Iman Sheraz Monnoo

Continuing our series of inspiring stories, today, we introduce you to KA, a resilient soul from the enchanting region of Ladha in South Waziristan. KA’s life journey is a testament to determination and perseverance. Born and raised alongside his two brothers under the watchful care of his father, KA’s roots run deep in this land. Their life in Ladha, though picturesque, was not without challenges.

Tragedy struck when KA’s mother passed away after the birth of his younger brother. However, KA’s father, driven by an indomitable spirit, took on the role of a salesman, often catering to tourists, to support their family. As his younger brother came of age, he, too, joined their father in this remarkable endeavor. Now, let’s delve into KA’s incredible journey and hear his story in his own words.

Where are you now? What is your occupation?

I currently reside in Lahore, a place that has been my home since 2011. Our transition to this bustling city was necessitated by my father’s ailing health, demanding significant financial resources for his medical treatment. Upon our arrival, my son and I embarked on a journey to secure employment and stabilize our family’s life.

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Subsequently, I initiated a rickshaw service, providing local residents with a convenient mode of transportation. However, the income generated was insufficient to meet the mounting expenses, primarily attributed to my father’s medical bills. As our financial woes deepened, we resorted to seeking loans from banks, although these were not readily approved due to the closure of my father’s business post-relocation and my son’s challenges in securing stable employment. Our last glimmer of hope emerged through the benevolence of Ms. [Redacted], a compassionate individual affiliated with an organization.

This organization facilitated our transition to a secure and affordable residence in Lahore and began discreetly extending financial support to cover my father’s medical expenses. We are not alone in this journey; numerous families from FATA, like ours, have found solace and assistance from the community here, making our experience more bearable.

Do you have plans to work anywhere else or do something of your own?

When I was a young child, I used to help my father grow the fruits he then sold. At that point, he ran a small stall in the center of our town, where tourists used to visit quite frequently. I remember the taste of the oranges and figs we grew; there is no comparison between the kind we ate growing up and the ones we eat here now.

He used to know exactly how to water the saplings so they grew just right, and everyone in our village said there was nothing like enjoying Aba’s fruits on cold winter mornings. Those are my fondest memories from growing up, and I plan to save up enough money to buy a plot of land to cultivate an orchard. Then, I aim to set up a fruit stall in the future. I want to recreate the moments I shared with my father with my son, teaching him the growing techniques I learned while we re-establish our new lives here.

What places did you travel through before arriving at your current location?

We left Ladha around two years after the war. At that point, there were barely any functional hospitals, with all the available doctors working at full capacity and all the equipment being too outdated for any substantial medical assistance. We had been relying on our local nurses in the neighborhood, but once my father’s health began deteriorating to a point where even their efforts were not enough, my elder brother arranged for us to travel to Lahore.

At that point, we forsook all our property and traveled on foot to the nearest land border. My wife and our son were the youngest in the group, and so the travel was often delayed to allow them periods of rest. All we had with us were our clothes, our savings (which we stuffed into our saddlebags under a layer of coats), and some food and water to sustain us throughout the trip. It took about three days of journeying before we were able to take a train ride into Islamabad and from there into Lahore. My brother had arranged for us to stay in a hostel for one night on the edge of the city, but after that, we moved into a communal residence from which we began searching for work.

Do you want to build a life here, return to FATA, or travel further to another destination?

There are moments when my father especially misses the life we had before. Before the war broke out, Ladha was a beautiful area with lush fields during the summer months that we used to play in whenever the weather allowed us to. I remember my brothers and I drank water from the springs because everyone believed it had healing properties that bolstered your immunity.

Yet, while it was an adjustment at first, my family and I have assimilated quite well into Lahore these past few years. The organization that helped us find work and shelter has been very insightful in terms of connections and support during our time here. Lahore offers things we never could have dreamed of in our time in Ladha. For instance, my son has the chance to attend a proper government college now, unlike back home, where the closest primary school was around 40 kilometers away, and college was out of the question altogether unless you had the money to afford it. Even then, the standard of education in Waziristan was nothing compared to what my son is now receiving. He is surpassing me in his mathematics, a subject I considered my strongest back in the day.

The expenses are still higher in Lahore compared to Waziristan, but my work allows me to provide to a significant extent, and my son is also on a merit scholarship. All in all, I would say that while there are aspects of Waziristan my family and I miss, the life we have now is much better than what we would have had there. There is nothing waiting for us there anymore, as even our land has probably been overtaken by the army at this point.

What was it like growing up in FATA? Tell us some good childhood memories. Is there anything you miss about your village that you cannot find here in Lahore?

Growing up in FATA was unique and different from Lahore. It was a place where tribal culture was deeply ingrained, and values and traditions were passed down from generation to generation. We always had a strong sense of community growing up. I remember the children would gather on Fridays to read the Jummah prayer with the adults in the open fields, and occasionally, the elders would keep their stalls open late at night to engage in barter for their friends or family.

The bonds of the people were nothing like the ones in the communities of Lahore; we were bonded by something beyond blood, and even your neighbor on the other side of the village would be willing to help you in times of distress. When my father first began to show symptoms of his illness, our uncle would walk for an hour and a half every morning to help us at the fruit stand while my wife stayed home to look after my father. I miss the sense of pride we had in our people and the level of trust we developed amongst each other – that is hard to find in a city that feels so alien from the one you grew up in. Still, the people we have met in our compound have made the assimilation process much easier, and some even have ties to people we used to know in our old village. While we have been out of contact with our friends there for many years, it is a peaceful thought to know that their descendants and relatives survive them with us in this city!

When did the trouble start in your village? What was the trouble? Describe the issues that slowly caused people to start leaving the village.

We resided in the center of the city, so for us, the troubles started early, around January of 2001, and then got especially bad when the army offensives began in 2009. We stayed in Waziristan for as long as we could, with my father unwilling to leave behind the land our ancestors had lived on for centuries.

While the gunfire was a constant in our lives, I think everyone in the village truly felt the reality of the situation when the drone strikes began. There was an entire section just 100 kilometers away from our home that was left destroyed after an offensive. It was at that point that we seriously considered leaving. Many of our other family members had already begun the migration to other parts of Pakistan, but Aba’s health was a stalling factor for us.

It was only in 2011 when he was well enough for us to attempt the trip. We were very lucky that his resilience held up in times of such hardship, but more than that, I think it was the faith we had that we would eventually reach safety that got us through the never-ending sounds of cries and destruction that followed us on the way out of Waziristan.

What are the circumstances that prevent you from going back?

As I have said before, we have a good life here in Lahore, and there is no reason for us to go back to Ladha. The facilities here are far better, and life is easier now that we have a more stable supply of income. But most importantly, now that my son is going to be married, I want to be able to ensure his family has a safe, fulfilling life that would not be possible back in Waziristan.

If you have younger siblings or children, how do their childhoods compare to yours? What kind of life do you want your siblings or children to have?

My two brothers and my son all came to Lahore at the same time in 2011 when they were old enough to work. They had already been witness to the war in their lifetimes, but I hope my son’s future children, who will be born in Lahore, will be away from the fighting and will grow up far happier as a result.

Do you have family in FATA?

No, we all came to live in Lahore together. My uncle was the only member of my extended family currently alive, and his family moved alongside ours.

Have things changed in FATA since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan?

While I have not returned to Ladha in years and have lost contact with the people back home, from the news I read, I believe life is returning to the war-torn time we left in. Now that the insurgency has returned, I see the protests on the streets restarting as they did back when we still resided there. All we can really do now is pray for our community and our brothers and sisters in Waziristan. I hope one day the situation is stable enough that I can bring my grandchildren there and show them the beauty of the town I grew up in.

Note: Tribal News Network (TNN) is presenting this series of interviews to offer a deeper understanding of the historical security, political, and social dynamics in erstwhile FATA. Through these conversations, we aim to shed light on the intricate experiences and perspectives that have shaped the region’s trajectory. However, the views expressed in this series of interviews are those of the interviewees and may not necessarily reflect the views or stance of TNN regarding these issues.

Note: Tribal News Network (TNN) is presenting this series of interviews to offer a deeper understanding of the historical security, political, and social dynamics in erstwhile FATA. Originating in a journalism grant at Williams College, these conversations aim to shed light on the intricate experiences and perspectives that have shaped the region’s trajectory. This project also represents the efforts of Pakistan’s youth in learning about communities and topics that may lie outside their comfort zone.  However, the views expressed in this series of interviews are those of the interviewers and interviewees, and may not necessarily reflect the views or stance of TNN regarding these issues.