12 May 2022
“It can take me 8–10 hours to travel by road from Peshawar to my hometown in Waziristan,” answers Najeebullah when I ask him how long it takes him to get to his village. I’m curious, in part because Waziristan sits firmly in Pakistan’s tribal belt. It is mountainous, remote and underdeveloped, so I know travel to and from the area is arduous and oftentimes dangerous.
In 2014, Najeeb was one of the millions of internally displaced people (IDPs) due to operation Zarb-e-Azb, a joint military offensive conducted by the Pakistan Armed Forces against various militant groups in his native Waziristan. Forced to leave his home, Najeeb and his family made their way to Bannu, one of the bigger cities in southern KP.
“When we were leaving our hometown, a cool breeze was accompanying us,” he tells me. I can hear a note of sadness in his voice.
“We traveled to Bannu, where it was hot. My family and I were looking for a place to stay while the sun kept hammering our heads.”
In Bannu, he pursued a Master’s in Computer Science from the University of Science & Technology, Bannu. Though Najeeb’s family eventually moved elsewhere, he stayed back in a hostel for 6 more months to complete his studies.
“First time I used a computer — the Pentium 1 — was in the 6th grade. In Matric, I bought my first laptop and learned Adobe Illustrator. I started offering my services to local clients, and since that day, I have never asked for money from home.”
In 2020, after six years away from home, Najeeb returned to North Waziristan.
“When we returned to North Waziristan, life was tough. Getting basic necessities was difficult as much of our village was still rebuilding. And also, none of us had internet access in our homes. If someone wanted to use the internet, they had to go to the main bazaar.”
So Najeeb was on the move again. This time around, he found a job in Islamabad, where he was exposed to freelancing and networked within the startup ecosystem, which was burgeoning in Pakistan. Through his friends in the Peshawar startup scene, Najeeb learned about the KP Government Innovation Fellowship Program.
“What I have learned in 6 months exceeds my 2 years of job experience. Before, I only knew how to code, and now I know every step of project management plus the experience of client servicing. I have sat in over 10 meetings with government departments. I remember being nervous in the first few meetings with serving officers and high-ranking government officials, but now I have the confidence to manage those high-level meetings. That sort of experience is priceless.”
“The KP Fellowship team are complete professionals. They have taught us valuable skills, shared practical knowledge with us, and did daily check-ins to get a pulse on where we need help. I’m learning a lot just by observing how they handle the entire team.”
“The Fellows themselves are a team in the truest sense — we are all friends. We eat together, work together and learn from each other.”
To save time and cost of regular travel between Peshawar & North Waziristan, Najeeb stays at a hostel near Durshal office. Every third week, he travels to his hometown to meet his family, which includes his two beautiful kids. He is known for being a passionate IT advocate, encouraging the next generation towards it.
“There are 500–600 families in my village. Only 10 people have a master’s degree, and I’m the only one with an IT education. I tell youngsters from my village to come towards IT and earn. From 10th class onwards, I never took from my parents, and I financed my bachelor’s & master’s degree through part-time work; IT has enabled and empowered me — much like the Fellowship has.”
When homesick, Najeeb opens up a poetry book by Rahman Baba or Darwaish Khan. When I ask Najeeb to name some of his favorites, I note that themes of Sufism, self-respect, and love for the homeland feature prominently.
“During the Fellowship I received multiple job offers. I plan on accepting one from Abbottabad. So, I’ll be away from home, once again.”
Although Najeeb is on the move again, his legacy in Peshawar remains. His work with KPITB on a Monitoring and Evaluation System will streamline workflows and give more oversight to government departments.
“These are the kind of technologies that will enable our government to enhance their impact on the communities they serve, and I’m so proud to have been a part of that process.”