The Bakkakhel Camp for Internally Displaced Persons in Bannu is near the North Waziristan border. Mir Ali, the town which most of the 61 families in the Bakkakhel Camp come from, is a mere 10 kilometers away. Yet if you were to look into the eyes of these brave people you would see the long distance they have travelled. A distance measured not in ordinary terms, but in units of impossibility: pain, uncertainty, the emotional trauma of being forced to leave their homes, their places of work and leisure, not knowing what the future will bring, whether they will go back to the same lives or whether everything will have changed forever. “They are confined by circumstances and at the mercy of others,” I had said to myself when I first read about the people displaced by the military’s “operation”, before helplessly adding: “Quite like Shahbaz.”
I mean my husband Shahbaz Taseer, son of the late Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer. Shahbaz was abducted a few months after his father was assassinated by a zealot and has been gone now for three long years. Some say my husband is held by his captors in North Waziristan. And this, the thought that I would be getting closer to him by helping the people of Waziristan, is what drew me to the plight of the IDPs.
There was never any doubt in my mind that I would do whatever I could to help. The IDPs are suffering in our cause, and while we are all duty-bound to assist them, for me their plight has special resonance. It makes me think of what Shahbaz may be going through. I had to do this for him, and it was not just about donating some money and goods; I had to go there myself. Be with the people. Talk to them. See for myself what they were going through. Once I had made my decision, the rest became easier by the day. A plea to friends and relatives brought a generous response, and I put my father, who has spent a large part of his professional life working in K.P., to work on getting information and the necessary permission to go to the main camp. We found out that in addition to foodstuffs, what the IDPs needed were items such as fans, cooking utensils, buckets and water-coolers.
The Bakkakhel Camp is a short distance from Bannu City, and helped by some timely coordination by the Commissioner of Bannu and prompt assistance by the Army Unit managing it, on 7th July I had the experience of driving through some very rugged terrain and reaching it with two truck-loads of food rations and fans. The Camp itself was very well-organised and the young army officers managing it were doing a great job. Their motivation and spirit were quite inspiring. The camp was divided into sections, families had spacious tents to live in and there were also separate community areas for men and women. The sanitary conditions were quite good and the supply of essentials, though under considerable pressure because of a daily increase in the number of people, seemed to be just about meeting the demand.
[quote]The people I met knew what sacrifices were being asked of them[/quote]
But that is a small part of this story, for its main feature were the people I encountered. While delivering goods for them was deeply satisfying, what made my day was to be able to meet the women and children and spend time with them. Their spirit and fortitude touched me. There was no self-pity, just a strong resolve to make the best of their circumstances and move on with life. They had a very clear sense of what sacrifices were being asked of them and felt that if peace could be restored to their area and the country, it would have been worth it. There is a word for it, “patriotism”, I know we throw it around too much for causes both worthy and unworthy, but how else would you describe a father who names a son born in the camp Azb Khan to honor the operation meant to bring peace to his land? The best were the children. Playing, laughing, wanting to have their pictures taken. Was it my imagination or did I see some fear, some concern lurking in those innocent eyes?
Bakkakel, as I said earlier, is a very well-managed camp, a tribute to our brave soldiers fighting a war and looking after the affected. But let us not forget that there are only 61 families here. There are about a million IDPs and they are spread all-over, living in Bannu, D.I. Khan and other cities. In rented houses and with relatives who have opened up their homes and hearts for them. There are also other camps coming up, and not all as well managed as the one I visited. These people’s needs are immense and the government alone can’t meet them. We will all need to contribute in whatever way we can. I intend to focus on Bakkakhel, as I have established personal connections there and have lots of promises to keep.
[quote]I have never felt closer to my husband than I did on that day in Bakkakhel[/quote]
As we were about to leave, Azb Khan’s father, Aziz Khan, who is also a tribal elder, thanked me for coming. I did not know what to say, the best I could do was to tell him that he never needed to thank anyone for anything. Whatever was being done for his people was their due, and however much we tried we would only have re-paid the debt that we owed to the IDPs.
What I did not say to him was that I was doing it for myself. In the nearly three years since Shahbaz has been kidnapped, I have never felt closer to him than I did on that day in Bakkakhel. This was my prayer for his early return. It was mid-afternoon by the time we drove away. I looked back; and there, under the hot sun, were two children waving good-bye.