Remittances soothe scourge of
militancy By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Fifty-nine-year-old
Sherdil Shah, a resident of South Waziristan - a
hotbed of militancy in northern Pakistan's
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - used
to run a modest grain shop that fetched enough
money to keep his family of 10 well-fed and looked
That is, until a 2006 army
operation against the Taliban destroyed his
business and devastated the arable land on which
he cultivated his grain.
After that, "We
couldn't use our agricultural land," Shah told
IPS. He was forced to sell his property for a
paltry sum of money and, in a final act of
desperation, sent his sons abroad to work - a
decision that ended up completely changing his
His sons, both working in Dubai, a
city in the United Arab
Emirates (UAE), now send
home about US$1,500 every month, enough for the
entire family to live on comfortably.
years since the boys left for the Gulf, "I have
bought a house in the adjacent Dera Ismail Khan
district and started my business again here," Shah
told IPS over the phone.
means migration Shah's story is not an
unusual one. A majority of the 5.5 million people
living in FATA have been similarly affected by the
decade-old militancy, which began in earnest in
2001 when US-led forces toppled the Taliban
government in Kabul, forcing the militants to
cross over to Pakistan and establish sanctuaries
along the 2,400-kilometer-long border between
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
FATA soon became
infested with Taliban cells. As Pakistan emerged
as a frontline state in the US' "war on terror",
armed forces poured into FATA in a full-scale
military offensive in 2005 designed to root out
The army offensive, coupled
with the militants' resistance, made it impossible
for civilians to carry on with everyday life.
Now, for the first time in years, people
like Shah are starting to see improvements in
their lives, as remittances from a younger
generation of migrants who fled the region in
search of employment abroad streams into FATA,
easing the financial burden of unrelenting
Usman Wali once hailed from the
Orakzai Agency, one of FATA's seven tribal
districts and which has been battered by endless
violence. Life there was hard, with most families
confined to their homes by the threat of the
Taliban's activities or army-imposed curfews.
Under the shadow of conflict, "We lost
everything we had," Wali told IPS. Even acquiring
the basic necessities of life was a daily
struggle, due to a lack of money and mobility.
"One day we decided to leave our ancestral
village and take refuge in a government-run camp"
in the Hangu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
(KP) province. But life in the camp was like hell
on earth, and soon the family of 13 knew they had
no choice but to leave. "Then a local contractor
took my two sons and a brother to Saudi Arabia,
which changed our lives," he said.
the help of remittances from his family, Wali
recently established a booming cloth business in
Hangu district. "Now, we own a beautiful house and
a cement business," he said.
A daily wage
laborer named Ghaffar Khan, from the
violence-wracked Mohmand Agency says the
radicalization of FATA and an escalation in
militancy ironically brought him benefits.
"In 2005, I earned about $5 per day but
now my daily income is more than $120," Khan, who
is currently on leave from his job in the emirate
of Sharjah, the third-largest in the UAE, told
His house in Mohmand Agency is still
intact but his seven-member family has moved to
the nearby Charssada district of the KP province
due to the deterioration of law and order in their
native village. Khan returns home for a month
every year to spend time with his family.
Abu Zar, an official at the FATA
Secretariat, told IPS that the militarization of
the region has brought misery to many residents
but has also fueled a wave of migration to Gulf
states like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman, which
is now helping people get back on their feet.
"Currently, more than 400,000 FATA
residents are living and working in foreign
countries," up from less than 100,000 prior to
2005, he said. "The younger generation has been
going abroad in droves because of the prolonged
insurgency", in order to escape a sharp decline in
trade, business opportunities and income in FATA.
Akhunzada Mohammad Chittan, a lawmaker
from Bajaur Agency, said immigrants from FATA have
a reputation for being "extremely hard working.
Once they land abroad they can earn a lot because
they are honest and dedicated," he said.
About 95% of the tribal residents
currently working abroad are uneducated, and
initially lacked skills, but have performed very
well in their new jobs, Chittan said.
know at least 500 people who learnt skills such as
driving, tailoring and carpentry before going
abroad, showing their dedication" to starting life
afresh, he told IPS.
Adnan Ali, manager of
a Peshawar-based overseas recruitment agency, said
the demand for FATA migrant workers in the Gulf is
growing exponentially. "Last month we sent 100
young men from different FATA areas to the UAE,
Qatar and Dubai. All of them are very happy," he
According to Najamuddin Khan, an
overseas employment manager, "We place
advertisements in newspapers about various
vacancies in foreign countries. A majority of the
respondents are youth from FATA who are
desperately looking for work," he told IPS in