Wealthy Pakistanis Leaving Taliban Areas

  • by Ashfaq Yusufzai (peshawar)
  • Thursday, July 28, 2011
  • Inter Press Service
Zararullah Mahsud left South Waziristan for Peshawar. - Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.
Zararullah Mahsud left South Waziristan for Peshawar. - Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

The departure of doctors and other medical personnel could put the fragile health care system in danger but many have found the situation too risky for them and their families.

Dr Zararullah Mahsud had a thriving medical practice in the tribal area of South Waziristan but left his ancestral village for Peshawar in December 2009.

'My decision to leave my hometown permanently is based on the bitter experience of living there,' said Mahsud, who runs a clinic near Board Bazaar in Peshawar. 'The past five years were like hell. My children stayed at home instead of going to school and there was no chance for them to play.'

Mahsud’s brothers and cousins have also moved their families to safer cities to avoid violence. 'It is very hard to leave your birthplace permanently but sometimes you have to safeguard yourself and the younger generation.'

It is not just the residents of South Waziristan and other districts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) who are leaving, but also wealthier families from Peshawar and other cities in the neighbouring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

'My family is living in Islamabad now. I am staying here to run my private hospital,' Dr Muhibur Rehman, who was kidnapped by the Taliban last year, told IPS. He remained in Taliban captivity for a month and reportedly paid a ransom of 25,000 dollars for his freedom.

Another senior surgeon, who asked to be unnamed, said he moved to Lahore to live with his sons after he received threats from Taliban.

'The Taliban warned me to send them 5,000 dollars every month, which was beyond by financial position,' the surgeon told IPS. 'So, the only option to avoid the Taliban’s wrath was to leave my native city forever…. I have sold all my property and would never come back as I know that the Taliban have now become a permanent feature of life in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.'

Pakistan was peaceful before the Taliban was ousted from power in Afghanistan in late 2001 and took sanctuary in the FATA near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Taliban then spread out from the tribal areas, launching attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other parts of the country.

At the receiving end of those attacks are the six million people living in FATA, which consists of seven tribal agencies now dubbed as the international headquarters of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In six of the seven tribal agencies, the army has been engaged in operations against militants since 2005, making life extremely difficult.

Residents seeking peace have incurred the ire of militants, as in the case of 55-year-old Abdullah Khan whose family hails from Orakzai Agency. He said they had formed a peace committee, angering the local chapter of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who warned them to dismantle the committee.

'We didn’t heed the Taliban’s warning. One night they attacked us and killed my two younger brothers,' said Khan, whose family has moved to the capital Islamabad. He added they were forced to sell their property in Orakzai, valued at one million dollars, for only a fifth of what it was worth so that they could buy a small house in Islamabad.

'The real estate dealers have been earning exorbitant amounts buying houses for people displaced from the FATA by military operations,' said Abid Shah, vice-president of the Real Estate Dealers Association in Peshawar.

Muhammad Omar, an established businessman from Bajaur Agency, still regrets selling his agricultural land for much lower than the market price due to the worsening militancy back home. 'I have done a great blunder to sell my shops and property because one day we have to return there. But I sold the property on the insistence of my family,' he told IPS.

'Now there is no option of going back there because I have sold everything,' he said.

Some one million people who have fled the violence in northwest Pakistan now live in camps or with relatives or in rented houses. 'The wealthier ones opt to migrate to other places to be safe,' said Mukhtar Khan, a college teacher in Mohmand Agency, who purchased a house in Peshawar last year.

'We have been temporarily migrating from Mohmand to Peshawar and then back to Mohmand from the past five years, which has adversely affected the education of my children,' he said. Still, he said his family visit relatives on special occasions but cannot afford to stay there permanently.

The section of the FATA located along the 2,400-km porous Pakistan-Afghan border is the least developed part of the country. Those who opt to stay live under the shadow of militants who often inflict harsh punishment that includes public executions and chopping off hands.

'The people have lost confidence in the military as well as the government and they don’t see any prospects of peace there. Only poor families are staying there,' said Hashimullah Afridi, a cloth merchant from Khyber Agency where the military operation has been going on for the past two years.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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