N. Waziristan residents joyfully prepare for Eid ul Fitr

By Syed Ansar Abbas

Women and girls look at dresses in a market near Mir Ali, North Waziristan, on June 17, 2017. [Syed Ansar Abbas]

Women and girls look at dresses in a market near Mir Ali, North Waziristan, on June 17, 2017. [Syed Ansar Abbas]

MIRANSHAH, North Waziristan -- For thousands of North Waziristan residents, this year's Eid ul Fitr will be an especially festive occasion.

Those former temporarily displaced persons (TDPs) spent up to three years away from their homes as troops conducted Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a successful effort to drive militants out of North Waziristan that began in June 2014.

Their dwellings during those years ranged from TDP camps to relatives' homes in safer areas.

The 105,676 families back in their homes represent nearly 83% of the residents who fled the fighting that began three years ago, according to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

"The local administration is doing everything to ensure law and order," Mir Ali political tehsildar Habib Ur Rehman told Pakistan Forward, adding that security forces are patrolling the Mir Ali market and closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras have been installed to monitor activities.

Residents of Issori village, which has 1,800 families, will observe their first Eid at home since Operation Zarb-e-Azb's launch in June 2014, said local journalist Rasool Dawar.

After three years of languishing as TDPs, "this time we will celebrate Eid with all-out zeal", he told Pakistan Forward.

Shopping and celebrating

Eager to put bad memories behind them, tribal residents are busy shopping for Eid -- not only a pleasure compared to their experiences the past three years, but also an economic stimulus for their tribal agency.

At markets that the army constructed in Miranshah, Mir Ali, Khaddi and Idak, customers of all ages, including women and children, shop without fear day and night.

Dilawar, a young man from Issori village, travelled 3km to buy clothing for his children in Khaddi.

"Everything's available," he said of the new market. "We don't need to go to Bannu to shop anymore."

Malik Abdul Hayee, a local elder, told Pakistan Forward he came to the market in search of sweets to hand out on the 23rd of Ramadan, a local tribal tradition, and new clothes.

Abdullah Dawar of Tappi said he spent three years as an TDP in Bannu District. Now he is back and preparing to distribute meat to relatives and friends on the 27th of Ramadan.

"I'm going to sacrifice an animal and distribute the meat to others," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that during his years in Bannu, he could not sacrifice an animal because of his economic situation and other responsibilities.

Confidence spreads through the population

The restoration of peace has boosted confidence in some North Waziristan natives who had moved very far away.

They include Dr. Taimur Shah, who came back to Khaddi to celebrate Eid after an absence of 30 years.

"I came from Russia," he told Pakistan Forward. "I've been living there with my family for 30 years."

"I am very astonished ... to see Waziristan at peace," he added. "Soon my family and I will return permanently."

Another North Waziristan Native, Gul Khan, plans to open a shop in the new Mir Ali market.

"I was a driver in Dubai for the past year," he said. "Because of peace here, I came back."

"Everyone in the agency has shaken off the fear," North Waziristan political agent Kamran Afridi told Pakistan Forward in Miranshah.

Shopkeepers prosper

The booming business and peaceful conditions delight Malik Kamal Shah Dawar, who built a market in Khaddi, 4km from Mir Ali.

"There are at least 1,000 shops in Khaddi," Dawar told Pakistan Forward, referring to the market he built and a nearby one that the army built.

"All the shopkeepers are doing up to Rs. 25,000 to 30,000 [$238 to $286] of business every day, which is very encouraging to them," he said.

Dawar remains mindful of the need of security after North Waziristan's years of turbulence.

"I installed CCTV cameras for security ... even though we have complete peace," he said, praising the army and local administration for restoring and maintaining peace in North Waziristan.

Other merchants are thriving during this new era of peace in the agency.

Amjad Khan, a recent high school graduate who lives in Pattasi Adda, is prospering in Mir Ali's market selling plastic shopping bags.

"Because of Eid, my shopping bag business is at its peak," he said.

Border opening anticipated

The tribal economy will further improve when authorities reopen the Ghulam Khan crossing on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, said Afridi, the political agent.

The border crossing closed at the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb; however, with negotiations proceeding at various levels of government, observers expect it to reopen after Eid.

"Sixty percent of the agency's population depend on trade [for livelihood]," said Afridi. "Almost 3,000 families living in Afghanistan are expected to come back to North Waziristan after Eid."

"Five thousand families [who fled to Afghanistan during Zarb-e-Azb] have already moved back to Pakistan," he said, referring to a mass homecoming that took place throughout 2016.

"If Ghulam Khan re-opens after Eid, it will give business throughout the agency another boost," said Dawar, the market owner in Khaddi.

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