Until the arrival of the Pakistani army in the sparsely populated Dag Killi area in June, his two sons looked set to follow their father’s footsteps.
“My boys have now been learning for several weeks and I hope they get a proper school building soon,” said Hidayat Allah, 45, of the camp school the army has set up for hundreds of children from the Khaweze and Baizai tribes.
Army engineers are also laying a network of roads that connect small border villages with Ghallanai, the administrative headquarters of the Mohmand Agency – one of the seven administrative zones called “agencies” with a unique set of laws that have until recently allowed trade in drugs and guns.
The creation of Pakistan in 1947 brought little change to the seven agencies. For decades, the hundreds of kilometres of frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan remained unguarded, neglected and isolated – turning into a haven for criminals, smugglers, and anti-government Afghan guerrillas, who first fought the Soviets in the 80s and are now waging a guerrilla war against Afghan and US troops inside Afghanistan.
But the US-led “war against terror” finally lifted the veil of seclusion from some of the world’s most treacherous terrain dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan. On 20 June, Pakistan moved its troops into the last of these supposedly inaccessible areas and established new security posts to check “illegal cross-border movement” of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
“Our primary objective as partners in the war against terrorism is to stop illegal infiltration to and from Afghanistan,” Brigadier Muhammad Iqbal, the area commander told reporters.
“To make our hunt for Taliban and al-Qaida remnants effective, we had to offer both the carrot and the stick to the locals”
Iqbal commands about 5000 troops who now patrol a 68km stretch of border that was until now off-limits to Pakistani troops and government officials.
Initially, some members of the fiercely independent tribes resisted what they called an “incursion” with attacks resulting in the death of a soldier, but the army’s dual approach of pressure and persuasion has quashed the dissent.
“To make our hunt for Taliban and al-Qaida remnants effective, we had to offer both the carrot and the stick to the locals,” said Sahibzada Anees, a federal government representative responsible for the region.
The need to mobilize troops in the region arose after US intelligence and Afghan government officials blamed a string of recent sniper attacks in the eastern provinces on Taliban fighters hiding out in Pakistan’s wild border regions.
“Pakistan is not doing enough to stop Afghan Taliban militants from organizing and carrying out these attacks,” Dr Abd Allah Abd Allah, the Afghan foreign minister, told reporters in Kabul.
Pakistani officials and tribesmen, however, deny this.
“We allowed the army into the agency just to help them prove to the world that there are no traces of militants here,” said Muhammad Arif, a local tribal elder of the Amankot village, where soldiers are helping the locals by digging wells.
Brigadier Iqbal dismissed the Afghan allegations as “propagandist ploys”, saying as many as 32 new checkpoints along a section of the porous border with Afghanistan had helped in checking the cross-border movement of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, particularly in the Muhmand region.
“The post 9/11 events and the hunt for anti-US radicals did make us cognisant of the need to attend to these remote areas”
General Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai,
Such statements may be an attempt to deny any relationship whatsoever with “terrorists”, as the presence of an extensive network of FBI informers has struck fear into the hearts of these poor tribesmen. In fact thousands of wanted fighters have stayed, trained and moved through this area, leaving behind a human legacy.
A tribal elder in the adjacent Bajaur agency married off all three daughters to Arab fighters. One of them sits in an Afghan jail, the family says, and the other two have most probably been killed.
Pakistan shares a 2200km border with Afghanistan, much of it in the North-Western Frontier Province alone, where up to 25,000 Pakistani soldiers are currently deployed to man the border and flush-out al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives in coordination with about 11,000 US troops based inside Afghanistan.
“The post 9/11 events and the hunt for anti-US radicals did make us cognisant of the need to attend to these remote areas,” said General Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai.
“These events have been of immense benefit, no doubt about it,” he added.
With the deployment of troops, development of infrastructure has begun in a big way, explained Brigadier Zahir Shah, whose teams are cutting through hard rock to build roads for the 400,000 residents of the agency.
Meanwhile, people at Amankot are happy to see the drilling for water, which they said would free them of their dependency on the pond water that they shared with their sheep and goats.