Married with 2 kids, Burhan Din is 28 years old and belongs to Amankot in Mingora, Swat. He is pursuing an M. Phil. in Anthropology from Peshawar University. He had been working for a trust called Muslim Aid in Mingora as a hygiene promotion officer for one year before he was forced to leave his home on the 2nd May, 2009. I was given the contact of Burhan, who had tried to go back to his home in Mingora and was keen to share his experience.
Burhan mentioned that the problem of Taliban had begun two years ago and although they were not targeting civilians they were considered a threat by the people of Mingora. Security personnel, government servants and especially the military were their main targets as well as anyone they deemed worthy of punishment such as criminals, drug dealers and political party workers.
The arrival of the army in late April was a severe threat to his life and with the fighting intensifying, he like everyone else in Mingora city, decided to leave. Burhan took his family and reached Takht-Bhai on May 4th and was registered at the Jalala Camp. However, there was no room for people then in the camp. Along with five other families, Burhan, his wife, two children and parents settled at Government Boys Primary Schools Sher Hasan Kilay at Pir Saado in Takht-Bhai.
Luckily, Burhan found employment in the NGO SPAARC (http://www.sparcpk.org/) at Jalala Camp as a community mobilizer, running fun centers for children. When the violence began in Swat two years ago, Burhan had started collecting data for an anthropological study of the affects of talibanization on pakhtun culture. He had exact details of Taliban attacks in Swat and the changes he felt in peoples daily mannerisms. He was compiling this data for a thesis on his computer at home and the loss of this preciously collected data worried him most. He decided to return to Mingora for retrieving this data, along with other valuable which included his wife’s jewelry and property documents.
Along with his friend Sarfaraz Khan who wanted to go to his home in Saidu Sharif (his account follows later), Burhan left on May 28th and returned three days later.
This is Burhan Din’s story, summarized from his interview conducted on July 4th, followed by a few questions I asked him:
I left early in the morning from the school where I’m residing with my family in Takht-Bhai. I met Sarfaraz and we reached the border of Swat and Buner, a place called Sangar through local transport. It usually takes only thirty minutes to reach Jhambeel from Sangar, which is 18 kilometers from my home, Amankot. There was strict checking of every person at every turn in the road. It took us more than six hours to reach Jhambil. Here I sat on a bicycle with an acquaintance who was going till Dangram, a short distance from Amankot. The sound of bombing was constant throughout the way. Army men and their convoys were in constant movement on the road as well. I was advised to spend the night at Dangram. I walked to my home the next morning after being strip searched multiple times on the road. It was like a war zone and I was being treated like an enemy than a victim.
I was checked and questioned at Paan and then at Makan-Bagh in Mingora and then also at Bangladesh-Pur where there’s also an army post. Even at Amankot, where my house is, the army men questioned me over and over again why I was returning. Some homes at Amankot had been destroyed by mortars and I saw the grid station badly damaged.
I saw dead bodies lying around and dogs eating them. Some of my neighbors had stayed back during the fighting and told me that many dead bodies were lying around in Amankot. A friend of mine had been killed and his body was still at his house because the army men had told people not to bury him. They said whoever tried to move him would be considered an enemy and would be responsible for the consequences.
My home had been thoroughly searched, I can’t say who had done it. My furniture and other household items had been thrown on the road. Some doors of my house were also broken. Being pathan, I had 2 kalashnikovs at home but they were both missing. My licensed 30mm pistol was also missing. Other large items like TV, fridge, my desktop computer and laptop were thankfully safe.
I stayed for a day at my home, collected my valuables and then headed back. All the shops were closed, it was impossible to even go for a walk on the road outside my house. When I reached Makan Bagh, the army men said I should not go that way. I secretly treaded through dirt roads and reached Bangram. There I got hitch-hiked and reached Pukaray on a Suzuki pickup.. I stayed the night at Pukaray with a friend Abdul Manaan and his brother Abdul Jalil. Abdul Manaan took me on his motorbike for a few kilometers out of Pukaray and then I walked for more than thirty kilometers to reach the border of Swat and Buner called Karakar. They said there’s curfew in Barikot up ahead so I took an alternate route and reached Naoghai on a car, whose driver was sympathetic enough to give me a ride. Thank God the situation in Buner was normal and I was able to get transport to Swabi. From Swabi I reached Jalala at Takht-Bhai.
Although the situation in Buner was normal the army is still conducting strict checking of anyone passing through. They are also telling people not to farm corn there, which is the largest crop of Buner. Like Amankot, they are telling people that whoever tries to farm will be responsible for the consequences against them. The roads are open in Buner and the curfew is relaxed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. However, only a handful of families have returned while the rest are still in camps.
Is it possible for you to return to Swat right now?
Not right now, it’s impossible.
How long do you think it will take you to return home?
It’s up to the government actually, whenever they say it’s safe I will return. If they want I think they can restore the conditions in 5 or 6 days. The entire area is in their control.
Are they still checking people in Swat trying to come back?
Yes, very strictly, and the manner in which they do is so disrespectful and demeaning that no one can bear it.
Your I.D. card must have your Swat residence written on it?
Yes, but even if with the address on my N.I.C, they would not believe that I’m from the area and kept asking question after question.
Were you checked on the return trip back to Takht-Bhai?
No, because they had identified me on the way in and they have a complete data of people with them. There are only a handful of people in Mingora city anyways. The army knows whoever is staying there.
What is the responsibility of the government?
I want to tell you that we have a patient outside Jalala Camp who just had a thyroidectomy done and she’s living in a terrible condition. And she’s one of the lucky ones, because at least in the camps and people with contacts in NGOs have access to healthcare but outside of the camps people are completely helpless.
Have you tried to contact a doctor?
We have tried our utmost but the doctor tells us to bring her into the camp. She cannot move here even if there’s space available. It’s too hot and we do not wish to move here. The living conditions are not suitable.
What do you think is the solution? Returning home?
If they open the roads, we will not wait for five minutes here. We’ll return on our own accord, no matter what it takes we will run home.
What will you do back at home? Is there employment available?
It will be difficult, I’m sure we will have trouble even feeding our children but it is better than living here like beggars.
What do you think of aid to IDPs? Who have you seen helping them most?
Two or three NGOs are providing relief but nothing has arrived from the government. No news of Rs.25,000 from the government as well. The NGOs who refer people for this cash amount also do this on reference and connections. If you don’t have contacts in NGOs or government, than you are at the mercy of God.
I spoke with Burhan on Saturday July 18, 2009. He was about to leave for his home and was delighted at going back. He did share the fear of what lay in the future but was willing to face any challenge at his own home, with his own efforts rather than living as a refugee.
Sarfaraz Khan is forty years old and has two children. He was living with his family and six other families in four large rooms at a school in Tor Dair, close to Pir Saado in Takht-Bhai.
This is what Sarfaraz narrated, followed by a few questions I asked him:
I belong to Saidu Sharif and I went alongside Burhan till we reached Mingora. He went towards his home and I walked secretly besides the river to reach Saidu Sharif which is an adjoining city with Mingora. When we had fled Saidu Sharif, the Taliban presence was everywhere. When I arrived on May 28th, all their positions had been taken up by the military.
I am a school teacher at GBHS Wadoodia in Saidu Sharif for the last 18 years. On May 1st, schools in our area were closed. Although people were leaving, we stayed there for seven more days. The electricity was totally gone, there was no more running water and we had finished all the supplies at home. I then decided to prepare my family and leave the city. We collected all our valuables but had to spend another night because a curfew was suddenly imposed. Unfortunately, my wife thought of putting away 10 kgs of gold and important documents back in a safe. We forgot to take them with us when he left the next day. I desperately wanted to bring them back and that’s why I returned home.
On the way there, strict checking was done by the army at every road and they were not allowing anyone to pass. I was scared for my life because the army thought anyone coming into the area must be a Taliban since people were still fleeing this part of Swat, why would anyone be willing to come back at such a time?
My home was not ransacked but the doors and windows had all been destroyed. It seemed like the doors had been pulled out from their hinges. I asked a neighbor who had stayed behind and he said that Taliban positions on the hills had been bombed by the army with high powered rockets, which had destroyed many homes. They had blasted the windows and doors of all houses in the area as well.
The tragedy was that my documents were safe where we had left them but the jewelry was all gone. There are still some people living there, only men protecting their properties since it’s impossible for families to survive without electricity, water or food.
The cell phone connections were down and I could not get in touch with Burhan on the way back. I returned through Marghazar town. The people there were in pretty bad shape as well, there was no food reaching them.
Is it possible for you to go back right now?
It’s really not possible to go back right now but I have another fear. What if we return next month and then those people who are responsible for all this trouble arise again? Then is this crisis going to return again? Are we going to be displaced again? Let me tell you that to move back and forth like this with your family is worst than death! I had put my wife and kids in a car but walked all the way from Saidu Sharif to Malakand on foot, nearly 65 kilometers.
When will you be satisfied to return home? Until the army has completely withdrawn?
Yes, after the army withdrawal but also when certain steps had been taken to bring back normalcy in the area. Such as in urban areas, where there’s a large population, they must check and verify each individual’s identity and find out if he has had any affiliation with terrorists or not. In each locality they should nominate certain persons who are the most upright and willing to die for their people.
Once such local groups are organized and they flush out bad elements from their communities, they force them into the mountains then it will become much easier for the government to fight them and we can live peacefully as well.
I say this because we cannot go through all of this again, to live like beggars on the mercy of others, it is better to die than to go through this again.
I would like to add that wherever terrorists are in Pakistan, they should be identified by people and immediately arrested.
Burhan also mentioned on Saturday July 18th, that Sarfaraz was leaving tomorrow, Sunday July 19th for his home at Saidu Sharif.