No one to dry their tears

    By Kamal Siddiqi
    The News (Jang Group of Papers)
    Wednesday, 13 May, 2009

    Mardan: It does not take long before tears start to stream down the faces of the displaced people gathered at the Shahzad Town camp, now a tented village located on the outskirts of Mardan.

    Parwez Khan, 26, recalls how his family started their journey in three trucks from Babaji Kandau, a village near Ambela in Buner District. “On the first day, two of the trucks were targeted and all the men, women and children died,” says the young man holding back his tears, adding, “Today, I have only half of the family.” But the tears are not only of sorrow, they are of frustration too. It takes two days to have a card made that entitles one to such basic necessities such as a tent and food.

    People have to line up at different points to meet their requirements. In most instances, they left their towns and villages in Swat and Buner with only clothes on their backs. As many as a million people have left their homes in Swat, Buner and Dir districts in what is becoming the largest displacement of people within Pakistan in the country’s history.

    Now they are stranded in an alien place with no one to share their sorrows. Politicians and government officials come and go. There is a stall set up by the ANP but it has nothing to offer except promises of help. On Saturday, PML-N leader Zafar Iqbal Jhagra visited the camp. But he spent an hour talking to reporters and 20 minutes talking to the refugees. Jhagra and other leaders come and go. The system of distributing relief goods is faulted, pilferage is common. But the bigger worry is not how to distribute the supplies but how to cater for the swelling numbers of refugees.

    Aurangzeb Khan arrived from Pir Baba village in Buner four days back after three days of constant bombardment. He says while most of his family members made it, their eldest brother stayed back to look after the livestock. “We are worried about him. There is no news about him,” he says.

    People talk of the wheat crop ripe for harvest left in the fields. Of animals and properties abandoned in the desperate rush to get out. “I am sure much of what we have left will be looted,” says another displaced man, who says he saw lines of cars and trucks burnt out on the road out of the valley. “There were corpses rotting on the road. No one stopped to bury them.”

    While some talk of constant bombardment by the Army on civilian positions, most of those interviewed say that the Army action was inevitable. Sardar Ali from Mingora, who fled along with his wife and five children, blames the Taliban for the state in which Swat is today. “Our problems started after the Taliban came. Till then, Swat was peaceful. Peace can only return once they leave.”

    It is a misconception that the people of Swat and Buner support the Taliban, confirmed many. “We felt abandoned by the government and we started to feel like we were hostages,” commented Sardar Ali. Many others murmured in agreement. They said the decision to leave their homes was taken at the last minute. “As we saw how the fighting was escalating, we felt the best option was to leave.”

    Many complained that the government did not give them enough time to move out. Others said that many of their relatives had been forcibly stopped from leaving by the Taliban.

    Qaisar Khan, a volunteer, who works with the UK-based Ummah Welfare Trust, says that the two medicines most in demand are anti-scabies lotions and anti-depressant pills. The young volunteer has done work in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake and says that there is the same feeling of helplessness amongst the people. “The only difference is that the earthquake was an act of Allah. And this test has come from the people.”

    In all this, there is a feeling amongst the people here of being abandoned by the people and the government of Pakistan. Many say that the sufferings that they are facing today may well extend to others if the Taliban are not checked. One angry man said: “We are Pakistanis too. Why have we been forgotten in the war between the Army and the Taliban?”

    Original article can be viewed here