Modena, ITALY — On Jan. 20, 2021, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan launched high-speed 3G and 4G services in the region of South Waziristan to greatly improve internet connectivity. He made the announcement at the Kamyab Jawan Program ceremony in Wana, the biggest city in the area. During his speech, he explained why, in his view, proper internet connectivity did not previously exist in the region. Khan cited “security issues” due to conflicts with India as the main reason for the lack of connectivity.
Khan’s administration aims to uplift people living in areas that have been left behind, as he mentioned. South Waziristan is one such area. Once the hideout of militant organization Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), South Waziristan is located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwestern Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is one of seven districts previously known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These are regions bordering Afghanistan that were governed under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, not Pakistani laws, from 1947 to 2018. As Pakistan’s laws did not apply and national law-enforcement agencies could not operate in the region. As a result, militants were able to thrive for years.
In 2007, Pakistan launched a series of military operations to regain control of the tribal areas from TTP militants. In May 2018, the Pakistani Government merged the tribal areas with the neighboring Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Hardships Without Internet and the Gender Digital Gap
Past violence has deeply affected the region’s development, especially with regard to youth education. A student activist from Waziristan, Assad Ullah, told Digital Rights Monitor in July 2020, “In my entire village, only I have access to a DSL broadband connection, and even then, the network itself is usually very patchy.”
Without internet connectivity, many residents of this region also remained largely unaware of the developments around the pandemic and lockdowns. A lack of internet connectivity also causes people to miss employment opportunities. It is hard to find information about job announcements in time and even when one manages to get information about vacancies, little access to the web hampers people’s ability to send applications before the deadlines.
Due to COVID-19, many students came back to their hometowns as universities and hostels closed down. Upon their return, they had to contend with the lack of internet accessibility, preventing many from attending online lessons. Additionally, with limited internet connectivity, men are usually given the preference to use most of the bandwidth. Women are often prevented from using public internet because it is not permitted under certain customs and traditions. Families often control women’s access to the internet and strictly restrict technology usage.
In Wana, Khan used relief programs to help mitigate the issues. He distributed checks to the successful applicants of the Kamyab Jawan Scheme and Youth Internship Scheme. He also distributed checks to low-income women under the Ehsaas Kafalat Program.
- The Kamyab Jawan Program is a loan scheme for young entrepreneurs and existing businesses between 21 – 45 years of age (18 years for the IT sector). It provides subsidized financing under the guidance and supervision of the State Bank of Pakistan.
- The Youth Internship Scheme aims to train Pakistan’s educated youth through internships in the private and public sectors.
- The Ehsaas Kafalat Program is a government program that provides low-income women throughout Pakistan with a Rs 2,000 (approx. $12.45)) monthly stipend. The program also provides the women with proper bank accounts. This initiative also aims to provide increased smartphone access for women as a step toward digital inclusion.
A Brighter Future?
From Jan. 20, 2021, high-speed both 3G and 4G internet connectivity have been made available in South Waziristan. This represents a long-awaited step forward for the people of this area and one of the major demands of the youth of the region. Easier access to education is beneficial for the development of the region and ensures a better quality of life for grassroots communities. High-speed internet connectivity will also help prevent further communication and keep the rural region in the loop of pertinent news, such as the pandemic, and future crises.
– Harini Manisha Talagala