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.