A Portrait of the Dangerous Roads Patrolled by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan

This piece was co-authored with Safdar Dawar and Bismillah Arman.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – “Economically, the road from North Waziristan to Khost is the shortest road between Pakistan and Afghanistan to link the southern port city of Karachi, which is the main supply route to transport goods to our country,” says Baryalay Rawan, the spokesman of the Khost Governor, Abdul Jabbar Naeemi, in Afghanistan.

Deep inside Afghanistan, this road connects the provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Loger, ending at the Afghan capital Kabul. This route has historically provided a reason for the local economy to grow but since 2002, when militancy hit this region, the business community which used it for sending agricultural products across the border went for alternates which were costlier and longer.

“Due to the rise of militancy in the North Waziristan the traders from Afghanistan and Pakistan stopped using the road for business activities,” says Gul Wali Khan, a businessman in North Waziristan agency.

This route has remained insecure ever since, but recently, Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani laid a foundational stone to complete the reconstruction of the route by the year 2013.

On the other side, Abdul Jabbar Naeemi, Governor Khost province in Afghanistan, has pledged to make the road operational. “We want Khost province to be the centre of business activities in the area and in this context we will take every step to provide full proof security to businessmen and traders using the road,” said Naeemi.

At the same time, work has already been completed on another 110 km long road from South Waziristan to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Locals say this development is going to facilitate the movement of roughly two million people on both sides.

Economic experts believe that both the routes which are under construction will discourage the black market economy in the tribal belt of Pakistan and Afghanistan. “This development will directly contribute to minimizing militancy in the area, which so far has been thriving on smuggling and illegal activities such as kidnapping for ransom,” Kiramat Khan Khpalwak, president of Khost Chamber of Commerce in Afghanistan.

According to the local sources, Taliban of North Waziristan Agency have repeatedly said to the locals, they are not allowed to work or take any job in this road construction project. There are confirmed reports of receiving pamphlets distributed by the local Taliban.

Local businessmen also feel that despite flourishing plans of development to bring Pakistan and Afghanistan closer via the two alternative roads, routes that are currently in use through Khyber Pass to Jalalabad and Chaman to Qandhar are also in shambles and need attention too.

However, despite these concerns, officials are still quite optimistic.

“With materializing such projects, both countries will develop shared interests and especially Pakistan will have a major stake in economic progress in the area, which ultimately will impact political relations between the two brotherly countries,” said Shams Zardasht, Press Attache Afghan Embassy in Islamabad.

“Looking into the existing scenario, it is important to take every opportunity contributing to economic development in the bordering areas,” says Irfan Ashraf, a security expert, in Peshawar.

According to Ashraf, the policy to fight the menace of militancy through development has long remained a distant dream. 

“So far now under development has added to black economy, which facilitated Taliban and criminal groups to sponsor anarchy in the Fata,” added Ashraf.

This report was written during the Af-Pak journalists fellowship programme organized by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Pakistan.

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Malik Achakzai

Being freelancer, contributing writer, pundit, reader, rest lover and interested in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Central Asia, China, Russia and American Politics, International Relations, Political Economy, Human Rights, Health, Ecology, Geography, Archaeology, Theology, Buddhism. I completed my two years of master's from the department of Mass Communication at University of Baluchistan at Quetta. Before completing my master I had already joined reporting for local news papers in Balochistan and had already started freelancing to various Pashto, Urdu, English organizations. Voice of America (VoA) Ashna Radio Pashto service for which I have been freelancing since 2009 till the date. I do report for another online Pashto organization having news and views both from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the world, focusing on politics, war, human rights, sports and entertainment. I have been working as pundit for PolicyMic.com a NY based organization [PolicyMic is our generation’s platform to make our voices heard. We reach millions of people with our high-quality, personal analysis on the news, policy, and pop culture that’s changing our world] since December 2011. I did report as Lahore city correspondent for a Pakistani News Paper Express Tribune, an affiliated News organization with New York Times International, And have contributed reporting to Afghanistan Times an English daily at Kabul, Afghanistan. I am an alumni of German organization Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and was part of its Afghan-Pak Young Journalist Exchange program in 2012 titled as "understanding the neighbors", when we together with Young Afghan journalists produced researched based stories both in Pakistan and Afghanistan [Khyber Pashtunkhwa, Islamabad and Kabul were visited during program]. I was part of Deutsche Welle Akademie program "Train The Trainer for Journalists in Crisis Regions" training in 2013. Now I am part of United Press International (UPI) Next and Truth Tracker reporters team from the Pakistani volatile province of Balochistan.

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