Ali Arqam Durrani
Swat Peace treaty is condemned by the PTH visitors and many of them are amazed with the behaviour of the people living there.But someone should ask the migrants of their pain and agony.When fanatics were beheading policemen and FC sepoys, the Army personnel did not fight. Fanatics were targeting political workers from ANP. Was there any other option left. Now in Karachi ethnic bloodbath is on the cards. Amid the rhetoric, the victims i.e The IDP’s have no way home and are unwelcome everywhere…
By Qurat ul ain Siddiqui
KARACHI: ‘I am not at ease here,’ admits Mohammad Salaar, surveying the bustle and traffic at Safora Chowk in Karachi’s Gulistan-i-Jauhar area. ‘The political culture of the city is unfavourable for displaced families like mine which didn’t opt to stay at a refugee camp.’
Salaar is one of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas last August. According to City District Government Karachi officials, between 100,000 and 300,000 IDPs have settled in Karachi in the past few months. Many have yet to adjust to their newly adopted home. As Salaar puts it: ‘Life in Karachi is not very favourable for us Pashtuns. I am only here because I have relatives on whom I can rely. We haven’t been helped by the government in any manner.’
Born and raised in Bajaur’s Damadola district, Salaar left his home village seven months ago. He now works as a day labourer in Karachi while living with his family in a cramped room in Sohrab Goth for which he pays Rs 3,000 per month. For Salaar, adjusting to the difference between life in his hometown and this sprawling metropolis has been challenging. But the likelihood of returning to Bajaur any time soon is rather small. Like thousands of other IDPs, Salaar finds himself in limbo, unwelcome in Karachi and unable to return home.
Salaar’s anxieties about Karachi are shared by many IDPs. Sher Khan, a cobbler who hails from Bajaur’s Mamond area and settled in Karachi’s Machar Colony five months ago, feels particularly vulnerable. ‘Apart from having to adjust to a different routine and lifestyle,’ he says, ‘the political climate is also problematic as our ethnicity is not viewed favourably.’
Khan claims that one of his relatives who used to live near Karachi’s Steel Mill was killed some months ago. He also narrates the story of two other Pashtun men who bore no affiliation to any political party but were recently killed. Following their death, Awami National Party workers identified them as party workers. ‘I know they were apolitical,’ insists Khan. ‘The political parties are using helpless, poor people like us for their own purposes.’
Salaar and Khan are made further insecure by a government campaign to register IDPs in an attempt to identify needs and provide humanitarian assistance. More than 552,000 IDPs have already been registered in the North West Frontier Province. In coming weeks, registration will be completed in the Punjab and Karachi under the auspices of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions. The registration exercise is aimed at profiling and documenting IDPs, but in the politically and ethnically charged environment of Karachi, Pashto-speakers fear this is a means to target the community.
Sadly, Salaar and Khan’s problems began long before they arrived in Karachi. Salaar left Bajaur after his house was destroyed in mortar shelling. ‘My father barely survived the tortuous journey and my mother died during the shelling that destroyed our house,’ he recalls, adding, ‘when my family was escaping, we spent seven days charting through the mountains with the children. We were starving and thirsty and my eldest child became the victim of a helicopter gunship. I cannot tell you how helpless and desperate I felt at that time.’ Even now, Salaar thinks about his late son constantly. ‘I think about how I had to leave his body there and how I could have saved him, but could not.’
Bajaur under the Taliban
In the past few months, IDPs have proved a valuable source of information about the Taliban in FATA. Salaar and Khan are no exception. They explain that most of the militants in Bajaur are Pakistanis, but they are commanded by an Afghan national, Jan Wali, who is popularly known as Sheena Mujahid. ‘Apart from Pashtuns, there are also Chechens and Uzbeks, but they are not in any large numbers,’ adds Salaar.
‘Everybody welcomed sheena when he first came to Bajaur,’ says Salaar. The militant commander banned music and television but people were grateful for the campaign ‘because it suited the Bajauris and our society.’ But Sheena didn’t stop there. Salaar claims that the commander issued a form and told the men of Bajaur that they would be paid if they filled it out. ‘A lot of people signed that form,’ Salaar says.
Khan confirms Salaar’s account of Sheena’s activities. ‘Every time we questioned the security personnel in the area as to why they did not attack Sheena Mujahid, they would say, ‘if we kill the hero of the movie, the movie will end,’’ he says.
Khan also explains that the Taliban is Bajaur and Swat must be kept distinct. ‘Bajauri Taliban do not destroy girls’ schools and they have never treated innocent civilians with brutality like the Taliban of Swat have done.’
No way home
Even though Khan and Salaar do not explicitly object to Taliban presence in Bajaur, they do not plan to return in the foreseeable future. ‘Even though the operation seems to have stopped, there is no place to live,’ says Salaar. ‘I have three children, a wife, and my father is very old. It will not be possible to live there if there is a chance that the military operation might start again.’
Similarly, Khan, who complains that IDPs have yet to be compensated for losses sustained, is reluctant to return. ‘We still have land in Bajaur, but with the destruction and mass migration, what are we going to do even if we do go back? How will my children go to school?’ Shaking his head and recalling how his house was bulldozed, Khan softly adds, ‘this war has consumed us