Peshawar: Like many of his Afridi tribe in the troubled Khyber Agency, a tribal district bordering Peshawar, Ishaq Afridi’s family moved to Hayatabad to escape violence and insecurity back home.
Bordering Khyber Agency where their homes are, the Hayatabad town was an obvious choice for the Afridis to settle down. From here, they could easily stay in touch with developments in the tribal areas, their business, villagers and family members – all that kept them rooted to their land. It was also a safe town in Peshawar city, capital of the mainland Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, with functional civic and security infrastructure.
But the troubles that drove them out of Khyber Agency would soon come to haunt the Afridis in Peshawar forcing them to flee again.
“We had to leave our home in Hayatabad after some of our relatives were killed and others threatened by militants based in the neighbouring Khyber Agency,” said Ishaq Afridi – actual name held back to protect identity due to threats – whose family has now shifted to the city of Lahore, capital of the Punjab province.”There are scores of families like us who had to leave houses and relatives in Hayatabad to protect close family members from attacks.”
Bordering Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Hayatabad was always vulnerable to terror or criminal attacks from the tribal areas but these incidents have recorded a steep rise over the last many weeks, according to law enforcing agencies.
Hayatabad, located on the western edge of Peshawar, is separated by a fence from Khyber Agency – one of the most volatile of the seven tribal agencies in FATA and a stronghold of militants where military operations have been going for years now.
Senior Superintendent Police Dr. Mian Saeed told News Lens that Hayatabad was located on the boundary with Shah Kas and Khyber Agency. “Intelligence agencies have admitted in meetings that no terrorists reside in Hayatabad, but they came from the adjacent tribal areas,” said Saeed. “After attacks and criminal activities here they easily escape to the tribal belt where cops are not authorized to pursue them.”
According to police data, 10 incidents of extortion have taken place in the jurisdiction of Hayatabad Police Station from January till date. Extortionists carry out bomb attacks on houses of those who refuse to pay.
The elite of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa including leading professionals, businessmen, government officials and political stalwarts are among thousands of the residents of Hayatabad town, securing which has become a major challenge for the law-enforcing agencies.
While figures are hard to come by because people are afraid to speak about this sensitive issue, a significant number of Hayatabad dwellers are known to have shifted to safer places elsewhere in the country and abroad following target killing, extortion calls, bombing of houses, kidnapping for ransom, street crime and other crimes.
Among them are top doctors and other professionals who have shifted either to Lahore, Islamabad or abroad. After militancy, say law enforcing agencies, the worst damage to law and order has been done by extortionists in the recent months.
Extortionists send letters and make phone calls for money to those living in Hayatabad and if they fail to comply, their house are bombed. Most of these blasts, regularly reported in the news, are meant to harass the family, but a few have caused casualties, forcing others getting extortion calls to pay the extortionists immediately.
“We have requested the Peshawar Development Authority, the army and the deputy commissioner to build a concrete fence between Khyber Agency and Hayatabad with gates where we will deploy policemen to check movement from across,” said SSP Saeed. The suggestions, he said, hadn’t elicited a response from authorities until recently.
However, after a suicide attack on Deputy Commandant Frontier Reserve Police Malik Tariq in Hayatabad, the police has taken up the matter of fencing the border between the town and the tribal area again.
“The wall will be constructed soon,” says Saeed.
Statistics from the police department reveal that six incidents of target killings have taken place in Hayatabad this year. Among those killed included Dr. Syed Muhammad Asim who belonged to the Shia sect. He was shot dead by unidentified assailants at Phase-1 in Hayatabad on January 10, 2015.
23 other members of the Shia sect were killed when gun-toting suicide bombers attacked the Imamia Mosque in Hayatabad soon after Friday prayers on February, 13. The attacks suggest that the town is not just vulnerable to militants and criminals, but the state of insecurity makes it easy for others such as sectarian killers to operate with impunity.
Among those targeted this year was an army colonel, Muhammad Tahir Azam, killed at Phase-3 on Feb 29. A police official Assistant Sub Inspector Shakir Ullah was killed was shot dead by unidentified motorcyclists in Hayatabad in May. Two policemen were killed and six others, including the Deputy Commandant Frontier Reserve Police Malik Tariq and two civilians, were injured when a suicide bomber hit a police convoy in Hayatabad in Phase 5 on June 13.
According to official data, police in Hayatabad has come under attack from militants thrice this year.
Apart from terrorism in Hayatabad, incidents of street crimes have also increased manifold. According to police data, 23 incidents of car lifting were reported in Hayatabad in 2015.
“One of the major factors contributing to insecurity in Hayatabad is its proximity with Khyber Agency,” said Javed Aziz Khan, a resident of Peshawar city. “The town can be secured by erecting a wall between Hayatabad and Khyber agency with barricaded passages to keep a check on those entering Peshawar from the tribal areas.”
According to Khan, many criminal groups have been rounded up from their dens in the town. He says the security situation in Hayatabad and the rest of Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province can be improved once the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary – now engaged in providing security to government installations in the capital Islamabad – is returned to its task of patrolling borders between tribal and settled areas and the police improves its patrolling, strength and intelligence collection from Khyber Agency as well as inside Hayatabad.
An official responsible for administration in Hayatabad said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media that the town was hub of terrorism-related activities, including kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and bombing as many residents of Hayatabad were high profile people, making the attacks forceful in impact and undermining the people’s sense of security.
The official said that extortion, car lifting and other crimes were a big source of funding for terrorist groups.
Hayatabad, named after Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao, former Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a leader of Pakistan People Party, was developed as a residential town in the 1970s. Also comprising an industrial estate, Hayatabad is divided into seven residential phases. It borders the Khyber Agency that is home to the Khyber Pass, a historical route through the Hindu Kush mountain range that leads to the Afghan border.
The town can be accessed via three routes from Jamrud Road and one from the Ring road. A fifth route has been there, but it was sealed for security reasons as it touches the tribal areas.
Pashtuns, Urdu speakers, Persian and Hindko speakers as well as Afghan refugees are the main residents of Hayatabad.
Hayatabad is home to leading healthcare institutions like Hayatabad Medical Complex, Rehman Medical Institute and the theNorthwest Hospital. It is where the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital, currently under construction, is based. Several leading schools, colleges, a national University private clinics, public parks, shopping malls, and offices are also based in Hayatabad.
Shahid Ali, a resident of Phase-I, recalled how people used t go walk in the parks along with families but after increase in incidents of kidnapping and other terrorism-related incidents in the town, they are confined to their houses now.
“We don’t allow children to go out of the home after dark,” said Ali.