Once the dust settles and the gunfire stops echoing, North Waziristan’s present face will finally be seen; a destroyed, broken warzone. For the historically neglected areas in the Tribal Belt, operation Zarb-e-Azb would have been much more destructive than usual. As the operation enters its twilight, state agencies have started to sift through the rubble; the resulting numbers are staggeringly large. The conflict has led to 274,726 families being displaced. Most buildings have suffered structural damage; 60,000 houses including 16 commercial bazaars have been destroyed in a constituency in South Waziristan alone. The nomadic cattle based economy has lost tens of thousands of domestic animals, while the agriculture sector is also severely hit. Schools, state buildings and security structures were consciously targeted by militants, while other strategically defensible buildings such as hospitals were utilised, and consequently destroyed in the action. Roads, canals, bridges and other infrastructural constructs are similarly targeted consciously to impair the enemy combatants. The result is an already dated and underdeveloped region, brought to its knees.

It is encouraging to see the state recognising the need to follow the warfare with rehabilitation. The effort to sever the links between the militants and the residents of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) would only succeed if the state takes the place of the militants in the hierarchy and rebuilds the region to integrate it with the rest of the country. More than the operation this step is paramount; otherwise the people returning to a broken land, forsaken by their state, would only feel resentment.

The state has so far done some preliminary work and come up with a nascent action plan. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, during a meeting with lawmakers from FATA has put the initial estimate of the rehabilitation and reconstruction project at Rs.90 Billion. The FATA Return and Rehabilitation (RR) strategy has earmarked a similar amount for the project, yet it is still unclear how the government is going to generate this fund, and which sectors in the budget will have to take a cut. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chief has put a two-year time frame on the job, saying that various institutions will be involved in the process, yet all information being given by the state is crouched in opaque phrases. The reason might not be too hard to fathom. MNAs from the district complain that no local contractor has been hired, while the planning and lawmaking for the project is being done by the FATA Secretariat without their input. The reconstruction of FATA is a key stepping stone in the path to a militancy free Pakistan; it must not be bogged down in the nepotism that plagues the rest of the nation. The government needs to take decisive ownership of the process, and ensure its transparency.