Business as usual
Despite some recent terrorist incidents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas, there are hopes as things are getting better when compared to the last so many years. One example is the return of a large number of internally displaced persons to Waziristan, Khyber and other tribal agencies. The opening of the Bara Bazaar after seven years is one significant step to boost the morale of the tribesmen of Khyber Agency and to give them hope that life will return to normal very soon.
The Bara Bazaar, once known all over Pakistan for imported and smuggled luxurious goods, was shut in 2009 after the law and order situation in Khyber Agency deteriorated and the entire population had to migrate to Peshawar and other settled areas. The market was no more the main centre for imported or smuggled goods even in 2009 as these shops were already shifted to the Karkhano Market in Peshawar, close to the boundary with Jamrud subdivision of Khyber Agency. There are thousands of shops in Karkhano Market selling goods right from electronics and cosmetics to clothes, food items, stationary, auto parts and a number of daily use items.
Bara Bazaar had around 11,000 shops. However, the shops are empty and have been damaged by the bombing and rocketing. There are no customers and shopkeepers are still not comfortable to resume their business due to uncertainty and insecurity. Though proper security has been arranged for the bazaar by erecting barbed wire all around the market, setting up check posts and increasing patrolling, shopkeepers and customers are yet to be convinced that things are coming back to normal like before.
“It will take some time for business to return to normal in this historic trade centre. Not only customers but shopkeepers too need security and incentives to help resume business in Bara Bazaar,” opines Munir Khan Afridi, a journalist covering the issues related to Khyber Agency.
According to Afridi, the markets are damaged and need either repair or reconstruction to resume business. “Some of the shops are just ruins. It will take time for all the traders to set up proper businesses there. People, however, are hopeful and happy over the new developments,” says Afridi.
Shopkeepers have started reconstruction of the damaged walls and roofs. Others have started painting their shops.
To encourage traders, political agent Khyber Agency Shahab Ali Shah (who was transferred on February 9) had to announce a reward of Rs10,000 for the first driver to park his vehicle in the local stand. According to the head of the political administration, every facility has been provided to the traders including adequate security arrangements for the market. The markets are to remain open from 8am to 5pm. As part of resuming life in the Bara Market, the political agent inaugurated a bus terminal, a municipal committee office, rescue service and the Bara Press Club.
The opening was announced by the KP governor, Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan, who is the administrator of all the tribal areas and represents the federal government. Sardar Mehtab also announced the return of all the internally displaced persons to their homes very soon as most of the tribal areas have been cleared by the army in military operations, especially Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber-1.
For the Bara Bazaar, six check posts have been set up at various points to keep an eye on those entering the market. A proper control room has been set up as well after installing closed circuit television cameras at various points of the market. Fresh contingents of khasadars have been recruited recently that included six women. This is probably the first time that any female was recruited into the
“The security personnel on these check posts need to be lenient to those entering the bazaar to encourage them for future visits. Also, the traders whose shops and businesses were destroyed need to be compensated by the government,” said Yar Asghar Afridi, President of the Traders Association of Bara.
Officials say traders have already started shifting their business to the Bara Bazaar after its reopening. “The Bara Bazaar was closed in 2009 after the security forces launched an operation against the militants in the area. People have already started shifting their business to the trade centre. The businessmen have been provided special cards while the customers have to produce their computerized national identity cards on entering the trade centre,” said Mohammad Arif, Assistant Political Agent of Bara subdivision of Khyber Agency. The official made it clear that there will be a complete ban on the sale of arms, alcohol, hashish and other contrabands.
The authorities, however, have already failed in the adjacent Jamrud subdivision where all these contrabands are openly available. People from Peshawar have to cross the police check post near Karkhano Market to enter Jamrud to get any of these banned stuff.
Tribesmen are still uncertain about the durability of peace in the tribal areas. They fear that things can take an ugly turn anytime like that in the last few weeks. The year 2015 proved to be more peaceful year for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa if compared with the last many years. However, things deteriorated suddenly when a suicide bomber first hit the Nadra office in Mardan in the last week of December, another blew himself up in Jamrud, close to Karkhano Market and some terrorists stormed into the Bacha Khan University on January 20. The mood of the public is totally changed after these developments.
The security of schools and other educational institutions is beefed up and even a little tyre burst sends the alarm bells ringing. “The people of the Khyber Agency, especially Bara subdivision, are still uncertain about the coming months and years. The government and the political administration have to take extraordinary measures to restore the confidence of the general public after their return to hometowns,” said Alamgir Afridi, a resident of Bara. He says a number of his family members have refused to go back to Bara and are still living in their rented house in Peshawar due to uncertainty in Khyber. The same is the case with the tribesmen of all the tribal agencies.