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Real Estate Boom as Displaced Pakistanis Seek Housing

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Jun 25 2011 (IPS) - Real estate prices have shot up in areas adjacent to the tribal districts of northwest Pakistan where violence continues to displace local residents.

The prices of homes as well as rentals have risen as families from some parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have fled the violence and scrambled for housing in places like Peshawar, the capital of neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“The ongoing military operations against the Taliban in six of the seven agencies in the FATA have forced thousands of families to sell their properties at throwaway prices and buy homes in safer places,” Wakil Durrani, president of the Peshawar Property Dealers Association, told IPS. Those who cannot afford to buy opt to rent houses, he said.

A majority of the 25,000 housing units in upscale Hayatabad Township in Peshawar have either been leased or purchased by people from the violence-hit zones of the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The same is true for slum areas where poor families from the troubled areas have found sanctuary from the wrath of the Taliban and the Pakistani army.

Before 2007, a 1,300-sq ft house in Hayatabad was available for a monthly rent of 70 dollars; now it goes for 250. “The house owners prefer to offer their houses for rent to displaced people from the FATA because they pay more,” Durrani said.

Similarly, the same size home can be bought now for 70,000 dollars, up from only 30,000 before 2007.

Rahim Shah, a transporter from South Waziristan Agency who had been residing in Peshawar since 2005, said his family shuttled between South Waziristan and Peshawar since the military operation began in his native town. “Then, I sold all my property and bought a house in Peshawar for my family’s safety,” Shah told IPS.

Taliban forces have been holed up in the FATA since the U.S. launched a campaign against them in 2001, forcing them out of Afghanistan and into sanctuaries in the sprawling FATA, crossing over the long and porous Pakistan-Afghan border. The FATA is composed of seven “agencies” or tribal units spread out over 47,000 sq km with a population of five million.

Dental surgeon Akbar Ali from Mohmand Agency took up residence in Peshawar to escape the violence. Nearly half of the 790,000 population of Mohmand, which has been facing military action since 2009, have become permanently displaced.

“The situation there is very bad and those who could afford to buy or rent houses in safer places have left, while the poor stay there because they have no choice,” said Ali, who now lives in Charsadda district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which borders Mohmand Agency.

According to the Disaster Management Authority of FATA, some one million people have been living outside their hometowns due to the fighting between the Taliban and the army. “They were sandwiched (between opposing forces) and desperate to get to safer places,” DMA official Irfan Ali told IPS. Ali said residents who have been living in their ancestral villages were concerned about the safety and future of their children.

“We sold precious agricultural land in Swat and bought three houses in Peshawar,” said Waheedullah Shah of Swat, where the army launched a full-scale operation against militants in 2007. Swat is one of the 25 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province adjoining the FATA.

Military operations in Swat have ended but militants are still active there, Shah said. “Still, we visit our relatives in Swat on festive occasions, but the conditions there are not good to live in,” he concluded.

Poor families from the FATA are forced to stay in dilapidated houses for which they pay exorbitant rent. “We got a two-room mud house for 54 dollars a month that’s not even fit for animals,” said Abdul Latif, a daily wage earner from Bajaur Agency, who now resides in the Afghan Colony in Peshawar.

About 200,000 displaced people from Bajaur Agency, a hub of militants, have been facing housing problems because of the skyrocketing rent.

The demand for housing has primarily benefited real estate businesses and property owners in the Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which are closest to South Waziristan Agency.

“The local landowners have been building housing units to be offered for higher rents to displaced people who come in droves. The affluent classes from Waziristan are migrating to urban areas while the poor seek shelter in rural parts,” Sufaid Khan, a property dealer in Tank district, told IPS by telephone.

The real estate boom has affected even people buying plots of land in cemeteries in Tank despite the centuries-old tradition of burying the dead in their hometowns.

“My children used to weep and had to endure sleepless nights from the deafening gun and artillery fires which compelled us to say goodbye to a sprawling mud and brick home where our forefathers had lived,” said 50-year-old Muhammad Tahir.

He had a thriving flour shop in Angoor Adda, a locality of South Waziristan’s headquarters Wana, and still regrets moving away. But he was helpless in the face of his family’s insistence that they settle in adjacent Dera Ismail Khan.

Populations from the tribal areas currently undergoing military operations have sought houses in safer districts in nearby KP province so they could be close to their relatives. For instance, the family of Hasan Jan from Khyber Agency lives in Canal Town in adjacent Peshawar.

“We can easily attend weddings and funerals in our native village which is just a stone’s throw from here,” he said. “We visit our relatives who live in militancy-plagued Tirah Tehsil of Khyber Agency.”

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