PESHAWAR: Though evicted from their homes, the tribesmen are reluctant to speak about how life was in North Waziristan Agency.
Living in a hostage-like situation for almost eight years, these terrified people took flight from their native areas to escape a fresh military action against militant outfits in the tribal area.
Around half million tribal people have reached Bannu and other settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after going through untold miseries. The hapless people have gone through such an ordeal over the years that they seem to be mentally handicapped to tell how the situation looked back home.
Physically they are out of North Waziristan, but they are still in a state of mental siege. They will speak about movement of the US drones, curfew, movement of military convoys and indiscriminate shelling. The moment you ask them about presence of militants (Taliban) in their area and impact on their lives, they either just laugh it off or start blinking.
Mohammd Bashir, a young man from Mirali was speaking non-stop about problems he had faced during the last eights years. He was talking about curfews, buzzing drones, blasts and artillery shelling by the security forces.
IDPs reluctant to talk about militants
He said that life was very difficult in his village and they could not live on their own. “Even people couldn’t bury the dead or take patients to hospitals due to curfews,” Mr Bashir said while narrating his harsh experiences. Education institutions, hospitals and offices always remained closed due to curfew.
“Life was not normal and Waziristan was like a prison. People were not happy at all,” he said, while standing on the median of the road in Bannu Bazaar, watching rush of the people at a food distribution point.
He stopped narration when asked about Taliban or militants in his area. “I don’t know anything about. What do we have to do with them,” Bashir smiled and stopped speaking.
North Waziristan remained under shadow for a long period. Saga of violence started in the area with the brutal killing of a group of extortionists in Miramshah in 2005. Political administration took Hakim Khan; the group leader in custody while Taliban hanged bodies of his supporters from electric poles in main bazaar and people were playing football with their skulls.
This bloody episode was the turning point and armed groups challenged the state’s writ. More groups including Al Qaeda surfaced and North Waziristan became a dancing field for deaths. People were living under the dark shadows of drones, curfews, watching public executions, beheading and slaughtering of alleged spies and blasts.
Alleged spies were forced to sit on explosive devices and then were blown up. Footages of slaughtering people were released to media. It became ‘no go area’ for a common man, but a safe haven for fighters and absconders, who came there from different countries.
Entire Waziristan went under curfew twice a week. Education institutions either remained closed or were occupied by security forces. Parents were stopped from taking children to hospitals for taking anti-polio drops and some parents had to ‘smuggle’ vaccines in water-coolers to their homes from Bannu to protect their children from the crippling disease.
Tribal people’s nightmare has yet to come to an end. Before starting the long awaited Zerb-i-Azb, they were asked to leave the area. They have come out of suffocated and volatile environment, but they avoid sharing their thoughts and feelings.
Khalil Ahmad, who hails from Miramshah, said that people were talking about peace but practically there was no peace during the last one decade.
Some residents of North Waziristan who have passed through this long nightmare ask as to why state’s institutions remained dysfunctional to control the situation before reaching this point. “I don’t know why our security forces could not expel wrong people from our area in 2007. At that time operation was launched but situation did not change. Now once again people have been forced to leave homes to start operation against wrong people,” Faisal Hussain, a 10th grader from Mirali, said.
“I can’t believe that our army is powerless that it can’t crush a small number of people,” he said.
Abdul Aziz, who belongs to Khaisoor village, has the same dilemma. He piled complaints against the army, but did not utter a single word against militants, who were the root cause of the problem. He seemed to have grievances and some questions which were difficult to answer.
“Don’t we have human rights? Is UN not aware of what we had been going through? The problem is UN and international media has kept mum over our situation,” said Mr Aziz as his voice grew hoarse with anger mixed with pain and helplessness.
“If I tell the truth, then neither I nor you can live alive in this world,” said the elderly man drenched with sweats as he waited in the queue for ration. He refused to share any of his agonies as if he had lost faith in the all that stood for human rights and freedom of expression.
Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2014