NU talks about his grueling journey from Alimai to Mangu Pir, losing a prosperous business, and reminisces about his childhood. The fondness with which he recalls his adolescence in his birth village and the disdain with which he regards attackers in FATA for tainting such fondness puts the readers in his shoes.
We share NU’s sadness and anger, but also his happiness and hope that he can one day return to a better life in Alimai with his family.
Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Alimai, where I lived till I was 8 years old. My family and I had to leave in 2004, so unfortunately I lived in my village for a short amount of time.
Where are you now?
I live in Mangu Pir, Orangi Town. We [my family] came straight to Mangu Pir from Waziristan, which is where we have been living since. I came here when I was very young, but my parents put me and my siblings in school. I completed my matric from here, too.
What do you do for work in Karachi?
I used to run my business selling used goods, specifically clothes. I would buy used shirts and pants in bulk for cheap and sell them at low prices that people could afford while keeping a slight profit. During the summer, I would sell lighter clothes such as t-shirts, and during the winter I would sell jackets and sweaters. The business was good, but I started losing customers around two years ago when everything started getting more expensive. I had to raise my prices, but even then it became impossible to turn a profit as no one could afford to buy anything more than 250 rupees.
Before inflation, I would sell shirts for 50-100 rupees and still make a profit, but now the quality of the clothes has decreased, and some shirts even had holes and tears in them, so my inventory was always low. Eventually, I had to shut the business down because it was getting too expensive to run, especially since I have children of my own now. I had no choice but to work for someone else, and now I work at a light shop where I repair and sell light fixtures. In my village, it was hard to find work, but my parents didn’t need to find work, raising our animals and growing and selling crops and animal produce was enough to keep us fed and supply us with a decent income. Most people in Waziristan did farm work, especially with animals, so while finding work was hard; it wasn’t always necessary. In Karachi it’s the opposite, it’s easy to find a job, especially manual labor, but hard to run a business. I want to try re-opening my business, but with where inflation is going, it seems unlikely. I’m glad I can easily find other work to support my family, though.
What places did you travel through before arriving at your current location?
The army destroyed all the roads, including the forests, saying that the Taliban would ambush us. It seemed unlikely that the Taliban would hide in the trees just to attack us, so I’m not sure what the real goal of the army was. That meant people had to take the mountains instead of the roads or forests, and had to endure harsh terrain and weather just to get to safety. We traveled for two days straight, sleeping where we could for short amounts of time. Our feet were bleeding and wounded from the terrain. One of the women traveling with us had a son who fell off the trail, and we only found out once we had already traveled too far to go back and look for him. The conditions were horrible and people, especially the old, were in tremendous pain. I didn’t fully understand it at the time given how young I was, but whenever I think back to it now it breaks my heart that normal, good people had to go through so much just to live a safe life, and angers me that the army didn’t do more to help us. They were completely devoid of any humanity.
Do you want to build a life here, return to FATA, or travel further to another destination?
Of course, I want to return to FATA, I think most of us do. Living there was much more pleasant and pure than it is living in a city, especially one like Karachi. My family and I have been wanting to go back to our village for a long time, but we’re too afraid of going back. Even though we weren’t forced out of our homes, and nothing of ours was destroyed, hearing about what was done to other people has instilled fear in us which we cannot shake. Maybe, if it becomes safer and more stable in FATA and once the army leaves, we can return. Currently, we have no plans of moving anywhere else. My children are going to school here, my wife and I have worked here, and we are surrounded by people who are from FATA, so we don’t want to leave this all behind and start over somewhere else. Karachi is the best place for us right now until we can return to Waziristan.
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 Karachi?
One thing I miss the most is how simple life was there. We were never stressed about anything, and we had time to spend with our family. The food in Karachi is vastly different from the food in the villages, everything is fresh and clean in the village but in Karachi, the food is full of so many chemicals it tastes entirely different. People in the village were much healthier than people in Karachi. I have fond memories of playing with my friends on the farm, where we would make footballs out of cloth and spend most of the day outdoors.
Unlike Karachi, it was safe for children to spend almost all their time playing outside with their friends. I would come back home when I got bored or before it got dark, and my family and I would all settle down and go to bed after offering the Isha prayer and would wake up in time for Fajr. After Fajr, my parents and I would go work on the farm only having had a cup of chai for breakfast. We would have a proper meal later in the day after some work was done, at around 9 or 10 a.m. We all had a set system. Over here, people are always staying up late into the night and waking up at noon, no one has a routine. My uncle would complain about how his children never used to wake up on time to get work done. Children in my village would make do with what they had, we would fashion toys out of sticks and cloth and would go to small stalls for roasted chickpeas and corn. There is no concept of that here, and children ask for toys that are often expensive and demand unhealthy store-bought food like chips and carbonated drinks.
When did the trouble start in your village? What was the trouble? Describe the issues that slowly caused people to start leaving the village.
Waziristan was facing problems even before the war in 2000. After the war, it only got worse. People were killed or injured by the Taliban or caught in the crossfire between the army and the Taliban, and their homes and farms were destroyed. This caused fear and unrest among everyone in FATA, and the people whose homes were destroyed had no other option but to leave and go elsewhere. People started leaving as FATA had become an incredibly dangerous place to live. Even now, people are killed or taken by the army over the smallest things, like telling other people about what happened to them and their families. Any aid that the army received. They kept it for themselves. There was a mosque that was destroyed in my village, and the only thing the army did to fix it was repaint the walls. In the rare cases where aid was given to the affected families, they only received half, and sometimes less than half, of the total sum. This was negligible because the money had to be split among the entire family, so if 400,000 rupees out of 1,000,000 rupees of aid was given to a family of 10 people, it spread thin and wasn’t even enough to buy a small home.
What are the circumstances that prevent you from going back?
As I said before, we are too afraid to go back to FATA. We have already established a life in Mangu Pir. Having received a matric-level education myself, I want my children to have the same privilege, which they will not have 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?
Since I was only in Waziristan for a short while, when the troubles hadn’t started yet, my childhood was simple and enjoyable. I got to experience clean food and fresh water, the cold fresh air, working on the farm with my parents and spending hours outside with my friends. My children have not had the same luxury, and are instead growing up in the congested, polluted, and impure areas of Karachi. I had hoped to take them back to the village where they could experience the same simplicity and purity I did, but the circumstances of Waziristan do not allow that. Hopefully, Waziristan will go back to the way it was and I can take my family there. Until then, I want to provide an education for my children and hope I can afford to put clothes on their backs and feed them well.
Do you have family in FATA?
I only have distant relatives back home and have lost contact with them. Cell phones aren’t common in the villages. I would like to get back in touch, but we have no way to contact each other unless I travel back to the village and find them.
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.