The women who walked – and walked

IDPs on the streets of MardanThis is an abridged version that was published on 4th June in The News extracted from a recent report by AIRRA (Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy) based in Peshawar, whose members traveled to the IDP camps for these interviews.

We write here some of the stories the women of Swat told us. They come from Kabbal, Mingawera (Mingora), Qambar, Kanju and other parts of Swat. Some are from Buner and Maidan in Lower Dir. Their lives were affected in many more ways than the lives of their men.

When we entered the large tent a few women looked up and smiled. Some got up and put out their hands to greet us. They seemed surprised that we could converse in the same language. “Sit down. We can’t even offer you tea” said one laughing, “look at us and what we have been reduced to.” Their children were lying on the floor, red because of the heat, tired and listless in the hot air of the fans. The women had been sitting in silence before we went in. We could hear no noise from the tent which was full of about forty women and children. What could they share with each other? Each story was the same as the other. It was a pall of misery and silences that hung over their heads. These women were lucky; they had a common place to come to, out of their tents. In most camps, the women sit in the heat of the tents, not being allowed to go out. They wait for their men to come before they can use the toilets. Their children defecate outside the tents as they cannot take them to the toilets. In some schools, they feed their children first and, at times, do not eat.

One by one they spoke their ordeal, their flight from the bombing, the endless days of walking with children and the elderly and the dead they had left behind. Soon each one wanted to tell her story. They sat closer and closer to us, listening to the others and telling us about themselves. Most of them had fled from Mingawera and other places in Swat–walking for days, avoiding the curfew by moving off the roads and taking to the mountains to walk, walking day and night; hiding their sons in trucks for fear that the Talibs would take them away to fight. One woman had walked for nine days with three children under ten. We cannot recall the number of women who told us about how their homes were shelled and how they had buried their dead without bathing them, in hurriedly dug graves. One had lost her baby on the way down, had dug a ditch beside the road, torn off part of her chadar, wrapped her child in it and buried her in the ditch. She walked on, to save what was left, her own life. Another spoke of how in the madness of the bombing, she had asked her husband to pick up her baby from the bed. When they were out of the village, the husband realized he had picked up the pillow and left the six month old child behind. They still kept walking.

Another woman spoke of how they were eating peacefully when a mortar had hit her house. The word ‘mortar’ was a regular part of their conversation. ‘Matr’ and ‘karpee’ which we finally realised was ‘curfew.’ Another told us how her neighbours’ home was shelled. Four men had died on the spot. People had run helter-skelter. The helicopter passed and the men ran and started digging graves to bury the dead before fleeing the village. They told the women to collect what they could and the women started to round up their children. As the men dug, the helicopter returned to shell. The men left the bodies and ran for cover. The helicopter fired again and flew past. The men returned and dug what they could and dumped the bodies into the graves.

Another woman in a school camp spoke of how her family had left food in their plates and hot tea in their cups when the shelling began. She was brave and then her brown eyes filled with tears and she said ‘my young son, he was in class ten, was hit on the back of his head and he died. I lost my young son’ and then her tears flowed. The others sat looking at her, thinking of their own miseries. We sat in silence, nobody consoling, and nobody talking. ‘At least they should have told us, why did they not tell us they were going to bomb?‘ She wiped her eyes hurriedly and continued to talk. ‘They are beasts these Taliban. They are not human. May God finish them all like they have finished us.’ We were surprised, surprised that her anger turned to the Taliban when her son was killed by military shelling. She was a strong woman and continued to talk with a vengeance. ‘May God punish these animals for what they have done to us. I hope the army finishes every last one of them.’

From one place to another, from one tent and school to another, we heard them tell us how they were unable to leave their homes for fear of being beaten or killed or flogged, how their men had been dragged out of their homes and slaughtered. One of the men said he lived on the chowk where the Taliban slaughtered people. He told us how they walked into homes and led out their victims in silence. He told us of the sounds he heard when these men were slaughtered, like cattle, on the chowk.

Each woman talked of the slaughter of men, whether they had been through it or whether they had heard it – it had terrorised them into silence and acquiescence. They also spoke of how ‘disgraced’ they felt as they fled with only a dupatta on. One of them laughed and said: “Burqa, burqa, which is all we heard in Swat but when we ran we were hardly covered [with burqas] and the whole world was looking at us.” The men did not think this was funny. The humiliation they felt at this had outraged them – the humiliation at their women being in these camps, being seen by other men, the humiliation of standing in line for food. Perhaps that is why there were so many children standing in line for food at the camps.

In one of the schools, a group of women led us to meet their friend. She could not speak because she could not stop crying. They kept saying ‘Show them; show them what they did to you.’ She was a widow and the Taliban had taken her 12 year old son away to join them. The women said that they used to come to all their homes and ask for their sons. They were too scared to resist. Some boys were taken by force, others went themselves, and others simply disappeared from madressahs. The widow had gone and taken her son back from the madressah. They had come into her house, taken all her jewellry and cut of all her hair. She cried for her own humiliation and did not speak a word. Women from Buner spoke of how the Taliban had no respect for the Pakhtun way of life, for Islam or for women. How they would enter any house they wanted, whether to take away their sons or to take refuge. They spoke of incidents of the younger women being raped, after which their breasts were cut off. They told us how their men were beheaded and hung from electricity poles with their chopped off heads placed between their legs. They would leave notes on these bodies for no one to touch.

So why did they let this happen? Why could they not get together to stop it? We repeatedly asked them this. Who ARE these people? This is when the admittance came. They were honest, honest about the power of Mullah Radio and his constituency of women listeners. “There was peace in Swat. Shut in their homes many women listened to ‘Raidu Mullah.’ He addressed them directly. “He used to talk about Islam, about praying five times a day, about going to the madressah and learning the Quran. We all thought he was a good man.” As his popularity grew, women would line up outside his madrassah and donate. They donated whatever little jewelry they had. Even the poorest women would donate her nose-pins.

This captive, gullible audience, shut in their homes became the main source of Mullah Radio’s power and support. They encouraged their sons to join his madrassah. They provided the Taliban with a ready following. They provided them their sons which they soon realised were fodder, fodder for suicide bombings and ‘jihad.’ It was only when they realised and resisted this that the Taliban turned on their own people. “They would knock at our doors, and would say, ‘give us your sons in the name of Islam’. Those who resisted were slaughtered.”

Many said their families approached the army and the government for help. But nobody listened. A few said that anyone who informed the army did not live long. They kept quiet. Even today parts of their areas where the Taliban have fled to are not known to the army. They will not speak. Suddenly in a fit of rage one of them started shouting: “Where were this army and this government when our people have been relating these incidents to them for almost two years?” This is only a question to be answered by those responsible for what is happening to our people today.

We have been fooled. We have been fooled by the Taliban, the Army and the government. We knew two years ago that this was not Islam but nobody would help us. Why did the army not do something two years when the Taliban were fewer in number and that when they could be controlled? When they knew exactly where they were. What is the reason for their friendship with these animals? Where were this army and this government when we were screaming for help and going to them?”

What answer can one give to these poor, helpless women? Who is going to be held accountable for the violence they have suffered. Their questions can only be answered by those who know what they have done. And if they do not answer them in this world, they will for sure answer them in the next.



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17 responses to “The women who walked – and walked”

  1. anonymous Avatar

    My heart with these victims of completely senseless violence!

    But anger at the Taliban is an essential ingredient of this article, isn't it, to maintain support for the Pak and US military against our own people? Very rarely is it hammered into our heads how most of the Swatis did not begin fleeing because of the animal "Taliban" but because of the military acts of the local and foreign military. Why are we not hearing of the corruption of the military and the number of women violated by it? The number of women and young girls violated at the hands of frustrated men and wild young boys, by simply being in this new situation, non-segregated to this extent for the first time?

    "Where were this army and this government when we were screaming for help and going to them?”

    This is the question that the English-speaking generation of Pakistan has sadly overlooked in its rush to swallow every lie that has been propagated by the Western media and its local puppets. These "animals" could not have been bred without aid and arms support. The US has been planning expansions in Pakistan for three years, perhaps the "Taliban" were probably being bred in the first year?

    Divide and conquer is an age-old rule but the elite and blinded youth of Pakistan fell for the anti-Islam propaganda and was tragically so supportive of this war against our own innocents, where nukes and people and madrasas and libraries and all things with even the most distant (non)connections to Islam can be completely destroyed.

    The entire nation should stand up right now and demand a stop to the local and foreign military operations. Yes we would need to organize ourselves against the local terrorists, but shouldn't we rid ourselves of the roots of this drama and the provocators first? Kick out the CIA, it is no secret that it has its largest foreign presence outside of Iraq right here, and that it keeps its "targets" undisclosed. (Does it even have targets?? Or do they consist of civilians?) But no. We want to cleanse the nation of the "scum" of what we've been programmed to believe is our Taliban. It grieves me how the "Long March" could be the order of the day even though it was based on a dubious video. And in contrast, the relative silence at THIS very real and massive tragedy is deafening, defeating, completely maddening. Our people, our heritage, our history and our very identity is lying defenselessly at the hands of two soulless armies, yet half the youth, the future of (what will be left of) the nation is contentedly watching pointless cricket matches, attending pointless concerts, and cheering on this pointless war that can only breed a new generation of rebels who have been stripped of normal lives and destined to grow up in refugee camps.

  2. Umme Yusuf Avatar
    Umme Yusuf

    This article is heavily biased against the Taliban. Not condoning their actions but it is clear that our government is no innocent party. Army firing and shelling civilian population and forcing them out of their homes is deplorable. How would it feel if we were forced to vacate Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi?

    And why does media fail to mention that the babies born in the camps are being named Sufi Mohammad and Fazlullah?

    Two wrongs don't make a right.

  3. dr jawwad khan Avatar
    dr jawwad khan

    thinking the same thing.can't add more

  4. karachikhatmal Avatar

    superb work dr sahib!

    as for the people complaining about biases and all – it's easy for us to complain about what we think they should be thinking and blaming, but that doesn't change anything. this is what people told reporters, and you can't ask them to change their points of view.

    Ummer Yusuf – since the media is not covering this, either you visited the camps yourself, or you received this information through sms or word of mouth. once again, this is the typical bullsh** propaganda that vested interests spread out in order to spread their own agenda. i could be wrong, but this whole why is the media not covering this issue blah blah blah is really tiresome.

    but one more time, excellent work teeth… keep it up

  5. Monz Avatar

    thanks for posting this.

  6. anonymous Avatar


    The media's "biased" coverages may be tiresome, but it is in fact one of the deepest roots of the problem, it is probably the most effective tool used by states to gain legitimacy for whatever evil they perpetrate. Had the media given people a different story about what happened at Laal Masjid or a different story about Swat, our collective attitude could have been completely opposite to what it is now. And while specific people's opinions can't be changed, it is the job of the media to highlight only those aspects that give the story the twist it wants to give. Assuming the story itself is even true, of course. Plenty of state-propagated stories aren't. The people's reaction (and hence course of action) to any event is entirely dependent on how it sees the event in the first place.

  7. anonymous Avatar

    PS. Not to state that I'm rejecting or accepting any stories in particular.

  8. Sikander Avatar

    it's really disappointing and awful.. but we must differentiate the Talibans and the "Terrorists".. i am not a fan of Talibans and don't even like them.. but i am reluctant to accept that Taliban are doing this.. these aren't Talibans brothers and sisters, they are terrorists who are using Taliban's name..

  9. guY-sir Avatar

    hello why not my comments up? whats wrong? cum on USA post give comments and give abuse as much as ye can to their sordid-system which produce Terrorists rather Totalitarian-Terrorists.

  10. guY-sir Avatar


    you are up to the mark rightly said so… keep it up… plz pass comments on previous post on People Republic of US.

    And say whatever you want without any hesitation about west system which in my opinion is sordid.

  11. guY-sir Avatar


    Your 1st comment was Yorker which we might get rid of ocharies oh mean oligarchy. which is corrupt and pawn of west.How read below:

    BB got her study from Oxford and I got shocked when i read Jemima wrote article which heading was

    "BB was a kleptocrat in a hermes scarf"

    kleptocrat means "rule by "thieves" under the guise of "rule by people" aka Democracy/Democratic. has no sense of politics, religion and culture, they are gullible and slave of their self-system means "rule by people"

    Whole West is Kleptocrat in the guise of Democrats. Obama are you demo or klepto? I can make better UK acronym than last one i created due to they have legalize Sodomy, a forbidden act not only in Koran rather in Torah and Gospel as well this time around UK = U Kleptocrats

    Apparently BB took her edu from UK and Jemima which is Britisher and BB rival in her days in pak during 90s

    BB came elected but didn't complete her tenure , twice she dismiss on her own chosen president Leghari. One can get either she was klepto or demo.

    Who was Bhutto.? Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto was feudal who cemented British Raj in sub-continent. He, His son ZAB, her daughter BB, her hubby AZ, all are/were UK agents. Britishers taught them feudalism of Europe and gave them their stupefy education They make Leaders rather Lucifer-Leaders. No one is Leader in all political parties they all are Agents of west/UK/US

    We are still a slave instead we took illusory independence from UK, we are still slaves of them who are ready for slaughters we are like a lambs but struck in wolves land now how to get rid of all problems.God can but He is vanished from media, and from our hearts due to USury. This is 2nd largest Sin in Islam after Shirk. There's an authentic hadith which says about USury.

    "USury has 70 factions least you commit incest"

    Our leaders keep their money in foreign banks and eat USury/interest from it..

    Rulers are Rubes nothing know about Islam they are seculars, they are blank divinely buT I'm not and I'm cute not rube so i want to make a lines of all Lucifers I mean Leaders and gonna shoot their Butts and wanna RULE 1st Pakistan 2nd World. vote me support me

  12. readinglord Avatar

    There is no truth no reality. Every thing is wrapped up in sordid obscurantism. It is all a Talibani show, extremist versus moderate Taliban. I call Bulleh Shah to humanize them all:

    "Masjid dha de mandir dha de, dha de jo kujh dheyinda

    Ik bande da dil na dhaawein, Rab dillaan wich rehnda"

  13. guY-sir Avatar

    readinglord, R U Indian? well

    it is not sordid obscurantism neither talbani show rather it is "devil despotism" and Totalitarian Show

    It is wrapped in Protocols of Zion and NWO is a blueprint of Protocols.

  14. Sikander Avatar

    @guY-sir thanks for the appreciation buddy.. and i don't hesitate to criticize West including US.. in fact i have also posted an article here.. A Global issue of Terrorism – Stop Criticizing Pakistan. i hope you liked it.. it's posted by some other name.. i will tell you the secret of posting it by other name as soon as i get a clue.. lolz.

  15. readinglord Avatar


    I am Indian by birth and Paky by choice. Thank you forb the kind response and the Protocols, which I would read at leisure. Presently I am beset with power outage.

  16. noman Avatar

    many on such blogs are all for kicking the usa out of afghanistan.wake up! we are talking about the biggest oil reserves in the read some material on the oil potential of the centeral asian regions.already the Americans hv a pipeline exporting oil and gas through turkey.china has 2 or 3 .the oil potential alone dictates that foreign powers will remain in Afghanistan and cause instability in the region coz unfortunately we are located on major export routes.blaming the army for the plight of people in fata etc is just an attempt to cause mistrust between the people and the armed forces.

    We are talking about mega mega bucks. The entire conflict in the region is the so called new great game .therefore we will find biased (bought) opinions and dicey policies.mega dollars can buy eventually any one but at least we can b reassured by the army’s restraint against the 19 Indian consulates, only 1 reportedly targeted by isi .specific targeting of Indian supported Taliban and individuals on Indian payroll that all is not lost.lets hope that the policy of eliminating these traitors is carried out . let Pakistan win.

  17. dr jawwad khan Avatar
    dr jawwad khan

    this is ridiculous.there is no holy cow.there is no honest and sincier in establishment and more precisely no one loves pakistan. its a game of interest.

    many take oath to follow the constitution and violate it.many wear uniform with guns and handover our territory to the enemies just because of vested interest.

    now no one trust any body because people started to understand the real game.

    today in interesting inside view is given by "HAMID MIR"

    "Zainuddin recently contacted some Mehsud tribal elders but most of them are reluctant to cooperate with him. They question that if Abdullah was killed by Pakistani security forces then why the leader of his group was cooperating with the establishment? These tribal elders see no difference between Baitullah and Zainuddin. They fear that the establishment had first used Baitullah against Abdullah, and now they were using Zainuddin against Baitullah and ultimately both of them would be killed. They also fear that Qari Hussain will replace Baitullah as the new Taliban commander.

    Many Mehsud tribal elders were contacted by the political administration of South Waziristan, seeking help for Qari Zainuddin. One tribal elder had reportedly told an official of the administration: “Don’t fool us. President Zardari is assuring cooperation to Nato and you are asking us to cooperate with a person who is asking us to go and fight Nato in Afghanistan”.