Umbrellas of Barawal Banda, Upper Dir, Pakistan
Man hurries back home after shopping on Barawal's Banda bazaar.
February 2011, Pakistan.
Barawal is a small town on Pakistan-Afghanistan border surrounded by forests and rugged mountains. Populated by Pakthuns it lies in one of border areas of Pakistan’s North, 12 kms in away from Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
The main tribe of Upper Dir is the Yousafzai, diveded into sub-tribes of Sultankhel, Paindakhel, Osikhel and Nasrudinkehel.
Spread over 2,040 square miles in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Dir area is fertile and picturesque, producing wheat, barley, and fruits and covered in fir, pine, and walnut trees.1 However, the terrain is craggy and inhospitable, and most of the population lives in the remote valleys and mountains that dot the district. Like neighboring Swat, Dir was a “princely state” until 1969, when the district was formally merged into the NWFP.
As early as 2007, while the Taliban were making inroads into Dir, fighters fled there from Swat, Bajaur and Waziristan to escape Pakistani military operations. The area became a hub of militant activities due to its proximity to Swat and Bajaur, and received thousands of internally displaced people seeking refuge from Pakistani military operations and militant activities (newamericafoundation.net).
The area most affected by militancy in Upper Dir has been the Doog Darra valley, close to the border of Chitral and some 30 miles north of the town of Dir. The valley has about 25 villages, and its population stood at about 25,000 in 1998. During the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s, a refugee camp was established in the area, and during the past three decades many Afghans have become residents through inter-marriage with local tribesmen. Doog Darra has been seen as a lawless valley because of its remote location and the presence of many criminals who use it as a mountainous hideout. Dir Taliban militants in Doog Darra are afforded direct access to Swat, Chitral, and Kunar province in Afghanistan.
As a result of fighting between the Taliban and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Afghan militants began moving into Doog Darra in about 2007 and were joined by militants from Swat and other areas. In January 2009, some 200 Dir Taliban set up an illegal FM radio channel; however, some locals turned against them after Akhtar Jan Kohistani, a former Afghan government official who was kidnapped from Chitral in November 2008, escaped in January 2009 and asked for local help. The militants managed to recapture him, to the chagrin of the locals, who kept pressing for his release. In February 2009, the Dir Taliban and locals agreed to deal, and militants released Kohistani in exchange for two militants (newamericafoundation.net).
In December 2010, during a jirga, local leaders and elders of the area have assured government and security forces of their cooperation in fight against terrorism, saying they will not allow militants to take shelter in Barawal area of Upper Dir (Pakistani media).