The walking wounded of Waziristan

Owais Tohid
It’s springtime in Sadat Ullah Dawar’s beautiful village of Issori. The hills in front of his mud house rise from among the lush green fields, which are covered with blue colour flowers, ‘Sparlah’, bathing the valley with their scent. In the backdrop stands the majestic mountain of Shawal in North Waziristan still covered with white snow. The graying patches show that the melting has begun. The colourful migratory birds flying over the valley stop to drink from the freezing cold waters of the Tochi River before moving on. Continue reading

The walking wounded of Waziristan

It’s springtime in Sadat Ullah Dawar’s beautiful village of Issori. The hills in front of his mud house rise from among the lush green fields, which are covered with blue colour flowers, ‘Sparlah’, bathing the valley with their scent. In the backdrop stands the majestic mountain of Shawal in North Waziristan still covered with white snow. The graying patches show that the melting has begun. The colourful migratory birds flying over the valley stop to drink from the freezing cold waters of the Tochi River before moving on.

Sadat, too, is moving on. He is locking his ancestral home to take his old grandparents — Dilawar Khan and Bi Jan — to the nearby town of Bannu. Unlike the birds, he doesn’t know when, and if, he’ll be able to return.

Crossing the fields, Sadat quietly plucks a Da Sparlay Gul (flower of spring) and keeps in his pocket. Wherever he goes, a small part of home will now go with him.

“All tribesman love their home in the springtime but my Bi Jan says, ‘Son let’s leave because it has become so dark here that one cannot see his own hand.’”

The shadows of darkness to which Bi Jan refers, lengthened in this valley more than a decade ago with hordes of foreign militants moving in from the Afghan border through the rugged hilly terrain and thick jungles of Shawal Mountain from Paktika province and Kurrum tribal belt into Mir Ali.

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At a private educational refuge for Waziristan and Dawar students in Bannu, these young men spend much time preparing for their exams and keeping an eye on political developments back home.— Photo by Ihsan Khattak

The local clerics, whose influence has steadily grown over the years, played on the religious sentiments of the tribesmen, calling on them to host these “mujahideen” out of a sense of brotherhood. Others, who were less idealistic, were lured with money. So the tribesmen welcomed these war-battered and defeated warriors and offered them shelter, believing that they would soon disappear back into the war-torn land of Afghanistan. But the hordes kept coming, first a trickle, then a flood.

Everyday there was a fresh convoy of militants of different castes, creeds and colour. Low key and ‘quiet’, tall and athletic, Al Qaeda militants of Morrocan, Egyptian, Algerian and Sudanese origin. The round-faced, flat-nosed and ruthless Uzbeks; the fair-skinned Chechens. The short Uighur Chinese with their thin scraggly beards. Muslim converts from America, Germany and France known collectively as the ‘Gora Taliban’. Thousands of local jihadis joined their ranks, distinct because of their appearance and inability to speak Pushto, these were the long-haired and short-tempered Punjabi Taliban.

The temporary shelters the militants sought soon turned into entrenched sanctuaries as they allied with local commanders Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Siraj Uddin Haqqani. After forming the Tehrik-i- Taliban, thousands of fighters turned this tribal belt into the world’s most dangerous labyrinth, threatening peace inside Pakistan with suicide attacks and in Afghanistan by fighting US and Nato forces. Soon, the US drones were hovering over the hamlet and raining missiles while the militants unleashed a reign of terror on the ground.

“We have been caught between the earth and the skies,” says Sadat, who has rented a house for his grandparents in Bannu and struggles to set up a transport business there. “The Americans kill us by firing from the skies and men with ugly faces (militants) have made our lives miserable on the ground.”

And then there are the lives those very militants have ended entirely. Sadat recalls his friend Deen Wali, a 28-year-old transporter who was ruthlessly executed by masked militants on suspicion of spying, a day after a US drone attack in which militants were killed. Young Taliban militants pulled him out of his shop and dragged him across the road. “Amriki jasoosi, Ameriki Jasoosi (American spy, American spy),” Sadat remembers the militants shouting as they dragged his friend. “Two of them held his arms and the other two his legs, and tied explosives around the whole body while my friend was screaming.”

The tribesmen, including Deen Wali’s family members, gathered around but nobody dared to stop the Taliban militants. “The militants walked backwards, moving away from Deen Wali, and pushed the remote button. The explosives detonated, shredding him. His flesh and body parts flew everywhere.” The militants left the scene in a convoy of vehicles leaving behind the clouds of dust, despair and helplessness. The regularity of such horrific events such as this compelled hundreds of tribal families to leave their homes. Hundreds of Sadats, Dilawar Khans and Bi Jans.

Now in Bannu, Sadat’s grandfather Dilawar spends his day sitting cross-legged on a wooden takht under a tree on the roadside. Surrounded by the young and elderly tribesmen wearing woollen Waziri or Chitrali cap, they huddle their charpoys around an old fashioned three-in-one stereo recorder to listen to news in Pushto on Deewa and Mashal radio stations. As soon as the news bulletins end, their commentaries and analyses start.

“It’s an international war which has engulfed us,” says North Waziristan’s influential tribal elder, Malik Shad Ameen Wazir. “The volcano is in Afghanistan but it erupts in our tribal areas.”

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Waziristan: Towns, tribes,lands and population

For tribal elders like Shad Ameen, the solution lies in negotiations through what he calls ‘real’ jirgas and not the military operations, drone attacks or even the ongoing peace talks. The tribal elders feel the peace negotiations and negotiators simply do not represent them. “How can the tribal people be represented by the Taliban, who are the very force that tarnished our social fabric, tribal values and traditions? Our hujras are not safe, our jirgas have been targeted,” says Malik Shahden. “We are suffering on every count. We cannot afford unending military strikes on our land, nor do we want to see our land be ruled by Taliban.” Pausing for a moment, he continues: “Our elders had a saying that if a woolen blanket gets leeches, you don’t burn the blanket, you pluck out the leeches.”

Another elderly tribesman laments the experience of displacement. “We tribesmen, who lived for centuries on the mountains, have been made into kochies (gypsies),” he says. He recited a couplet in Pushto, that translates to ‘Our mountains have been burnt so the birds are building their nests on our palms’. “We are now like those birds,” he says.

These wandering tribesmen are now scattered through Bannu, Kohat, Hangu and Peshawar. They carry with them deep invisible wounds of divided families, lost livelihoods and ruptured lives. “I am physically here but my soul is in the valley,” says Gul Saleh Jan. “I lost my young son when my house was bombed. I buried him with my hands, said my farewells, and then left so that my other children could have a future.”

Saleh Jan’s two surviving sons are now studying in Bannu like hundreds of young teenage boys who had come from villages like Hasu Khel, Ippi, Idak, Issori and Hurmuz, all lie in Mir Ali town. These Waziri and Dawar students live in small hostels and study at private tuition centres. But memories and concerns haunt these students. Hakim Dawar for instance, cannot sleep at night as he worries about his father constantly. “He forced me to leave the valley but he is still there among the dark shadows.”

The tribesmen relate that every Waziristani keeps anti-depressan t tablets in their pockets. Sadat takes his grandmother Bi Jan for psychiatric treatment every week. She stopped talking since she left her village of Issori and now sits idle the whole day. “We console her and tell her that the situation is improving just to make her feel better. Today I told her that the village is preparing to celebrate the harvest so after a long time she smiled back at me.” Sadat himself smiles as he says this, though the furrows on his forehead reveal his true state of mind.

Sadat’s grandfather Dilawar Khan wants to go for a walk to Dau Sadak, the main road which leads from Bannu to North Waziristan, and I decide to accompany him. The old tribesman takes a deep breath, filling his lungs with the breeze that wafts in through the valley. “I can smell the Waziristani spring,” he says. I can see Sadat holding the Sparlay Gul he had plucked from the field outside his home, a lifetime ago. The scent may have long since dissipated but it still revives his hope that he might yet go back to the lush green fields, the ice capped mountains, the freezing cold Tochi river, to his own valley — North Waziristan — to enjoy the spring of new beginning. But only once the long, cold winter has finally passed.

The writes tweets @OwaisTohid

SLOW LEARNERS NEED A BREAK IN THE CIRCLE

SLP

Allah has made every human being different from the other this is evident when we see that human beings have finger prints and genetic formation. But these biological differences are not the only differences. People think differently, perceive differently, behave and act differently in similar situations. They have different interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Some are good in science, some are good in arts. Some are good in mathematics and some are good in philosophy. When it comes to medicine some people respond well to one type of treatment and some respond well to the other. Some recover faster from injuries, sickness or mental trauma and some recover slowly. All these things make one human being different from the other. Scientists might have different explanations for all these variations but one thing is for sure that these differences do exist.

 

Since all the human beings are different and they think, perceive and act differently in one way or the other, they also learn differently. Some learn and grasp faster while some take a little longer, some have better concentration while others have difficulty in concentration. Some like one subject or discipline others are good at different subjects or discipline. All these reasons make one student different from the other and create variation between their needs, interests, response and performance. SLP caters to these different needs of students. Students who were never admitted to schools or dropout at very initial levels from schools because they couldn’t perform well as per the requirement of the school or their teachers, families and friends discouraged them and think that it is a waste of time and resources to try and teach them or the kids simply lost their interest and confidence because they couldn’t perform well in their school, SLP takes them in.

At SLP teachers cater to their needs, nurture their interests and boost their confidence. This brings back their interest in learning and they start doing well in their studies. At SLP, there other talents and interests are also polished and they are given a chance to practice and show their talent. There are many success stories of such sort. Haroon Rasheed is one such story. He also was thought to be a child, who could not learn, by his parents and family. He joined SLP in 2011 alongwith his three brothers and one sister who passed out after one year but he remained there as his learning pace was very slow. It has been seen that slow learning in some cases also becomes a discouragement for the student and both factors reinforce each other due to which the student ends up losing interest in learning.

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Contrary to that, as Haroon was highly encouraged for his every step of progress he developed a faster pace of learning and performing with time. Now he is doing really well in his studies. The formerly shy kid now has the confidence to participate in class discussions. He now believes that education is hope, it is the light at the end of a dark tunnel. According to him SLP not only helped him learn to read and write but also taught him how to talk and act properly and confidently in public. In his spare time he likes to fly kite.  He is also practicing his writing skills and his teacher at SLP helping him polish that skill. 

SLOW LEARNERS NEED A BREAK IN THE CIRCLE

SLP

Allah has made every human being different from the other this is evident when we see that human beings have finger prints and genetic formation. But these biological differences are not the only differences. People think differently, perceive differently, behave and act differently in similar situations. They have different interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Some are good in science, some are good in arts. Some are good in mathematics and some are good in philosophy. When it comes to medicine some people respond well to one type of treatment and some respond well to the other. Some recover faster from injuries, sickness or mental trauma and some recover slowly. All these things make one human being different from the other. Scientists might have different explanations for all these variations but one thing is for sure that these differences do exist.

Continue reading

After a while, all I did was learn

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Asfandayar, 16 year old student at SLP, thinks that education is something that helps us in every aspect of life. It improves how we think and act. Thus, makes better human beings.

He was a salesman at a local store when he realized that he needed to learn to read and write. He stated that while working in the store, customers use to come asking for different items and he would find it really difficult to find them. He was having trouble coping up with this challenge. That is when he came to know of SLP. Then he convinced his boss who allowed him to go to school in the morning and work in the store in the evening. While talking about this, Asfand smiled and added, “After a while, all I did was learn.”

Learning became his passion. Now all he wants to do is to learn more and more and spread it. Because like other SLP students he also believes that knowledge is not something one should keep to himself, it should be spread.

DEAR PAKISTAN

Dear Pakistan,

Late last year when I was told that I would have to leave you, I was heartbroken. I had tried hard and wished with all my heart that I could have a few more years with you….despite your troubled state. I felt then that I wanted to be by your side, to see you through it, to offer some kind of help or just to not abandon you in your most difficult time. But it seems, destiny had paved a different path for me, a road that would lead me to watch and observe you from a very different perspective. As I packed up the pieces of our time together Pakistan, I smiled at our many memories but cried at the possibilities that never saw the light of day.

You had so much potential to become a strong independent nation, so many talented and highly intelligent people to support you but, somehow you seem to have drifted from the dream your forefathers had for you, fallen into bad company and collected a group of rather nasty and selfish friends. You trusted the wrong people who promised to take you and your people to great heights, only to push you down every time. Your step was bigger than they wanted it. Like many others, I too am guilty of watching you fall, silently, frustrated, with the anger only burning me inside but making no difference to what was going on.

I remember when I was a young girl, my father told me how he had left his home and family in the coconut covered hills to come and be with you, as you were a fledgling young country learning to walk, needing all the help you could get. My father told me how thousands of other young lads like him, got on a ship and headed to Karachi all looking forward to a bright future with you. My father told me how your father Jinnah had dreams and visions for you, and had invited minorities from across India to share his dream. But dear dear Pakistan, I’m deeply sorry that you lost your father when you had barely even learnt to crawl, followed by a tormented adolescence and then an intensely aggressive puberty with greedy feudal and military foster parents. Looking back, we thought then that this was the darkest period of your life where you were brainwashed into believing that the sole purpose of your existence was to defend and protect your faith…. and faith became your identity.

You turned away from all the people who supported you as a toddler, you spat hatred towards anyone who disagreed with you. You became violent, cruel and egotistical with the illusion of power you were shown, and instead of becoming a beacon of light and prosperity for the region, you became a source of darkness. No one could get through to you anymore. And those who could, thought it might be better to observe silently from the comfort of their living rooms. While your good side kept silent, your bad dared to come up to the surface and be heard, not just within your boundaries, but across the globe.

Suddenly your bad side brought you into the limelight, the negative publicity matched the large ego you had by now developed, nurtured carefully by your evil step father Zia.

Many of the young minorities who left India to be by your side when you most needed them, realized they were not needed anymore and uprooted themselves and their families and quietly made their way to whichever country would accept them with tolerant arms as India had closed its doors on them and they could never return home. You didn’t notice of course, you were too caught up in your own self- righteousness and pig headedness to realize that it was NOT them that betrayed you but vice versa. As the decades passed, more and more communities left as you were blinded by your own beliefs and bigotry. Thousands of educated muslim families too decided to get going with the wave of exodus, willing to deny you as their loved one, desperately seeking new nationalities where ever they could. I watched this….

I watched the entire Goan community leave. 98% of the Christian, Parsi and Chinese friends in school with me, had migrated by the time we got to college. Their parents sold everything they had, left stable corporate jobs to once again start from scratch either filling gas at petrol stations in Canada or making subway sandwiches, they obviously felt anything was better than being around you. Those who had chosen to stay with you, would realize later that they chose the devil instead of the deep blue sea. At least the deep blue sea is a much more tolerant environment. As the years went by, we patiently hoped you would change. Yes, many of us still had our hopes on you….Many still believed your good side would get the better of your bad…. We loved you….We wanted to see you successful and prosperous.

But you let us down, each and every one of us with that ray of hope. You became increasingly darker and aggressive. You became a shelter for the wicked instead of the weak. Thieves, Murderers, liars and killers walked your lands rampantly with your constitution in their back pockets. Justice was made blind and honesty became an endangered species. Yet, you publicly proclaimed your righteousness. You publicly kill the weaker sex in the name of honor, you publicly burn churches and temples, you publicly defend your faith by burning anything that came your way including villages with innocent women and children. And as if that wasn’t enough, you turned to killing people who even shared the same faith, if they dared to follow a different sect or doctrine.

Somehow you felt that if people were different from you, they didn’t deserve to live. Your hatred became so ingrained into your subconscious that parts and provinces within you, began to hate and kill each other. Your own physical body at war with itself. If one’s arms and legs start fighting amongst themselves, the body soon becomes useless and ceases any productive function. I have to be brutally honest here, Pakistan: what you have become today, is the darkest, most vile nation that exists in the world with numerous enemies and even more fair weather friends. The friends who will chew you and spit you out while they pat you on the back. They will use and abuse your every resource and potential until you are left worthless and crippled with a cancer that will slowly consume every part of you.

Your birth was a bloody one and it seems that to this day, your soils thirst for blood. Everyday, dozens of innocent people who love and believe in you, die needlessly. Bomb blasts and target killings are your new social norms. Even those who share your faith are threatened by your version of misinterpreted faith that gets a kick out of falsely convicting a mentally retarded minor on blasphemy charges. I wonder what nefarious activities we will hear of next. I am now glad that the Universe and God conspired to take me far far away from you. You are not good for anyone’s health or sanity….

I have come to hate you for all that you have become, but will still love you always for all that you could have been.

Sincerely disappointed,

Natasha De Sousa.

A Role Model at SLP

She is 15 years old, the eldest sister of her 7 brothers, hailing originally from Mohmand Agency, probably the first one in her family to read and write.Camera 360

Abida is a role model for the girls of her age group and even for those elder than her due to her conviction and commitment to get education as her basic right and duty.

She joined SLP in 2012 and is still a student with a firm determination to become a teacher in the same program and teach other what she has learned.

While telling her story, Abida says that getting education once seemed impossible for her she got the permission to come to SLP office to guard her four brothers who studied here,  as she is the eldest of her siblings. But with the passage of time she worked hard and proved the worth of education to her parents and family by exhibiting good manners and ability to read and write.

‘It was surprising for my parents when I started reading the letters, bills  and newspaper at home. I also used to write the list of things to purchase, and I also maintained a budget of our household expenses which I learned in the class’

She told that her parents were then happy to see a positive change in her and her mother started supporting her education and later her father too supported her.

Abida says that literacy is a blessing that has countless advantages. It is something that never lets one feel alone. If one starts reading an interesting book that takes one away into a different world.

She says that in worst case if she could not continue getting education she will not be as unfortunate as she felt she was when she was illiterate because now she can self learn and also teach others.

 

 

Speed Literacy Program wins the Reform Project of the Day award at Antigua Forum

Entrepreneurs of Reform Gather at the Antigua Forum

Templeton Report

A small group meets at the 2013 Antigua ForumA small group meets at the 2013 Antigua ForumAzhar Aslam, a London-based plastic surgeon originally from Pakistan, developed a remarkable literacy program. He had proved it worked in small pilots of a few dozen children. In just six months, they gained the basics of reading and writing with a couple of hours of teaching each day. By starting small, he came to realize a bigger question: how might the program be scaled up so that it could benefit his country of origin, a place in which illiteracy is correlated with poverty, intolerance, and violence? Continue reading

The Consortium Of Terror

 Hasan Abdullah

Despite hundreds of attacks and the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis, there is still a great deal of confusion about the number, nature and end goals of the militant organisations operating in Pakistan. For some, they remain figments of a fevered imagination. To others they are proxies of foreign powers.

This belief has not come out of the blue. It is part of an obscurantist narrative the state itself created and propagated. The problem with this narrative is that while it may have delegitimised some jihadi groups within public ranks, it is counter productive in the long run for a number of reasons. First of all, it fails to address the very ideology that promotes militancy and hence the state’s failure to present an effective counter-ideology. Secondly, the jihadi groups simply have to prove that the state-promoted narrative is a “baseless lie” to win recruits, as indicated by scores of interviews of jihadis. The fact is that these groups are very much in existence and the ones who carry out attacks against Pakistan’s civilians and armed forces have a clear and stated objective: to dominate and overthrow the Pakistani state.

Unfortunately, the state has also promoted a concept of “good” and “bad” militants. This narrative itself has been problematic. There are often strong links between the “good” and “bad” jihadis that also take the form of material, logistical, manpower and other support.

As Pakistan debates engaging the Islamist militants in the tribal areas and beyond, it is imperative that the policy-makers as well as the public understand the militant groups and their interrelations.

The following is an interactive of the militant landscape of Pakistan. Click on each group for more information:

Continue reading

طوطا اور مینا

By Qudratullah Shahab 

یک طوطا اور مینا کا گزر ایک ویرانے سے ہوا، وہ دم لینے کے لئے ایک ٹنڈ منڈ درخت پر بیٹھ گئے- طوطے نے مینا سے کہا “اس علاقے کی ویرانی دیکھ کر لگتا ہے کہ الوؤں نے یہاں بسیرا کیا ہو گا”

ساتھ والی شاخ پر ایک الو بیٹھا تھا اس نے یہ سن کر اڈاری ماری اور ان کے برابر میں آ کر بیٹھ گیا- علیک سلیک کے بعد الو نے طوطا اور مینا کو مخاطب کیا اور کہا “آپ میرے علاقے میں آئے ہیں، میں ممنون ہوں گا اگر آپ آج رات کا کھانا میرے غریب کھانے پر تناول فرمائیں”-

اس جوڑے نے الو کی دعوت قبول کر لی- رات کا کھانا کھانے اور پھر آرام کرنے کے بعد جب وہ صبح واپس نکلنے لگے تو الو نے مینا کا ہاتھ پکڑ لیا اور طوطے کو مخاطب کر کے کہا ” اسے کہاں لے کر جا رہے ہو، یہ میری بیوی ہے”

یہ سن کر طوطا پریشان ہو گیا اور بولا ” یہ تمہاری بیوی کیسے ہو سکتی ہے، یہ مینا ہے اور تم الو ہو، تم زیادتی کر رہے ہو”

اس پر الو اپنے ایک وزیر با تدبیر کی طرح ٹھنڈے لہجے میں بولا “ہمیں جھگڑنے کی ضرورت نہیں، عدالتیں کھل گئی ہوں گی- ہم وہاں چلتے ہیں، وہ جو فیصلہ کریں گی، ہمیں منظور ہوگا”

طوطے کو مجبوراً اس کے ساتھ جانا پڑا- جج نے دونوں طرف کے دلائل بہت تفصیل سے سنے اور آخر میں فیصلہ دیا کہ مینا طوطے کی نہیں الو کی بیوی ہے- یہ سن کر طوطا روتا ہوا ایک طرف کو چل دیا- ابھی وہ تھوڑی ہی دور گیا تھا کہ الو نے اسے آواز دی “تنہا کہاں جا رہے ہو، اپنی بیوی تو لیتے جاؤ”- طوطے نے روتے ہوئے کہا “یہ میری بیوی کہاں ہے، عدالت کے فیصلے کے مطابق اب یہ تمہاری بیوی ہے”

اس پر الو نے شفقت سے طوطے کے کاندھے پر ہاتھ رکھا اور کہا “یہ میری نہیں، تمہاری ہی بیوی ہے، میں تو صرف یہ بتانا چاہتا تھا کہ بستیاں الوؤں کی وجہ سے ویران نہیں ہوتیں بلکہ اس وقت ویران ہوتی ہیں جب وہاں سے انصاف اٹھ جاتا ہے ۔”