SHABQADAR: For bus driver Noor Ullah, the journey from the Bajaur Agency to the neighbouring Mohmand Agency used to be long and fraught with risks.
But after a new tunnel, through the historic Nahakki Pass, was opened earlier this week, the journey has whittled down to just 15 minutes and the ride is smooth and safe.
“I have been travelling on these roads for a long time,” Noor told The Express Tribune shortly after completing his maiden voyage through the Rs1.1 billion tunnel on a bus full of passengers headed for the port city of Karachi.
“I never thought that a tunnel could be made through the mountainous pass,” he added noting that it used to take them an hour to cross the precarious pass which had seen many drivers and passengers lose their lives over the years.
The 751 metre-long Nahakki tunnel, built by the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), had been inaugurated by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Qamar Javed Bajwa earlier this week. It was accompanied by an 11 kilometre-long section of an expressway between Mohmand Agency’s headquarters Ghallanai and Nahakki Yusaf Khel under the first phase of the project.
Hameedullah Khattak, a political administration official told The Express Tribune that 15 km of road is expected to be carpeted over the next 15 days. The remaining 31 km-long section of expressway from Nahakki to Mamad Ghat was expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Noting that Mohmand agency had rich marble chromite and nephrite resources with most of its mines located on the other side of the tunnel, he hoped that the tunnel would help reduce the time in transporting the marble but also the fuel trucks would require.
To facilitate traders, he said that they were working on building two weight stations on either side of the tunnel for trucks. Furthermore, levy and khasadar officials were educating commuters about speeding and over the misuse of the tunnel.
Senator Malik Hilal Rehman and other notables from the area have termed the tunnel a milestone in the developmental history of Mohmand agency.
Senator Rehman, who lives at a stone’s throw from the tunnel, told The Express Tribune that they had heard of the Nahakki Condao (pass) battle, which had been fought between the British and Mohmand tribes, but had never figured that one day it would be possible to travel through the historic pass without having to navigate its steep inclines and winding mountain roads.
“I am happy that in future locals from Mohmand and Bajaur agencies will talk about travelling through the nine kilometre-long Nahakki Pass, which used to take over an hour and the journey was considered risky,” he said.
The senator said that in 2002, the then North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor Iftikhar Husain Shah had laid the foundation for the tunnel. But with progress stalled, he had decided to raise the issue with the government after winning the 2008 elections.
He added the tunnel was the first which has been built by a Pakistani engineer.
But the senator lamented that the entire project — which also includes a 41km-long expressway — has not been completed. Being built at a cost of Rs6.56 billion, the project had started in 2012 and was expected to be completed in 2015, Senator Rehman dilated, adding that work on the expressway had stalled owing to lack of funds.
“But we hope that work on the remaining 30 km of the expressway will be completed by the end of the year if the requisite funds are provided.”
Once the expressway is complete, travelling time between Peshawar, Bajaur and Mohmand will be reduced to just 90 minutes.
Commenting on the significance of the expressway beyond just connecting the people living on either side of it, Rehman said that it would also provide transporters and traders access to another route leading to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border at the Nawa Pass — hence opening up the possibility of another trade route apart from the congested Torkham border.
Malik Sahibdad, a local tribal elder from Kamali Halimzai who lives on the other side of the tunnel in Bajaur, said that in the past it took around 90 minutes to travel to Ghallanai. But the tunnel would help reduce that time to just 15 minutes. The biggest benefit of the tunnel, Halimzai said, would be to the marble miners of Mohmand agency.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2017.