Farmers angry at counterterror tactic in Pakistan
Mir Ali: Pakistan's effort to cut off the flow of fertiliser to militants using it to make bombs in this key tribal sanctuary along the Afghan border has outraged local farmers, who complain the policy has cut their crop yields in half.
The blowback in North Waziristan could prove costly as the Army grapples with how to tackle enemies of the state holed up in the remote, mountainous area, a task that is likely to be more difficult if the government is unable to mobilise support from local tribesmen.
"It's true that fertiliser is being used to make bombs, but the farmers are not the ones doing it, so why does the ban apply to us?" said Mohammad Daraz, a farmer in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.
Pakistan has struggled in recent years to avoid offending the population with heavy handed tactics as it battles domestic Taliban militants throughout the northwest.
The US has faced this same difficulty in neighbouring Afghanistan not least in its efforts to keep fertiliser, most of which comes from Pakistan, out of the hands of militants whose bombs have killed hundreds of American soldiers.
Pakistan first imposed a ban on certain types of fertiliser in North Waziristan and other parts of the semiautonomous tribal region more than three years ago, officials and farmers said.
The government instituted the policy after determining that fertiliser had been used in most of the major bombings in Pakistan, especially those involving vehicles packed with explosives, said a senior government official who worked on the ban.
The ban was meant to apply only to urea and other fertilisers that contain ammonium nitrate because they can most easily be turned into explosives, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.
But security forces have instead simply tried to prevent all fertiliser from getting into North Waziristan, said farmers and fertiliser dealers.
The problem has gotten worse for the thousands of farmers in North Waziristan with each passing year as authorities have increasingly attempted to cut down on fertiliser smuggled into the area, which has become the main sanctuary for Taliban and al Qaeda militants in the country.
Most of the farmers work plots of only a few acres terraced into mountainsides or nestled in valleys next to their mud brick homes. These fields are becoming less productive because of the lack of fertilizer.
"The ban is affecting farmers, because yield is significantly reduced and crop colour is faded," said Daraz, the farmer from Miran Shah, whose corn and wheat crops have declined more than 50 percent.