Despite the relative peace of Peshawar, Fazal Habib, still suffers from waking nightmares. “Whenever I sit down to eat, I am reminded of my home in Waziristan. It often happened there that while breaking a piece of bread we would hear some noise, the sound of a drone overhead or some violence nearby, and run for shelter leaving our food.”
Fazal Habib, who fled his home in Miramshah, North Waziristan, is not alone. “About 80 per cent of residents in South and North Waziristan agencies now have mental problems of one kind or another,” says Dr Khalid Mufti, a noted psychologist and former principal of Khyber Medical College. “In Peshawar around 60 percent of the population require psychological treatment.
“Children, too, are developing psychological problems at an early age. They are constantly exposed to violence and terrorism in real life and via the media,” he added, calling upon TV channels to refrain from broadcasting footage of terrorist attacks.
According to a local journalist, Haroon Khan, those parts of Waziristan worst affected by violence are, in some cases, 95 per cent empty – the people having fled to areas such as Tank, Peshawar, D I Khan and Karachi, where they struggle to eke out a living.
Qatil Ali Khan was forced to flee his home in South Waziristan in 2009 when the Pakistani military launched operation Rah-e-Nijat (Path to Salvation) against militant groups based in the area. “It is simply humiliating,” says the 41-year-old Khan, who travelled from his home in Makin, a militant redoubt, with three sons and five daughters.
Like many others, Qatil Ali made his way first to the city of D I Khan, where he sold his tractor and other precious belongings. He tried to start a business, but soon lost everything. “The rent was too high, and there were too many extra expenses. Now I have nothing and am living with my family in a tent.”
When I spoke to Qatil Ali, he was visiting Peshawar on personal business and staying in a small hotel in Sadder. “Hundreds of people are helpless, living in tents in D I Khan,” he added sorrowfully. “Before being forced to leave my home, I lived with my family in a beautiful house where every kind of amenity was available. Now I struggle to earn two or three hundred rupees a day.”
“I told my nephew, Zakir, who was 16 years old, to give full concentration to his studies and stop hanging around with militants,” says Syed Khan Wazir, an active tribal elder from Makin. “My nephew complained about me to his madrassah teacher. His teacher told him that I was right. I was relieved – it doesn’t always work that way.
“A lot of young boys in the area are impressed and captivated by the militants and their activities. They wear their hair long, in the same style, grow their beards and cover their heads. I felt depressed whenever I saw a Kalashnikov in the hands of my young nephew.”
“The roads which, before the army operation, were open to all kinds of traffic are now closed for security reasons,” says Munawar Khan, a businessman from South Waziristan. “The few open roads that remain have numerous barriers and check posts – every few miles. It makes travel difficult, even in the daytime. At night travel in Waziristan is prohibited. It is not only difficult to try to get around at night but very risky. A small mistake can land you in serious trouble with the army or even cost you your life.”
Munawar Khan fled with his family and is now living in Hayatabad, a posh part of Peshawar.
“At the check point where one enters South Waziristan from the settled area of Tank,” explained Munawar Khan, “all travellers are asked to disembark and show their identity cards, standing in line under the blazing sun without shelter for a long period of time. Meanwhile, the driver of the vehicle slowly walks forward to the check post, hands raised in the air in a gesture of surrender, to get written permission for the onward journey.
“All the items inside the vehicle are checked, counted and then recorded on the permission slip. This slip is must be handed in at the last check post, where the passengers and their luggage are rechecked to ensure that nothing in the list is missing. If an item is missing, the vehicle and passengers are sent back to the first check post. There the driver gets a proper thrashing and the passengers are made to stand, often for hours, before the procedure is repeated and they are given a fresh slip and allowed to proceed.
“The security personnel also create unnecessary hurdles on the roads in the countryside, particularly between villages and the local markets. The movement of just a single soldier on the road brings traffic to a grinding halt. There is no exception made even for those who are critically ill and in urgent need of medical attention.”
“The main bazaars here and in Miramshah are open but the people still avoid them,” says Bakhtawar Wazir, speaking from a landline in Razmak, North Waziristan. “People come to the bazaar only for important work and to buy essential supplies. But I hope the situation will soon improve. Waziristan is beautiful this time of year and people are slowly starting to return to the area.”