way we are
Hundreds of Swati refugees have to make do with scarce resources in Karachi, miles away from their homes and families. Lost and panicked, they hope to return to their paradise soon.
By Sabeen Jamil
"Swat was our heaven until the Taliban came and everything changed," remarks Saeed Rehman, 31, resident of the Chawaliar village in Swat.
Running a dhaba in Swat, Saeed came to Karachi two months ago when his business closed down during the standoff between the Taliban and Pakistan Army.
Saeed, with his wife and one-year-old child now lives in Frontier Colony without his parents and siblings who did not accompany them to Karachi. "I asked them to leave Swat but they were not ready to leave our hometown."
As Saeed's family and friends in Chawaliar continue to live amidst exchanges of fire, Saeed carries sacks and crushes stones on Karachi streets and ponders on the reasons that he had to leave his land. War is the greatest of these reasons.
"I was happily making channa curry in my hotel for tourists and locals when war broke out and my life changed," says Saeed.
Living in Swat has always been difficult for people with relatively low incomes like Saeed, but it was worse for them after October 2007 when Pakistan Army launched an operation against Taliban militants in Swat.
Saeed tells Kolachi that it all started with Maulana Fazlullah and his FM channel two years ago. "He would teach Quran with translation on the radio," says Saeed, "and would afterwards call for alms for a madrassah near Mengora."
The call to impose Shariah and the resultant military intervention is not a new phenomenon for Swatis. They faced a similar situation in 1994 as well when Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) attempted to impose Shariah and was crushed by military forces. Things in Swat calmed till the movement was revived by Fazlullah and it caught pace in 2007.
"We couldn't understand what was happening," recalls Saeed, "there were rumours of all kinds. Some thought that Taliban were creating law and order situations, while others held the government responsible for the chaos. There was a lot of confusion and no one really knew what was happening."
Uncertainty prevailed for weeks and it intensified when Taliban took over some police stations and check posts in different districts of Swat. A police station two kilometers away from Saeed's village was one of them.
"I have no idea from where they came as there was not a single Talib from our district Khwazakhela to Kalam," Saeed says, "Nevertheless, they were armed and successfully took over the police station."
Afterwards, Taliban would frequently visit Saeed's village in their vehicles. They would also stop buses from boarding outbound passengers and letting them go only after thorough checking "But they never harmed any civilian," Saeed tells Kolachi.
Still, the Taliban's presence alone made life hell for Swatis when Pakistan Army intervened. "Initially helicopters would just take a round of the mountains surrounding the village for several times a day," says Saeed, "after a couple of days they started firing and shelling Taliban hideouts. The firing was soon followed by bombing from some cannon in Kanju."
The attack concerned Swatis, for they feared that a stray bullet or a bomb might kill them. Saeed adds that one such stray bomb fell on his friend's house destroying it completely. "Though no civilian causalities were reported by then, people were so scared they would keep their shops closed for several days and wouldn't send their children to school either."
A lot of people started moving to safer places out of fear. Saeed was one of them. "Since I wasn't earning at all and I wanted Salman to be safe, I left Chawaliar." Saeed boarded a bus to Karachi which charged him a fare of 1200 rupees each instead of the regular 700 rupees. "Three to four buses would leave from a single stop at a time and all of them would be overloaded with women and children as this faction is most vulnerable during wars," remarks Saeed.
According to a rough estimate, around 150,000 Swatis moved from Swat to Peshawer, Mardan, Buner, Swabi, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad and other cities including Karachi.
According to the data collected by Swat Qaumi Ittehad, an NGO helping Swati refugees in Karachi, at least 400 families of Swati refugees have registered themselves with the organization after moving to Karachi while there are still many who have not registered themselves yet. Most of the Swati refugees now reside in Pakhtun dominated areas like Banaras Colony, Landhi, Swat Colony, Kemari, S.I.T.E, Baldia Town, and Nazimabad. Miles away from their green pastures, cheap residence and respectable jobs are what they are finding difficult to come by in Karachi.
"I got this one-room house in Frontier colony for 2000 rupees after great difficulty," Saeed tells Kolachi, "though its worth not more than 1000 rupees, I am satisfied for residence is a great problem for Swatis and at times even three or four families share a small house like this."
However, Saeed hasn't been able to find himself a respectable job. "Out of the two months I have lived in Karachi, I managed to find work only on 15 days and that too by labouring as a loader and a mason on daily wages," he says.
Saeed tells Kolachi that employers ask for an identity card before hiring which he doesn't have since he left it in Swat and is therefore forced to do odd jobs. "War has ruined my life," Saeed says, "in Swat I would earn 400 rupees daily and I owned a house. Now I earn just 300 rupees and that too after several days which is not enough as Karachi is an expensive city."
Saeed has incurred a debt of 18000 rupees to make ends meet in just two months and he thinks he needs to borrow still more money. "Basic commodities of life like flour are too expensive here," says Saeed, "Salman falls ill frequently and I have to spend a fortune on his medicines too. Sometimes I feel like killing myself since being dead is better than the life I am living but only because suicide is haram, I stop myself."
It is ironic that in a city like Karachi which hosted approximately a 100 000 refugees from around the world in the year 2007 alone (according to United Nations High Commission for Refugees), war-struck refugees from within the country were left to their own devices. "No organization helped us nor have I heard anyone getting support from the government," Saeed tells Kolachi. Shair Ali, Chairman of Swat Qaumi Ittehad seconds Saeed's point. Despite several requests to authorities and political parties to help settle Swati refugees, Shair Ali says that nothing concrete has been done thus far. "I contacted the provincial authorities, the city and the S.I.T.E town nazims, some NGOs and also some affluent businessman to provide at least ration to the refugees but except for promises I haven't gotten anything," he says.
As Swatis like Saeed live in Karachi without any support, Parveen is one of the lucky ones to have been helped by some relatives living in Karachi.
Eleven-year-old Parveen left for her uncle's in Karachi three months ago. "I came here because I was scared of the bombs dropping by my home," she says of living in Mattala, which is reported to be a village with an intense war waged in.
Though there are no bombs are dropping on her home in Zia Colony now, she hates living in Karachi. "I don't like this home. It is dirty and too small for all of us," she tells Kolachi.
Parveen was not alone when she left for Karachi. Her grandmother, aunts and cousins were with her. Her uncle rented a house for them and now "all 20 of us share these four rooms which are smaller than even our toilet in Swat," Parveen says disgustedly. Living in Karachi is difficult not only for her but her uncle too as he has to support the entire family on his meagre income. Parveen realizes this and despite the charms of a metropolis that Karachi carries, she is more than eager to leave.
"I miss my school and Urdu lessons. I want to go back to my friends and start studying again," Parveen shares with Kolachi. As schooling in Karachi is far too expensive, her mother cannot afford to enroll her in any school. "I spend days playing and fighting with my cousins and sometimes just lying idle under borrowed blankets," she continues.
Like majority refugees, Parveen's family too left their belongings in Swat. "We assumed that we would return in a couple of weeks and thus didn't carry along our blankets and utensils. Since we couldn't bring along our animals too so we sell them for merely 15,000 rupees though they worth almost 60,000 rupees," Parveen shares, adding that they now continue borrowing things from neighbours. " I wan to go back as soon as possible," an irritated Parveen tells Kolachi.
Like Parveen, Saeed's wife Saleema too wants to leave for Swat as soon as possible, "because I miss my friends a lot," says Saleema. Saleema longs for the fun times she had with her friends and says that she was never even bored of her mundane chores there. "Besides I don't like this house. It is without windows unlike the one in Swat where I could see ice on the mountains and the river flowing through green fields from my window." Saleema sighs, "I want to go back."
Waiting for the situation to change...
Swati refugees in Karachi are in a catch-22; they are trying to settle in an expensive metropolis and the horrific news reports from Swat are making them anxious for their loved ones back home. As Saeed remarks, "My people are left with no tourists coming in, no business activity, no schools for children and consequently; life either." They believe that along with the Taliban, authorities are equally responsible for their misery.
Rahimullah Yousafzai, political analyst for the BBC sees the previous government's apathy towards the plight of Swatis behind this perception amongst Swatis. He says, "the military and government were very indifferent and callous since neither were the people provided with alternate accommodation nor did the government help them shift to safer places. They had to walk miles to save their lives."
The shock of living as a refugee in their own country is said to be another factor adding to the resentment. "Only because of this war did we have to move to this expensive city," Parveen believes she would have been living in peace had it not been for the conflict in her region.
However, Defence Analyst and Retired General Talat Masood explains the rationale that led to the government imposing war within the country. "Since militants had set a parallel state in Swat and were not ready to engage in dialogue, the government had to launch military action to establish the writ of the state."
However, he holds government negligence equally responsible for this situation, "the fallout of Afghan Jihad and 9/11 encouraged war-lordism militancy in Pakistan especially in Swat, where governance has been very poor for years and there was no security of life either." Talat adds that in this situation when "these militants and religiously motivated forces promised justice and security, they won favour of the people and established themselves."
"So the government was justified in this operation to curb militancy," says Talat, "yet there are a lot of measures that can be taken, other than a military operation, like listening to the militants' point of view and meeting their genuine demands. We could do with correcting our own weaknesses as well." Talat hopes this will help in stabilizing the situation.
Apart from stabilizing the situation, the new government must do a lot to soothe Swati resentment. As Rahimullah Yusufzai remarks, "if the government wants to isolate Taliban from the localsk, it should take care of the needs of the people." Top amongst them, he says, are economic opportunities and security including development in the area and compensation for losses. Moreover, people do not like the roadside check posts and searching so this factor needs to be addressed by the new government as well.
"Elections being held in Swat is a big success," says Rahimullah Yusufzai, "and as the faces have changed, people are hopeful that things in Swat too will change."
One day with the fisherfolk community of Baba Island
Baba Island is one of the many in Karachi and despite being part of a metropolis, lags far behind in education, health and development. But with certain members of the community working to turn the tide in their island, its on the road to change.
By Mahnaz Rahman
Karachiites feel proud to be living in a port city though they rarely get time to visit Karachi's beaches and know next to nothing about the people living on different islands. Hopping a boat from Kemari across the oily waters of the sea to Baba Island can be an eye opening experience.
Bright eyed Nargis Khalid, a health visitor, was born and brought up on Baba Island. Nargis shares that in 1988, the Aga Khan Hospital team opened a health education center on the island.15 boys and three girls studying at Roshni School joined the center to receive medical training. They launched a health awareness campaign for the community, providing information about different diseases through posters, dramas and meetings.
The children of Baba Island mostly suffer from polio, measles and diarrhea. The young health workers went door to door to vaccinate children and referred patients to Civil and Jinnah Hospitals. They also worked with special children and had contacts with an institution treating mental afflictions. These young people got practical training from Agha Khan and Jinnah Hospitals.
The government school in Baba Island is spacious but not well maintained. The island is devoid of the most basic facility: drinking water. The water is brought through launches and then stored in small water tanks. However, the work of laying down a pipe line for drinking water is under way. The island had no proper medical facilities either but now a very impressive medical unit donated by a German pharmaceutical company is ready to become functional soon.
Previously people had to put women in labour on boats to take them to city hospitals and many women delivered their babies on the launches, which either resulted in the death of the mother or baby. There are many trained dais, (traditional birth attendants), but they can not handle complicated cases. They do provide information to pregnant women.
Middle aged Khadija, a dai , says that during pregnancy, women usually suffer from high blood pressure and are sent to city hospitals. Traditional birth attendants only take up normal cases, if there is any complication, women usually are taken to hospitals.
Shahida Bano, a dai, says that women here suffer from tumours, cancer, tuberculosis and high blood pressure. They are fond of eating gutka as well which harms their health. Most of the women are diabetic and suffer from different type of allergies. They have many children and are not aware of family planning methods. Women and children are not vaccinated for tetanus and other epidemics.
Women were not allowed to commute freely from Baba Island till a few years back. Nargis tells Kolachi that when the first batch of girls joined the Agha Khan Center for training, they had to attentdclasses in Karachi. Initially, people on the island though they were just going into the city to have a good time, but once these girls were awarded certificates by the then chief minister, locals understood that they had achieved something of importance. This has brought about a decrease in child marriages, as more and more people are encouraging their daughters to get an education.
Fishermen on Baba Island live a tough life. They earn daily wages, and with their often large families to support, can't save much. They face many problems in their profession. While they have to maintain high standards, they are offered a low price for their catch by local sellers as well as exporters who resell the catch at high prices. Prices of prawns plummet while the cost of gas and diesel to run their boats escalate.
Fishermen also face problems at check posts; they have to get their documents checked at different check posts and some times the staff of navy check post takes away their catch. Previously there was only one Customs check post, now there are Coast Guards and Karachi Port Trust (KPT) check posts as well.
Dr Yousaf is a homeopathic doctor and former nazim of the island. He presently heads the Kacchi Muslim Fishermen Association, funded by the Memon community. When he became nazim, the union council (UC) including Salahabad, Bhit Island, Baba Island, Shams Pir Island, Younusabad and Kaka Village was devoid of basic amenities. During his tenure, the UC got natural gas through under water pipe lines for three areas and the facility of direct telephone through satellite for Baba Bhit Island.
Dr Yousaf believes that the government does provide funding for fisheries but it mostly benefits the higher ups and not fishermen as such.
There are new schools in the area, mostly through the efforts of the government, as well as NGOs. Approximately 450 students are enrolled in the primary school and 92 children in the secondary school on Baba Island. Most parents do not send their daughters to school once they are done with primary school and boys are required to join their fathers in the fishing business.
Yousaf plans to establish a sewing and embroidery center for local girls. This is a cherished dream of his which he is working hard to achieve. This center will take orders from garment factories and will be a step towards empowering the women of Baba Island. Another dream of Yousaf's has already been fulfilled. A modern medical unit has been set up on Baba Island funded by a German pharmaceutical company and will soon become operational.
Fisher folk are an oppressed community and it will take a long time to solve their problems, as they are required to understand and meet new standards without education and resources. Sometimes they have to face bans on their economic activities by the government. The staff at naval check posts makes their lives miserable; they humiliate the fisher folk and treat them like slaves. The Baba Island fisherfolk had filed a case against them but the navy people ignored the judgment of the court and a case of contempt of court is pending against them currently.
The sea water has become dirty as Karachi's sewage finds its way into it, resulting in killing sea life. Previously fishermen used to have a basketful of catch in half an hour but now they find it difficult to catch any fish. The fish are dying because of chemical seepage from factories. These chemicals damage boats as well. Fishermen who have to stand in knee deep water to clean their boats suffer from skin diseases.
The Fisheries Cooperative Society was formed in 1962, and was later co-opted by the government, it provides honourarium to dais in some places, but dais in Baba Island do not get it. The society has two and a half per cent welfare fund for the fisher community but fishermen do not get it. Most higher ups seem to be looking out for their interests alone. But with activists like Yousaf and determined women such as Nargis, Baba Island might see a change yet.
The way we are
Hyderabad votes for change
By Adeel Pathan
Described as the mother of all elections, the February 18, 2008 polls are now over and brought an impressive win for those who have pledged to bring at least some change in the everyday life of citizens. Voters used their right to choose people they consider suitable to manage their affairs as a nation.
It indicates that people now want more of a say in decision and policy making. Pakistanis are also thinking beyond the physical development and progress in their respective areas, they are more aware of political developments, ideologies and the implications of such on their lives, thanks to the media.
Elections this year were postponed from January 8 to February 18 owing to the poor law and order situation and incapability of the election commission to hold polls in the wake of former premier Benazir Bhutto's assassination. The situation worsened as incidents of arson coupled with violence followed her killing.
There were rumors that the elections scheduled for February 18 would be postponed again, or rigged. Some analysts predicted it as a make or break day in the political history of Pakistan.
Polling stations in urban areas including Hyderabad teemed with people on election day. Voters of all ages and groups flocked to polling stations. Just under 40 per cent of voters turned up to vote, which is higher than the voter turnout in 2002.
Voters at polling stations seemed charged and excited, but completely unaware of voting procedure. Voter education had obviously not been carried out properly, making one wonder if casting votes in the famed transparent ballot boxes was indeed a transparent process.
At certain instances the atmosphere of the polling stations was similar to that in examination halls where cheating is rampant. As soon as the observatory team would arrive, one would hear "team agai!" being chanted, indicating that everyone had better get their acts together.
Despite errors, the use of transparent ballot boxes and use of government buildings as polling stations were definitely positive indications; previous elections often saw polling stations being set up in makeshift tents.
Hyderabad geared up for elections in the weeks that preceded them, with big Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and MQM rallies exciting supporters. Young boys with party flags rode in cars that blared party songs and patiently listened to opposing parties raise their slogans. Women too, became involved in the campaigning process. All of this just added colour to the election fever without erupting in violence.
This joy multiplied after the success of PPP and MQM candidates in the elections and celebrations continued for days and will continue for weeks. It seems as though people are celebrating their own victory: the victory of the vote that they cast.
There was a heightened sense of insecurity and uncertainty among people belonging to all walks of life a couple of days before the elections. Most people stocked up on household items prior to February 18.
"I am buying a lot of kitchen items because god knows what might happen on or after the elections," a worried housewife while purchasing things in bulk told Kolachi.
A shopkeeper said that people in large numbers stocked flour and other edible items due to a sense of insecurity as markets remained closed for about one week following the December 27, 2007 incidents.
Despite threats of suicide attacks, the scene at different polling stations on election day proved that people want to bring about change with their votes. Voters seemed enthusiastic while performing their national responsibility.
"I am here to cast my vote," an aged woman told Kolachi at a polling station in Phuleli, clutching her 30 years old nikahnama. She had lost her national identity card and insisted that she should be allowed to vote nonetheless.
Young girls and the educated class that usually prefers to remain indoors came out to fulfill their national responsibility and were seen standing in queues at various polling stations in Hyderabad.
The wave of sympathy for the slain Chairperson of PPP, Benazir Bhutto was the main factor that pulled educated citizens out to vote.
"We are casting our vote in favor of Benazir Bhutto as she gave her life for us," said a college student ,resident of Defence, while casting her vote along with her mother.
MQM, which wins the most number of seats in Hyderabad retained their seats and also remained successful on two more seats in the absence of religious parties, in addition to PPP winning its three stronghold seats.
"MQM introduces new candidates for the people and from the people. In addition to that, scores of development activities have been initiated in the district," said a voter at a polling station in Latifabad.
As all eyes turn to political developments in Islamabad, common people of the country anxiously await the resolution of their long drawn problems. Meeting their demands would truly make them happy.
Though majority of people associated with the last government have been rejected, but they too have gracefully accepted their defeat, which comes as a surprise but still deserves praise.One fact that cannot be ignored is the large margins by which some candidates defeated others. Winning with around a hundred thousand votes does nothing but make people suspect foul play.
MQM and PPP share common stakes in Sindh and Hyderabad. It is time that both parties amicably work towards the prosperity of the province. The MQM backed District Nazim and his team should be allowed to carry on work in Hyderabad without facing obstacles from opposing parties, as had once happened with a PPP backed nazim.The people of Sindh have high expectations from the candidates they have elected and the parties that will form the government must live up to the confidence their voters have shown in them.
Board chairman with a vision
Anwar Ahmed Zai chairs the Board of Intermediate Education Karachi .Born in Jaipur, India in 1944, Anwar had his education from Hyderabad, Sindh. Along with a master's degree in English, Urdu and Sociology, Anwar proudly holds a couple of degrees from Germany and America as well.
Starting his career as a college teacher in Hyderabad, Anwar has served at various positions in the education sector for decades. Anwar has also worked as Project Director for different World Bank projects. Moreover he has written a hundred plays for Radio Pakistan and has published a collection of his short stories; Dard Ka Rishta, along with others including Des Pardes, a travelogue.
Working in the field of education in Pakistan as well as other countries including Sri Lanka, America, Philippines, Bangkok and Germany over the decades has provided Anwar with an informed insight into the education system.
Kolachi: Is the intermediate syllabus up to modern requirements?
Anwar: Yes, very much so and a lot more has been done recently to further modernize the syllabus. For instance, the Federal Bureau of Curriculum has attempted to correlate the matriculation and intermediate syllabus to that taught at graduation level in universities. Books are being prepared according to the demands of post-intermediate education. It has been done especially with reference to science subjects and mathematics as these subjects were ignored earlier. This plan will be implemented by 2008 and I believe that these changes will promote a creative kind of education which is in demand now and will help reduce the trend of rote learning.
Kolachi: After 14 years of education, why is it that students passing the inter-board are not proficient in English?
Anwar: Actually teaching English is a different thing and teaching in English is another. In educational institutions, especially those of the public sector, the language is not taught properly. Similarly, a majority of private which claim to be English medium are not up to the mark. Our students graduate not knowing how to write a proper leave application in English, let alone conversing in the language. It has more to do with institutes than the syllabus.
Kolachi: Students complain that board papers are too lengthy and promote memorizing and reproducing of the course instead of learning. Why do you think this happens?
Anwar: We prepare papers according to the books prescribed by the board and taught at educational institutions. Since these books are prescribed by the text book board, changing the text is not our job. Our job is to ensure the mode of examination which leads to quality, which we are working on. We have attempted to change the mode of examination by making model papers. 50 per cent of these papers are based on multiple choice questions, twenty per cent short answer questions and the rest on essay questions. These model papers will be implemented in 2009 and will make students' lives easier.
Kolachi: How do you compare board results over the years?
Anwar: There has been a significant decline in board results over the last few years. From an average of around 60 per cent attained, it has been reduced to around 40 per cent. That I think is mainly because of our efforts to curb 'copy culture'. Also the mode of assessment has changed and now copies are not only codified but a paper is checked in three stages. A 75 per cent compulsory attendance in colleges is another factor reducing percentages. We are trying to ensure that students who pass from the intermediate board are capable enough to pass entry tests as well which is possible only when students understand their course thoroughly instead of copying it.
Kolachi: Do students need to be tested through entry tests when they have been passed by the board?
Anwar: As a Chairman of the examination board I think there must not be an admission test because we claim that our certificates are duly authenticated and worthwhile. If we claim that an A grade student is capable enough, there is no harm in rechecking his capability. We prepare students for professional fields and entry tests check students' aptitude for the field. So there is nothing wrong with conducting tests.
Anwar denies that the intermediate board accepts bribes to ensure positions for students. He thinks students in Karachi are capable of success without resorting to bribing officials. In terms of intelligence, Anwar believes they are ahead of other students in the world: "at the age of three they learn at least four languages including English, Urdu, Sindhi and their mother tongue." Anwar has high regard for Karachi students who maintain good grades despite the odds. Doing well despite all odds, such is Karachi's Character.
by Iftikhar Ahmed