Policing a fragile peace in South Waziristan
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South Waziristan, on the Pakistani border with Afghanistan, was the scene of a huge 2009 offensive against the Taliban. FRANCE 24 reports from a region where the militant threat is too close for comfort.
Nearly four years after Pakistan launched a major military offensive to wrest South Waziristan back from Taliban control, life there has returned to a semblance of normality – in some areas at least.
But the situation in this mountainous region, which is part of Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal zone bordering Afghanistan, is far from being at peace.
Since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, Waziristan has been home to the Taliban. North Waziristan continues to be a major theatre for controversial US drone attacks against Taliban targets.
A no-go area for journalists, FRANCE 24 visited South Waziristan chaperoned by the Pakistani army, whose presence is ubiquitous in those areas they say have been cleared of the Taliban.
The army has checkpoints every few miles along the road, keeping a close eye on who passes by.
“The Taliban still plant roadside bombs,” one soldier told FRANCE 24. “Sometimes they even ambush us. Our lives are in danger – 24/7.”
The army is also working on winning the locals’ “hearts and minds” through aid distribution and by constructing shops for those who lost their livelihoods during the fighting.
In one shop, FRANCE 24 spotted a packet of biscuits provided by USAID - a development agency run by the American government.
Shop owner Samiullah said he was unaware that they were American or that the US was providing aid to the region – despite the US spending more than a billion dollars on its own hearts and minds effort since 2009, an effort that seems to be bearing little fruit on the ground.
Asking about the popularity of the USA’s ongoing drone attack programme against Taliban targets, locals at the shop voiced their unanimous disapproval.
“Everyone here is very, very angry with these drones,” Samiullah said.