns, and the remaining will come back soon."
The entire nation takes pride in the sacrifices rendered by security forces and the local population in fighting terrorism, he added.
"These sacrifices ensure peace in FATA and the rest of the country," he said, adding that the government is aware of the hardships of the tribal people and is "taking steps in this regard".
Jhagra earlier announced the establishment of a girls' section in Governor Model School in Miranshah and a Degree College for Girls and Governor Model School for Girls in Mir Ali sub-division.
"I appreciate the announcement from the governor on establishing a college and schools in town," Malik Gul Saleh Jan, an elder from Mir Ali, told Pakistan Forward.
Pakistan Market, with 150 shops, was also established along with a children's playground, parking lot and mosque.
Said Haleem, shopkeeper from Miranshah who was allotted shop in the new market, said he is happy and hopeful for the future.
Restoring trade, economy
The government also has decided to open trade with Afghanistan via the Ghulam Khan border crossing after the restoration of peace in North Waziristan.
"The route will be open within a few days as all the arrangements for this purpose have been made," North Waziristan Political Agent Kamran Afridi told visiting reporters in Miranshah.
"The Ghulam Khan route linking North Waziristan with Khost Province [in Afghanistan] has been closed for trade, but now it will reopen as part of the ongoing efforts for the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons [IDPs]," he said.
The economy cannot be restored though construction of buildings alone, said Kamran.
"Trade is indispensable, so we will not wait for the construction of terminals at the Ghulam Khan village," said Kamran. "We are going to start by opening trade on a small scale."
To get the ball rolling, 10 trucks a day will pass through the route, he said.
"Reopening trade with Afghanistan will generate jobs in North Waziristan and promote business," he said, adding that the political administration, army and customs department will be deployed to issue permits for passage between the Bannu and Ghulam Khan check-posts.
Further, a survey team comprised of political administration officials, the army and other agencies has started examining damaged houses and other properties, Kamran said.
"Rs. 400,000 in compensation will be given for a destroyed house and Rs. 160,000 for a damaged house," he said.
Irrigation systems have been rebuilt in many areas, he said, adding, "We distributed seeds to farmers."
Amjad Dawar, a farmer from Issori village, near Patasi Adda, urged the government to do more.
"At the moment we need water for irrigation," he told Pakistan Forward. "The administration should repair the canals ... to make the valley green like peace."