Bannu: Born into a region that has been at the heart of brutal militancy and conflict in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Yaser Asad had only seen murder and mayhem in his native North Waziristan since he became conscious of the world around him. The tranquility of Razmak, the hill station once known as Little London, was unknown to him.
Amidst militancy and military operations, mobility was restricted for locals in a place where Taliban and militant groups reigned supreme, seeking to establish control over the rest of the country through its headquarters in North Waziristan Agency (NWA).
Yaser grew up knowing little about the place he called home. Then came Operation Zarb-e-Azab, the military operation in NWA that is the longest in Pakistan’s fight against militants. With it came the displacement of nearly a million people from the region, among them Yaser and his family.
On returning home this year, Yaser was able to celebrate Eid, the Muslim festival marking the end of month long fasting, at the mountain resort of Razmak where the local people had traditionally flocked for years during holidays before militancy claimed the land.
As a child he had heard much about the natural beauty of Razmak from his elders. The place had come to acquire a mythical aspect in his imagination.
“The first thing I did on returning home was to visit Razmak with my friends. It was like a dream come true,” he told News Lens. “The mountains, the picturesque valleys, the pleasant weather – I had always known such a place existed above our land but now I have seen it too.”
Razmak is a sub-division of North Waziristan, with Miranshah and Mirali. Rising 6666 feet above sea level, Razmak was named Little London by the British during their colonial rule in India – a piece of home away from home. The strategic town in a tribal district bordering Afghanistan was coveted by officials for its distinction as a notoriously tough outpost of the Raj, and for its mesmerizing natural beauty.
“I can’t describe how we covered 70 kilometres of the road winding through mountains in biting cold,” said Assad. He and eight friends went up to the mountains on motorbikes, a common mode of transport in North Waziristan these days where proper transport facilities have yet to become available after nearly a decade of militancy and the ongoing military operation.
Even though Razmak has always exerted a pull on the locals because of its scenic location and clement weather, for the tribesmen returning to NWA after more than a year of displacement there is another reason why they are drawn in droves to the hill town.
It is the only main city of NWA that has remained unharmed during the military offensive Zarb-e-Azb. The other two main towns of Mirali and Miranshah lost all their markets during the operation and people of the area had no option but to go to Razmak for a semblance of life and order.
“This year we had thousands of local tourists in Razmak and it was a pleasant experience for us here in Chotta London to see life returning to these parts,” said Malik Muhammad Anwar Khan Wazir, a resident of Razmak.
He said before militancy and the demolition of markets in Mirali and Miranshah in the military offensive against militants, the people of Razmak would go down to the plains to spend time with family and friends during Eid.
“The large number of tourists had a salutary effect on the local economy,” said Wazir. “If peace prevails, I hope we will have tourists from all over Pakistan because Razmak is no less than Swat and Muree.”
He said the locals in Razmak were now thinking about building guesthouses and marketplaces to facilitate tourists.
Abdul Basit who visited Razmak recently was charmed by the weather and scenic beauty of Razmak but dismayed by the sky rocketing prices of the commodities there.
“We had no option but to buy things at prohibitive prices,” Basit said. “There is no competition in the market and with the shopkeepers also paying for permits issued by the political agent, prices are higher than anywhere else in the country.”
Local tourists also complained about the security check posts on the way to Razmak and Shawal, another tourist spot locally called the Switzerland of Waziristan.
“The number of checkpoints in Waziristan is unnecessarily large, causing frustration to those who want to come here to relax,” said Basit.
The authorities, however, said the checkpoints were there to ensure security of the area and the people.
“We have restored peace after sacrificing precious lives, both on part of our forces and the local people, so we cannot take any risk,” said Kamran Afridi, Political Agent North Waziristan.