On May 15th, 2009, a good friend, renowned blogger and dentist Dr. Awab Alvi emailed his contacts for collecting and distributing relief goods to Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) in N.W.F.P. Having prior experience of working with flood victims in Sindh and Balochistan with Indus Resource Centre (IRC), I jumped onto the opportunity of helping fellow Pakistanis displaced in the beautiful valleys up North.
I shared a list of family hampers with Awab, used by IRC for relief of flood victims. A single hamper comprises of a bag with food items and some utensils for one family, of an average six persons.
Makro, the large warehouse type store, had been crucial for my work in Sindh and Balochistan and was again quite welcoming to our relief work in N.W.F.P.
Awab negotiated a single hamper’s price down to 2875 with Marko, which contained some of the following items:
- Nestle Everyday, 1 kg
- Lifebuoy Soap, pack of 3
- Brooke Bond Supreme, 450 gms
- Lipton Yellow Label, 450 gms
- Dalda Banaspati, 5 kg tin
- Habib Cooking Oil, 2.5 Ltr tin
- Canola Oil, 5 Ltr tin / 2.5 Ltr tin
- White Sugar, 10 kg
- Bravo biscuits, pack of 6
- Party biscuits, pack of 6
- National Table Salt, 800 gms
- Super Kernal Rice, 5 kg
- Reem Awami Rice, 5 kg
- Basmati Rice, 5 kg
- Yadgar Whole Wheat, 5kg
- Daal Masoor, 1 kg
- Daal Moong, 1 kg
- Water Coolers
- Parat (flat metal pan for kneading wheat)
- Metal Spoon
- Metal drinking glass
We decided to reach Peshawar on Thursday, May 21st where Awab had arranged a guest house for our stay. Awab was going to attend a meeting of NGOs in Islamabad on Wednesday, visit Mardan and other areas on Thursday, while I volunteered to collect our Rs.2,400,000 worth of goods from Lahore and dispatch them on trucks for Mardan.
We had few contacts in the affected area, including links with international and local NGOs, MPAs, as well as concerned citizens. The intention was to reach Mardan at the same time as the trucks were going to arrive (Friday morning), find a place to store our goods, quickly visit camps and receive feedback from our contacts and then finalize our plan for distribution on Saturday.
I left for Lahore on late Wednesday afternoon on Karakoram Express after confirming trucks to Mardan and our order at Makro Lahore. The train ride was comfortable, the elderly couple in my cabin were very happy to hear about relief efforts from people of Karachi. Everyone who heard about my reason on the train wanted to donate money and three teenagers even volunteered to travel with me to Peshawar and beyond. I met up with musician Arieb Azhar on the train, who was returning from recording a Coke Studio session in Karachi. He spoke at length about the condition of the country and its effects on the music industry and artists in general. He volunteered to provide his services to anyone arranging a fundraising concert for IDPs.
The train reached Lahore at noon on Thursday, two hours later than I had planned my day’s schedule. The first trucker I had contacted from Karachi had already sent his vehicles to Mardan and blamed me for coming late. I avoided arguing with him and his arrogant behavior was a blessing in disguise since a large truck stop was present near Marko at Ravi Road. I rushed to the place and immediately arranged for two trucks to Mardan (haggling with truck dealers and Lahore’s Warden Police is a long story for another day).
I finally entered Makro Lahore around 2 p.m. and was excited to see the work they had already done for our huge order. I expected to leave the store with the trucks on their way to Mardan by dusk and hence reserved a seat for myself on the last Daewoo Bus to Peshawar from Lahore at 10 p.m. Unfortunately, the trucks did not leave Makro until 10:30 that night.
Makro being a warehouse kind of seller is based on slow, careful and professional pace of work. They reshelf their stocks and load/unload items after four different checks in their hierarchy of employees. Partly due to the haste we had placed our order and partly due to their long procedures, I was unable to expedite the loading and departure of trucks. It’s always wiser to place your order to a wholesale seller like Makro at least one week beforehand.
However, after spending the entire day working and drinking cup after cup of chai with the Makro staff, they truly appreciated the efforts of someone doing relief work. They promised to give more discount on items next time and also promised to send trucks to any location even in our absence at Makro.
Awab had visited a village called Bhageecha-Dera, 20 kilometers from Mardan and confirmed the presence of IDPs from Swat there. He had received good advices from people at the conference in Islamabad and was waiting for me at Peshawar for a day-long ‘reconnaissance’ mission of Mardan on Friday.
Our two trucks left Lahore late at night and I departed from the city by 11 p.m., reaching Peshawar at 5 a.m.
Four hours later, Awab and I left for Mardan. We had hired a car driven by the owner’s son Aijaz, a young Peshawar University student. Aijaz wanted to assist relief efforts by driving us around and was of great help.
Accompanying us was also Subedar Ray Degul, a retired Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), who had served in the Pakistani army for 25 years in N.W.F.P. Subedar sahab’s linguistic, geographical and people skills were instrumental in the success of our trip.
We first met an NGO called Khanda-kor (a Pashtu word that means caretaker or responsible head of a family). Khanda-kor is based in Dir and works on the grassroots with rural communities. Since the fighting began last year and facing constant threats by the Taliban, the entire staff of Khanda-kor moved to Mardan two months ago. Ibraash Padha, their coordinator in Mardan was recommended as the most reliable contact by many people in Karachi and Awab also met him at the NGO conference in Islamabad.
Meeting with Khanda-kor was very informative since they had started working with displaced people as soon as they had shifted to Mardan. Ibraash mentioned that official figures are false since more than 25 million people have been currently displaced by the fighting. With regards to the problems facing IDPs at the moment, he said that tents are too warm in the open sun and people from Swat are used to of living in the cold for the entire year. Ibraash said that negotiations had been ongoing with government departments to shift the camps to Abbottabad or Mansehra since the weather is far better there and more suitable to the IDPs from Swat.
Khanda-kor also shared that their daily visits to the camps are revealing high incidents of TB and Hepatitis. He said that some severely ill patients are being helped by government and NGOs to reach hospitals since they are hesitant of even stepping out of the camps. Ibraash had himself transported a terribly sick little girl from Jalala camp to a hospital in Mardan.
Khanda-kor was fully responsible for a camp at Gul-e-Bagh, an area near Mardan. This camp is housing 40 families in 12 rooms, nearly 300 people in total. Ibraash said that 15 days ration had been provided to them and they will be assisted in the future as well. In his opinion, the best method to manage a camp, no matter how large or small, was to involve the people inside. An authoritarian and submissive relationship between donor and recipient was harmful for both groups. As an example, Ibraash explained that at their camp in Gul-e-Bagh, separate committees had been formed of the 40 families residing there. One committee was responsible for checking food items delivered and their distribution. Another committee oversaw health issues in the camp, while one also worked on improving sanitation and education. This not only empowered displaced people but also provided men, women and children to be engaged in health activities rather than idly awaiting relief and becoming prone to familial and social problems.
We learned two crucial points from Ibraash that were heard and witnessed by Awab and I repeatedly in the trip:
- The camps and relief effort is completely mismanaged and disorganized. There seems to be no cohesion between the various stakeholders involved with IDPs (more on this later).
- The vast numbers of displaced people are NOT living in camps. They are settled with host families, which can be immediate blood relations or distant relatives or even people of the same village. This huge number is completely sidelined in the relief effort. Host families, even those who belong to the salaried middle-classes are heavily burdened to sustain two or more families under one roof. A large number of IDPs were also present in government schools, which offered a solid brick shelter, electricity and water connections, making it a far better option than a makeshift camp on an open ground.
Ibraash advised us to visit the camps but to stay clear of randomly delivering goods there since many trucks had been looted before reaching the distribution points. We were invited to visit the areas Khanda-kor was working at and they offered their full support in any manner required.
Next, we decided to visit Dr. Maqbool Shah, a dentist working at tehsil hospital called Ganjai, which was also an RHC (Rural Health Centre) in a historical town called Takht-e-Bahi, 15 kilometers from Mardan.
Takht-e-Bahi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains Buddhist monastic ruins dating back to the 1st century B.C. The road to Takht-e-Bahi from Mardan leads straight to Malakand division. A few kilometers behind the border of Takht-e-Bahi and Malakand is where the infamous Jalala Camp of IDPs is present.
Dr. Maqbool was an acquaintance of Awab and knew Subedar sahab very well also. He offered us an empty hall in the hospital, which we were happy to utilize as the central location for our distribution.
The road from Mardan to Takht-e-Bahi is alongside a small river and for nearly 4 ‘ 5 kilometers, one can witness rows upon rows of tents beneath the trees lining one side of the road.
The trucks began to unload at the RHC and food items were collected in separate piles by volunteers arranged by Awab’s contact from Bhageecha-Dera. Another truck was to arrive the next morning with the remaining items from Lahore, but we decided to start preparing family hampers in bags provided by Makro.
At this time, two volunteers who had heeded Awab’s call for help online, met us at Ganjai Hospital. Youshey Zakiuddin from Karachi and his friend Hasnain Haidar from Multan, both LUMS graduates, joined hands with us after meeting up in Rawalpindi. Their presence was god-sent and our distribution efforts would have never succeeded without their help.
People had already begun pouring into the hospital watching our trucks loaded with goods.
We left the preparation of bags to volunteers under the care of Dr. Maqbool Shah and the four of us (i.e. Awab, Youshey, Hasnain and I) went to visit the largest camp in the area.
Jalala Camp is off the main road leading towards Malakand from Takht-e-Bahi. The camp seems calm and secure at the entrance. A proper registration tent and facilitation centre was present, where we were greeted by camp organizers. We saw the registration process of some people and charts with complete note of 1,064 families registered and a total of 6,402 people were also visible. One Abdul sahab at the entrance told us that each family was being issued registration cards which included details of what they required for food, clothing, health etc. Whenever a family in the camp needed to avail some service, they were given receipts for that specific need.
I was astounded to see the number of NGOs and international groups at the camp. Here’s a list of agencies at Jalala Camp that I was able to jot down during the trip, excluding relief stalls of mainstream political parties:
- World Food Program (WFP)
- ACT International
- Red Crescent, U.A.E.
- Ummah Welfare Trust
- Al Khidmat Foundation
- Al Khair Trust
- Hayat Foundation
- Khubaib Foundation
- Rehman Foundation
- Hunch Welfare Foundation
- World Health Organization (WHO)
There were also some food stalls set up by MCB and National Bank. Emergency toilets had been set up by UNICEF, water tanks and pipes were available by UNHCR, WFP had a gigantic tent-storage with ample bags of wheat, rice and sugar inside.
I spoke to some people who had gathered around a relief truck that had just arrived at the camp. The distributors were trying their best to check receipts each person held. However, there was no line and two policemen who were trying to keep order were unable to control the men jumping at the truck. As is usual with our government services, there were supplies, there were men hired and willing to work, but there was a complete lack of management and disorganization was at its extreme.
One elderly fellow was happy and satisfied that he had been diagnosed by a capable doctor and given medication. Another man said his son had diarrhea and could not find any physician to treat him. One man said he had food and clothes but could not get drinking water in his side of the camp. Another man had plenty of water but little food. All of them complained about the warm weather and the unbearable environment inside the tents.
Obviously, this is leading to a general sense of deprivation and frustration amongst the IDPs, leaving many hungry and ill despite the vast amount of relief being sent in from all over the country and abroad.
I spoke to an employee of Hunch Welfare Foundation, an Islamabad based health NGO who had been at the camp for 5 days. The man wished to remain anonymous and revealed a terrible story: nearly 3000 IDPs had arrived in Islamabad since the operation began. However, these people have not been accommodated in the capital and are now being told to go to camps in Mardan. He said the situation of health is under control at the moment in Jalala Camp but with each passing day, malaria, typhoid, scabies and other diseases are going to increase. The process was the entire problem at this camp, for example there was no printed list of IDPs available and while the official number of families was 6000, it was actually 8000 at Jalala. He also reiterated the fact shared by Ibraash that the vast majority of people are residing with host families and in schools. The situation of people residing in schools was terrible and he insisted us to reach out to families who were as yet untouched by any relief.
I saw a poster with the words, ‘free treatment for TB’ but did not find a doctor or nurse sitting nearby to give free treatment. The Hunch Foundation person said that the typical lack of coordination between NGOs was also apparent in the camp.
On our walk back, we witnessed firsthand the disturbed nature of Jalala Camp. A relief truck with food stock from concerned citizens of a small town called Baffa in Mansehra was handing out items to men crowded around. Due to the lack of security, people were yelling and abusing volunteers inside the trucks, ignoring their pleas to maintain order and show receipts.
In an instant, we saw boys climbing the side panels of the large Bedford truck and grabbing the bags inside. As soon as the attention of volunteers was diverted, people began leaping in and grabbing whatever they could get their hands on. Boys stranded on the side of the truck began chucking the bags on the road. Amazingly, the truck began to move with men holding onto it perilously and its stock was rampantly thrown about.
Awab was taking pictures and I guess the notebook in my hand compelled Ishtiaq Khan, owner of the truck from Mansehra, to narrate his story.
Ishtiaq said that he was ignored and misguided by camp authorities when he arrived there last week asking them for assistance in delivering relief from Baffa. Frustrated, he had conducted his own survey and indentified certain number of families he wished to provide food goods. When the truck reached Jalala Camp, Ishtiaq said that the Colonel sahab, the camp in-charge, had told him not to deliver anything without his permission. When he tried to talk to him, the Colonel refused to listen and told him to report to the registration tent. There, he was again put on hold and sidelined for a few hours. Becoming impatient, Ishtiaq decided to carry out his relief without any another help than the volunteers he had brought with him.
Now, after his goods had been stolen, he blamed the Colonel sahab and camp personnel for instigating the attack by IDPs since he had not listened to them. Awab has pictorial evidence of the entire incident. We were short on time and did not want to act like typical journalists looking for someone to blame. I told Ishtiaq to be more careful next time and to select some other camp or school in the area where he could easily administer relief.
Outside the camp, we saw a tent of Sarhad Rural Support Program (SRSP). They had few HIACE trucks for free transport and we wanted to inquire if they would assist us in distribution of the family hampers. We learned that the trucks were only for transporting people to camps or other places and their livestocks, free of cost. They did however welcome us and gave us contacts of private trucks owners who would not charge us exorbitant rates for their services.
Syed Mustafa Shah, a coordinator of SRSP, told me that he had surveyed some schools near the border of Malakand in a place called Hatyan and Shehergarh in the past two days. He gave me exact locations of three Primary and one girls middle school where 30 families had been staying for nearly two weeks and no one had visited them yet. He said no NGO or government authority even knew that these families had moved into the schools and they were surviving only because of the food they were receiving from village folk.
I also met Shahzeb, a young volunteer at the SRSP camp, who was from Siddiqueabad in Mingora City, Swat. His family had been displaced to Shehergarh, which was under curfew for most parts of the day. He hesitated in narrating his story but mentioned that he was very keen on completing his education and working in an NGO. Shahzeb was quite depressed and had great difficult in telling me that three families, including his own, were living under one roof and were short of provisions. I could not promise him anything but said I shall do my best to aid him.
Since Awab had arrived at Mardan on Thursday, a Mr. Hazrat Nabi (real name) had been calling him from a village called Parkho-dero near Jalala Camp. He insisted that we visit his village where 700 families from Swat were living with host families. Subedar sahab informed us that this was an inner village, deep within Takht-e-Bahi and Nabi was most probably telling the truth. Awab and I decided that we should visit Parkho-dero, especially when we had intended to gain as much information from the ground as possible.
High mountains of Malakand were visible from Parkho-dero, as the road swerved across a defund railway line and careful maneuvering between tight lanes and houses was needed to reach a guest house in the village. The serenity and greenery was breathtaking.
Nabi and his fellow villagers had prepared a list of 34 schools and the 700 families present in them all. Nabi was an ex-employee of National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), which was closed down by the new government in 2008.
(Small digression- NCHD’s closure led to an estimated 200,000 people unemployed in the country, 80,000 alone in Sindh. Dr. Nasim Ashraf, the disastrous PCB chief and Musharaff’s buddy, was at its head and Mrs. Saba Musharaff was its patron. Recently, there has been talk of re-launching the organization with reforms in its planning and operations. I can testify that NCHD spent massive amounts of federal government funds in improving the state of education in Pakistan but has very little to actually prove real benefits of its large-scale intervention. Like all government departments, nepotism, fraud and poorly-planned activities were prevalent in NCHD. However, I believe it’s a crime to lay off such a massive labor force and ask helpless, hardworking men and women to hunt for new jobs in such dire economic times. A nationwide organization with hundreds of people staffed and willing to work can certainly be put to good use, especially when they are already linked with the existing education system of Pakistan)
As it was 6 p.m. now, we could not visit any school but were able to meet men and children from Swat who had family in Parkho-dero and were lying outside the homes of resident villagers. Awab took beautiful pictures of siblings Haris and Mahnoor, both from Swat. Subedar sahab spoke with the displaced people and confirmed the claims of Nabi and his friends.
Reaching Ganjai hospital, we decided to send out 150 hampers to Bagheecha-dera village on a truck that volunteers had brought with them. It would be far better than dragging the hampers early next morning.
We then headed back to Peshawar and over dinner at CHIEF fast food restaurant, we finalized the distribution of 700 family hampers in the following order:
- 150 at Bagheecha-dera
- 250 at schools of Takht-e-Bahi
- 300 at Parkho-dero
The remaining 100 were to be retained at Ganjai hospital and as Subedar sahab kept reminding us, we will be able to deliver them easily to displaced families.
We left for Mardan early and hoped to grab some breakfast on the way. Big mistake since truck hotels stop serving paratha and eggs after 8. Initially, we had planned to visit all three areas, first Bagheecha-dera then Takht-e-Bahi and then Parko-dero as a team to monitor and efficiently conduct the distribution of hampers. However, by the time we reached the fork which led to Bagheecha-dera it was close to noon and the third truck from Lahore was reaching Mardan as well. Subedar sahab, Youshey and Hasnain headed back to Ganjai hospital, while Awab and I proceeded to the first distribution.
Bagheecha-dera is an inner village with the usual tight lanes and short corners. Magnificent mountains border one side of the village with vast, lush fields of different crops spread beneath them. Inam was Awab’s contact there, who had already set up the family hampers in a small warehouse where his family stores rice and wheat crops. Displaced families had been informed of the distribution before our arrival. People began to trickle at the site and one-by-one we wrote down their names and checked their N.I.Cs to certify them as affected citizens from Swat.
Many women came to collect hampers as well. A few mentioned that their men were still stuck in areas where the fighting is raging. Young boys came to collect bags for their families since their mothers did not wish to venture out and their fathers were either away or had not abandoned their homes.
Things went smoothly and we were able to depart from Bagheecha-dera and reach Ganjai hospital by 2:30 p.m. On the way, Awab and I stopped at a World Food Program (WFP) depot in Takht-e-Bahi. A large crowd was amassed outside the depot and we saw large trucks entering the compound. We were stopped at the main gate by armed policemen and told to wait until they received orders. Awab introduced us as media persons and then went about taking pictures. Huge trucks were being loaded with bags of wheat. A long line of men was also present in front of a warehouse inside the depot. Policemen were unable to stop Awab and I did my best to distract them by asking random questions. Awab disappeared behind the trucks and I was called into their office.
I met Ijaz Khan, manager WFP for Mardan district. He was first suspicious of my presence but I befriended him by truthfully saying that I belong to a Sindh based NGO and was here with friends to assist IDPs. He mentioned that large quantities of food and other relevant items are reaching the area where people are settling, while camps are being set up with coordination of UNHCR and other agencies. Ijaz said that we should focus on schools and camps that are as yet untouched by relief. He stressed us to visit the camps of Shaikh Yasin and Shaikh Shahzad, which were being aided but still required a great deal of input from all concerned.
Awab joined us and Ijaz was hesitant in having his picture taken. He frankly stated that he is not fond of journalists since their short-sightedness paints their work as useless. He said media personnel tend to focus only on the negatives and never bother to highlight the efforts of WFP, local NGOs and people like me and Awab. Exposing the plight of IDPs and the need for donations is understandable but claiming that nobody is doing anything worthy is insulting.
We rushed back to Ganjai hospital and found the third truck from Lahore being unloaded. I had already instructed Youshey by phone to leave for the distribution of the first 125 bags to the schools of Takht-e-Bahi. He had local community members and Dr. Maqbool Shah accompanying him in the distribution.
I had also informed villagers from Parkho-dero to reach Ganjai hospital for assisting us in transporting the 300 hampers for IDPs in their schools. Nabi and his colleagues brought along volunteers and a Bedford truck for the hampers. We were able to speedily disburse the prepared hampers by isolating the remaining 125 for Takht-e-Bahi and sending Hasnain and our driver Aijaz to Parkho-dero for distribution.
Awab and I remained at the hospital, surviving on tea and soft drinks since there was no time to have lunch. We distributed twenty odd hampers to women who had gathered there from a nearby locality. They were all attested as displaced women by the hospital staff. This turned out to be our second mistake of the day. These women inadvertently spread the news of a distribution camp at Ganjai hospital to everyone in the vicinity.
An hour later, we were dealing with a crowd lining up outside the small hall we were using as a warehouse. The crowd was mostly of men, who did have NICs proving their residence from Swat but if we had started handing out even small packets of sugar, the risk of creating a mob ransacking our entire stock was quite clear. Subedar sahab and others at Ganjai hospital advised us to carry on with our plans and to hand out some remaining items at the end of the day to clear out the crowd. The longer we delayed giving anything to them, the more chance we had of them leaving rather than awaiting a moment to raid our stock.
Since our commute on the road to Takht-e-Bahi began on Friday morning, we had been passing through tents set up along the river. Some of these had been set up by international NGOs or local groups but the vast majority was being ignored. We brainstormed on how to reach out to this large number. Keeping in mind that we did not have the manpower or the time to contain innumerable number of desperate IDPs, we decided to simply disburse a certain amount on a pickup without stopping for a single moment. This way we would at least be able to target as many men and children as possible without getting mobbed at one single point.
Awab headed out in the first truck and managed to dispense more than 50 oil tins, 60 odd bags of rice and sugar and two dozen cartons of biscuits in less than ten minutes. (I’m sure he has some insights to share on what took place).
Youshey had by now returned after brilliantly stopping at one school at a time, noting down the name and NIC number of each family head he was handing out a hamper. He departed with the remaining 125 hampers and extra bags of sugar in a separate truck that had arrived that morning from Lahore. Hasnain, on the other hand, could not be reached and through Aijaz I only got to know about the number of bags that had been disbursed till then.
Taking advantage of the time left, we decided to do another distribution run on the tents Awab was unable to deliver relief the first time around. We headed out in a pickup with handful of items: sugar bags, tea bottles, biscuits and oil tins. Reaching the road near the tents, we found a crowd of men rushing towards our truck as soon as we took out the first few bags of sugar. Within a matter of seconds, we had boys leaping onto the truck, pulling our shirts and grabbing whatever they could literally from our hands. Men on motorbikes and even cars were shouting at us to throw them something. Awab has taken great pictures of the entire episode and stumbled, almost falling flat on his face, while climbing back on the truck. It was the most disastrous and shameful form of distribution possible, but we needed to work within our capacities and reach out to as many families as possible.
I received an update from Aijaz that their work at Parkho-dero would be finished in less than an hour. I decided to visit the distribution there, leaving Awab and others to deal with matters at the hospital. A much more important reason for my hasty departure was to hand out three bags to Shehbaz, the displaced boy from Swat, working as a volunteer at the SRSP camp.
I called him and found out that he was still working diligently at the SRSP camp. Subedar sahab met and asked him detailed questions about his hometown and confirmed the truth of his plight. He promised to remain in touch and provide us information about ground realities, especially when he returns to Mingora.
At Parkho-dero, there was total chaos. The guest house Nabi and his friends had chosen looked no different than a government building which has closed its doors without any prior notification or a disturbed line of helpless people outside a Utility store. The brother of the U.C. Nazim was present along with a police van to maintain order. The mistake made by volunteers here was that they had handed out far more receipts for family hampers than they actually possessed.
More than a hundred people stood behind barricaded charpoys in the guest house. I jumped into the shouting, pulling and pushing of the gathered crowd and was finally able to force my way inside a room where I found Hasnain sprawled against a wall. He looked dazed and bleary-eyed. I feared that he might have fainted or collapsed from dehydration or worst. But thank god that he was perfectly alright, just terribly fatigued from the ordeal.
He mentioned that Nabi and his friends were quite orderly in the beginning but were unable to maintain the gathering crowd later on. Hasnain tried his best but could not register and monitor the prepared list of families with the receipts they had earlier given out to displaced people in schools. By this time, only six or seven hampers were left. I quickly told Hasnain, Aijaz and other members of our team to immediately leave the premises since the men and women outside were sure to raid and fight for the remaining hampers at the guest house. Hasnain still carried a smile on his face and joked about his experience. His dedication was truly amazing.
The brother of the U.C. Nazim hugged and thanked me for our delivery of supplies to Parkho-dero. I asked him (a little rudely) why the government had not sent any relief here. And why hadn’t anyone in the local administration demanded relief from an international agency or NGO’ He answered that the government was being selective and greedy in sending aid here since this locality was a predominantly PPP area while the ANP was in power at the district level. He also stressed that he and his brother had personally contacted UNHCR and other agencies to help them but to no avail. I had no time or energy to crosscheck his answers.
Ganjai hospital had very small quantities of our stock now remaining. But it was foolish to leave them at the hall, especially with the ever-present crowd hovering there. We had closed the main door to the hall and tried to check each person that was trying to enter.
Awab and I reasoned that it was best to handover all our remaining stock to whoever would utilize them best. I recommended the NGO Khanda-kor, while Awab was in touch with local members of Pakistan Tehreek-i-insaf (PTI), whose camp was visible at the central chowk of Mardan. The head of PTI Malakand was reached on the phone and hearing his name, both doctors at Ganjai hospital and other volunteers testified of his non-political reputation and humanitarian work. I contacted Ibraash and asked him to receive the other remaining half of our relief goods.
An acquaintance of Dr. Maqbool, who had arrived at the end of the day, shared an interesting story. Abdul Qayyum had a list of eighteen families who were residing at schools in Naraiwala, a small village in Takht-e-Bahi. All of them belonged to Swat and were desperate for relief. I asked Abdul how they came to reside in his village and was surprised to know that he was running his own local NGO in the area.
Abdul is a government employee but has been working for the welfare of his community. He had registered a non-profit organization with the Social Welfare department and through his connections was able to receive funds to help orphans, sick men and women, elderly and those in need of his village. Abdul had convinced families to enroll their children, especially girls into school and proudly said that his own daughter was studying in a college. He mentioned that things were progressing normally for his charitable work till the infiltration of the Taliban in Swat and Malakand.
Abdul started receiving threatening letters, asking him to close down the NGO being run from his home and how it was un-Islamic of him to encourage women to leave their homes for studying or working. At first, he ignored the letters but as the fighting ensued in Swat Abdul was scared for the safety of his family and ceased all his activities. A friend in Swat had mentioned his name to people fleeing their homes and they had come looking for him in his village when the recent operation began. With the large number of families depending on his help, Abdul began his welfare work again. He was very honest and direct in his demand for assistance from me but unfortunately, by this time we had already committed the remaining amount to PTI and Khanda-kor.
The trucks from Imran Khan’s party and the NGO arrived at the same time and were loaded within two hours and departed for their destination. Youshey returned at the same time, after an entire day of noting and unloading hampers to 250 families. His record keeping was truly exceptional.
It was nine o’ clock now and we had very small number of items left in the hall. There were still people standing around, especially a large group of women who had been at the hospital since we had mistakenly distributed the twenty odd bags in the afternoon.
We hastily lined up these women, informed them that we had very little stock and they would receive whatever we could salvage. Luckily, parats, spoons and glass were left and we quickly handed out one set of each to the women.
The day was now coming to an end. We were delighted to see how all our efforts had borne fruit.
Without having a single meal or a minute’s rest, we had accomplished what seemed like an impossible task.
Two friends, from far away Karachi, with 24 lakhs worth of items to be transported from Lahore and then carefully distributed to the neediest IDPs in Madran, all within three days…. I had expected serious blunders and even feared failure since we had no solid contacts on the ground. For me, the distribution was nothing short of miraculous.
We left some goods at the disposal of Dr. Maqbool to utilize wisely at Ganjai hospital. We then bid farewell to all our friends by 11 p.m.
Few noteworthy people without whose help we could have never succeeded are: Subedar Ray Degul, Ayaz, Sahir, Aijaz and his classmates from Peshawar University, Inam bhai and his comrades from Bagheecha-dera village, Dr. Maqbool Shah and the entire hospital staff. There were also numerous other relatives and friends of these mentioned helpers, who remained nameless till I was bidding them goodbye and have sadly forgotten their names now. My best wishes to them and one day I personally want to repay them by whatever means possible.
Youshey and Hasnain left for Rawalpindi early the next morning. I departed for Karachi by air on 3 p.m. after an exciting shopping spree with Awab at a bazaar right beside the border of Khyber Agency and Peshawar.
Thinking back about the entire trip and the amazing experience I had working for relief of IDPs here are few points that I would like to share:
Every concerned Pakistani, with the ability to donate their time and money must actively participate in relief for their fellow citizens.
The army operation (as yet indefinite) must not last longer than two or three months. The longer it drags on and keeps the displaced people in camps or with host families or at government schools, the more frustrated and enraged will these people become resulting in easy recruits for terrorist, extremist and sectarian groups. An underdeveloped nation like Pakistan also cannot afford to have a huge number of people unemployed and at the mercy of donations.
Relief and support to displaced people cannot end here. All of us: citizens, NGOs, civil rights groups, donor agencies and especially the government have to follow through with rehabilitation of IDPs plus rejuvenation and enhancement of local economies of the affected areas. Ibraash of Khanda-kor, repeated said that we must retain our links with families and communities to whom we are distributing relief today, after they return to their home town, village or city.
As far as the military operation goes, I am still as confused about this crisis as I was before reaching Mardan. The humanitarian disaster because of the offensive and the wholesale destruction of entire cities compels me to condemn the military operation. Conversely, many IDPs themselves said that military force was necessary to eradicate the taliban menace from N.W.F.P and FATA and the leniency/peace-making has actually led to the current state of affairs.
As someone deeply troubled with the inequalities, injustices and lack of basic services to common people, at this point in time, more than anything else I am most concerned with assisting my fellow Pakistanis whose lives have been devastated by the violence.