MA’s (interviewee’s identity cannot be disclosed) journey has taken him from the serene landscapes of South Waziristan’s Sararogha, where his tribal roots are deeply embedded, to the bustling city of Dera Ismail Khan, where he spent his early years and completed his Matriculation and F.Sc. education. However, life has more adventures in store for him, as he now finds himself in Lahore, where he is passionately pursuing an undergraduate degree in Sociology at a prestigious institution.
His story is a testament to the resilience and determination of the youth from the newly merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It’s worth noting that one of our dedicated contributors had the privilege of interviewing MA, shedding light on his remarkable journey.
What hurdles did you face when you moved, and what places did you travel through before arriving at your current location?
We were in Waziristan until 2007 when the educational infrastructure was limited to Madrassah systems. Recognizing the need for a brighter future, my parents made the difficult decision to leave Waziristan. My father secured a job in Dubai, which enabled us to relocate to D.I. Khan.
Transitioning between two vastly different educational systems resulted in repeating certain classes. In 2007, we moved due to the War on Terror. Initially, we returned for a short period but eventually settled in D.I. Khan. This decision faced opposition, even from close relatives, due to economic constraints, profiling, and unfamiliarity with the idea of relocation.
Do you want to build a life here, return to FATA, or travel further to another destination?
My immediate plan is to move to Islamabad, where my family has relocated. I aim to establish a business or seek job opportunities abroad after completing my degree. Simultaneously, I intend to return to South Waziristan to promote education and share the knowledge gained from my esteemed institution. I want to encourage parents to prioritize their children’s education.
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?
I fondly recall the natural beauty of South Waziristan and the unpolluted air, a stark contrast to Lahore’s environment. Additionally, the distinctive cuisine of Waziristan, including that of D.I. Khan, holds a special place in my heart. The taste and uniqueness of the food resonate with my childhood memories. These experiences connect me with my ancestral home and evoke a sense of nostalgia.
When did the trouble start in your village? What was the trouble? Describe the issues that slowly caused people to start leaving the village.
The upheaval began with the initiation of the War on Terror. This conflict introduced a series of challenges, prompting many to migrate from their villages to urban areas. Leaving one’s ancestral home, where childhood memories were forged, was never an easy choice. However, the state policy of engaging in war compelled people to make this difficult decision. It’s important to note that this situation isn’t necessarily categorized as purely good or bad. Some argue that the war brought educational opportunities as families moved to cities.
Yet, it also cultivated a feeling of displacement; despite being in new places, we don’t always feel like we truly belong. There’s an undeniable disparity in facilities between rural areas like Sararogha and urban centers like Lahore, Islamabad, and D.I. Khan. The amenities available in these cities greatly surpass those in our hometown. The lack of stability and enduring unrest also contributed to people leaving their villages, and unfortunately, peace remains elusive in South Waziristan to this day.
Were there any unique reasons for your specific family moving out of Sararogha?
No, our reasons were quite similar to those of many other families. Education played a pivotal role, particularly for my parents. They recognized the importance of education and didn’t want us, their children, to remain uninformed like they had been. The mindset in FATA was often constrained due to the enforcement of the FCR, which was in place from 1901 until 2018. The PTI government’s decision to repeal it marked a significant change for the people of FATA, including South Waziristan. This shift reestablished state authority and led to increased awareness about various aspects, with education being a key focus.
What circumstances prevent you from going back?
Several factors contribute to my reluctance to return. I’ve witnessed incidents that have left me apprehensive about going back. A colleague of mine (Name and Institution omitted for confidentiality) and his friends went back to South Waziristan last year after their graduation, and he was tragically killed by unidentified individuals due to his dissenting voice. This has instilled fear in me, making it challenging to contemplate returning. Even though I miss my ancestral home, I’m confronted with the reality that my outspoken nature and strong opinions on various matters might not be viable there.
The prevailing cultural norms limit freedom of thought and expression. Even if I express my opinions on public platforms here in Lahore, I face different forms of targeting in South Waziristan that are puzzling. This seems to be a shared experience among those who pursue education at institutions like mine, as there’s often a disconnect between what we’re learning now and what we were taught earlier.
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?
Ensuring a reduced communication gap in the younger generation is a priority. Important topics like sex education should start at home rather than relying on external sources that might exploit them. I also aim to distinguish between culture and religion. In places like South Waziristan, cultural values can be intertwined with religion, potentially distorting children’s understanding of faith.
Do you have family in FATA?
Yes, I have extended family in FATA. My uncles frequently visit and spend a few months there during the summer. We’ve also provided our old house to relatives who couldn’t leave the area.
Why did they stay?
Economic instability stands as the primary reason. Without a stable economy, the prospect of moving becomes daunting. People are unsure of affording their next meal, let alone relocating to more expensive cities. Cultural norms also play a role, creating a mindset that leaving their ancestral village might jeopardize their “honor.” Reliance on others for support is seen as a loss of dignity, and many prefer to stay in their ancestral homes, even if it means sacrificing their sons’ well-being.
What do their everyday lives look like, compared to your life here?
Comparing everyday lives in FATA to places like D.I. Khan, the contrast is stark. Business hours differ significantly; in cities, people work throughout the day, whereas in most of FATA, businesses operate from dawn till dusk, closing after the Asr prayers. Going out after Maghrib prayers is discouraged, possibly resulting in being labeled a thief. Basic amenities like private washrooms are scarce. This divide, fueled by government mismanagement of funds, necessitates increased pressure on local representatives to address these disparities.
Have things changed in FATA since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan?
An observable change is the request from armed forces and authorities for local tribes (e.g., Mehsud and Wazir) to negotiate on a civilian level with the Taliban after their rise to power. However, the tribes collectively rejected such negotiations in a Jirga (tribal council), recalling past hostilities. They urged the authorities to communicate directly with insurgents, bypassing tribal intermediaries. Currently, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan roams freely and even interacts with the same people who once fought against them. With increasing numbers and a rising frequency of attacks, FATA has become a more hostile environment.
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.