89% people have no access to internet in former FATA

Zubair Afridi

Before being merged into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) was a semi-autonomous tribal region in northwest of Pakistan, under the control of federal government and ruled through a special set of laws called the Frontier Crimes Regulations.

The region consisted of seven tribal agencies (now districts) and six frontier regions. The districts include Mohmand, North and South Waziristan, Orakzai, Kurram, Khyber and Bajaur.

This region had historically been home to Pashtun tribes for centuries.

Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, the region turned into hotspot of US led global war on terror.

On the other hand, Pakistani military also conducted 10 military operations against terrorists since 2001.

Terrorism and string of military operations have displaced about two million people from the tribal areas and forced them to relocate to settled districts.

During these two decades schools, hospitals, and homes have been destroyed, people were subjugated to death and violence. In addition to this, they faced incessant drone attacks and lost their children to land mines.  Local economy completely collapsed, the number of missing persons and targeted killing were on the rise during this period.

Ironically, during this period, media failed to feel the pain of the people living under violence in this marginalized area. Media ignored the issues and showed as nothing was happening at all or portrayed them from state perspective.

Beside this, local reporters, only reliable source of information, working for various news organizations were caught between state policy and Taliban’s pressure.

A total of 78 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2001 according to the UNESCO. Majority of them were ethnic Pashtuns.

After the failure of mainstream media, the only place left to share local concerns was social media. But when in 2014, a group of Pashtun youth launched an anti-war movement called Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, the state slapped ban on communication and internet in merged areas.

Pakistan ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan during his visit to South Waziristan on January, 20, 2021 announced restoration of 3G and 4G services

However, 17 months have passed since then but the internet is still suspended.

The failure of mainstream media and undeclared suspension of internet policy in Pashtun periphery has rendered the war-torn region an information black hole.

Over six million people are living in this information black hole while lack of information access has kept the rest of the world in the dark about the harrowing accounts of war in this region.

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