Sunday, 16 August 2009

Sun is Shining in my Valley Again: The Diary of a Pakistani

by: Zulfiqar Gul ( )

On the 17th of February 2009, I left Swat after militants had established their base close to our place in Barikot , Swat. Before that, Barikot used to be a peaceful area in the valley. I still remember at that time the role of our security force was very dubious. While coming back from Mingora to my hometown in cloudy and drizzling evening, I saw them patrolling Barikots markets and then got vanished in no time.

Just after few hours at night, the militants pouring in Barikot for the first time. They were less bother to take decisive action against the militants who were spreading their wings at will. Maybe, our soldiers did not have the clear-cut order from Islamabad where judiciary issue was still overshadowing the looming threat exploding in Swat. While traveling to Mingora , my eyes caught the debris of Qambar High School blown up by the fanatics recently, leaving hundreds students without education. Even before going outside, my mom used to tell me forcefully not to speak up my mind against those fanatics in public places as my head would be without body next morning. Such was a brutality there that every morning we had to bear that vicious news that somebody was slaughtered last night and the body laying on Mingora's Nishat Chowk. And, the Mullah would proudly announce on FM radio that how many people they have slaughtered today. And while watching TV up stirs, I had to slow down the TV volume just to avoid being caught by fanatics spreading so-called vulgarity.

At nights, before hitting the bed, I used to think that our policy of 1980s and 90s of installing proxy government in Afghanistan and bleeding India in Kashmir using private groups with the religious ideology overdosing, has got backfired quite badly and now the same have begun putting their sharp sword on our naked heads.

Finally I had to say enough is enough and left Swat for Islamabad on 16th of February. With 20,000 Rupees in my pocket, I started a persistent search for the job and found myself visiting every office in Islamabad. After few days effort, I got myself a job in a British Call Center. Everyday I had to get newspaper to hear something positive about Swat, all in vein.

In March, the controversial act of Shariah in Malakand Division was passed by the national assembly and also justice Iftikhar Chuodary was restored. That action of Government for peace was considered a weakness by the militants and they moved into adjacent Bunner District that got West Media panicked , spreading propaganda that Taliban now just 60 miles away from occupying Islamabad to have their hands on the Nuclear Weapons .

Then in month of April , we had that video hitting the airwaves of different TV channels where teenage girl somewhere in Swat being flogged by fanatics for going out with father in law. I watched that bone-chilling video during lunch break and left me so broken that after I finished , I decided to have a walk from Rawalpindi double road to Faizabad so that I could whip with my heart out. While crying going to my place, I was pleading to Allah to send a messiha so it could get us free from those brutal butchers who were ripping us off.

In second week of April , I went back to Swat to spend my holidays there. During my brief stay there, I found that entire valley was being taken over by the militants, hitting the roads and streets at their will with heavy weapons in their hands. CDs shops were being blown up and Dish TV being kept hidden by the locals from wrarth of militants. Seeing the valley being pushed into Stone Age and inaction form the government's side, got us boiling big time.

After coming back from Swat, I got myself busy again working in call center. I was not making enough sales and that was something bothering me everyday. In the call center, the role is simple, when on does not hit the sales often that means the person will be penalized by the management soon. I was fortunate enough that my floor manager was not tough and always guided me how to go about this whole thing.

Meanwhile, in the third week of April operation against militants was launched in Buner with main concentration on getting the militants uprooted from the area using massive airpower. In no time people from Buner started migrating to safer places around Mardan and Swabi. Fighter jets and Gunship Helicopters also shelled the mountains of Karakar which separate Swat from Buner . The mountains are just 11 KMs away from our place. My family used to inform me on phone that they could smell the operation being extended to Swat valley as well since militants had taken over the Mingora city.

In the first week of May the militants openly begun challenging the government rite by occupying government's offices in Mingora. That action got Islamabad woke up from slumber of having fake peace in Swat after they conceded so much to them with a so-called peace accord.
While here, I moved to another British call center located in F-11/2. I had to make that move since I was not getting paid on time. On my first day in this call center , I hit a sale and received a clap of appreciation from entire floor. But since then, it's been tough going.

In the first week of May, the operation was extended to Swat, Mingora was pounded heavily by the fighter jets and gunship choppers, leaving many people trapped there. During few days pause, the locals started fleeing the area for Mardan district. Due to lack of transport, the locals had to covers miles on foot. Barikot , my hometown, was still safe from this conflict, came under fire for the first time when gunship helicopters sudden started shelling militants hideouts that made my family move to uncle's place in Peshawar. Only my two elder brothers: Sajjad Gul and Iftikhar Gul opted to stay in Barikot to make sure our place is not occupied by the militants that would result in security forces hitting our only shelter, leaving us homeless forever.

In the third week of May, our family moved to a flat rented by me and my brother Tahir Gul who is English Teacher at FG School Sihala Marzian Islamabad. While being here, I used to argue with shopkeepers about everything is so expensive here but soon I realized that stuffs sound to me expensive since I am not earning enough.

In that intense conflict, one night, the militants blew up Fazaldad Colony Primary School where my brother Iftikhar Gul was teaching. The accident had deep impact on our minds thinking that all doors of learning in swat being shut down rapidly.

One morning , Army convey came under ambush at 5am at Fazaldad Coloney, outskirts of Barikot's Bazar, injuring four soldiers. The fight lasted for five hours. Even my two brothers, who were running for safety, came under fire from FC soldiers positioning themselves on the mountain top over looking our house in Shahi Nagar, Buner Road. Luckily they escaped that fire. That accident forced my elder brother Sajjad Gul to say goodbye to Shahi Nagar, Barikot. He tried his level best to convince Iftikhar that there is not point in saving our house with sudden death looming on our head 24/7 and even had a tough argument with him but Iftikhar stuck to his point and opted to stay home,In that big house, the only source of being connected with world for Iftikhar was Radio On Buner's dangerous route, Sajjad made it to Islamabad on 27 the May.

In last week of May, this flat became jam-packed with 12 people accommodating themselves by sleeping on the floor. Soon my family found too hard to get themselves going in hell of a expensive Islamabad and they started missing the economical rates of Swat. The only sources of income for my family during that crunch time of our life was my dad' pension and Iftikhar 's salary being paid at national bank of Pakistan Mardan Branch.

Swat had been without electricity, telephone and mobile service for almost one and half month, so we were clueless about my brother's well being staying in Barikot. All my salary was being eaten away by daily expenses. Everyday while going to my workplace, I used to cry seeing Swat burning. There was that deserted place in street 20 F/11, just close to my office, where I used to weap my heart out at our agonies and frustration.

Meanwhile in Last week of May. security forces launched a decisive ground operation against militants occupying the Mingora City which is a heart of Swat. It took security forces few days to get the area cleared of militants but not before that bloody urban warfare saw few of our soldiers accepted shadad. They next target was Koza Bandai (down town) , Bara Bandai (uptown) and their strong hold Charbagh across the river. Before launching operation n those areas, the security forces used massive air power, making the way cleared for grounds troops to move in but still security forces had to bear few casualties. The reports were suggesting the 80% of militants were grinded by meat grinder of our armed forces but still possessing a fair amount of threat due to guerilla warfare friendly terrain of Swat.

On 21 the of June around 10.35pm, we received a called from Swat, with Jubilant Iftikhar sharing his moments of joy with us that Pakistan has won the twenty20 world cup which brought tears in our eyes. I heard his voice after one and half month. This victory worked as a tonic for IDPs who had finally something to cheer for. On 15th of July our family left for Swat after government had deemed the Valley safe and secured. When I came back from work, I found, this flat giving me a painful deserted look and blaming myself that I was not earning enough to help my parents and others in this crunch who have done so much for me.

On the 13th of August, around 4.45pm , I reached Landake, entering point of Swat, the security forces thoroughly checked us and let us go The gunship helicopters were hovering over our heads. At 5.20pm I reached my hometown Barikot, after four months……it was peacefully calm but lost its innocence having seen so much bloodshed in recent times.

On 14th of August , the valley is celebrating the independence day with full vigor , security forces are patrolling the markets to make us assure that butchers have been eliminated . 300 soldiers have lost their precious lives and 900 injured in this 4 months' long conflict so far. They have sacrificed their today for our better tomorrow. May my Allah rest their souls in peace, Amin!. I would like to thank my friends and office collogues who were there heeling my wounds during that moment of test. There are hopes in the air of having that old peaceful Swat again. Business being started again, markets being seen full of shoppers However these isolated incidents here and there, are establishing that the war is far from over and we need to be persist and remain agile. Right, now, I am meeting my old friends in Barikot bazaar, Yes, I can see that Sun is back in the valley...


This article comes highly recommended by the Ed Panel.

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