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The Story of a Migrant Breadwinner: Following FH from Waziristan to Karachi

We learn about how he built a life for himself from scratch after he relocated to Karachi from FATA after the war in 2000.

by TNN Editor - 13 Oct, 2023 1532

 Khadija Abdullah 

FH, being born in Karachi but having moved to [an undisclosed location in] FATA, shares his journey and struggles in his life in both Karachi and his village. We learn about how he built a life for himself from scratch after he relocated to Karachi from FATA after the war in 2000. We hear about him meeting a woman he loved and starting a family, but also how he struggled to make ends meet even while working long hours, how he wishes to start his own business to overcome that, and how he wishes to go back to a more peaceful Waziristan in the future for a simpler life for his family.

Where are you from? Where did you grow up? 

I was born in Karachi after my father came here for work. We went back to FATA once I was a little older when conditions hadn’t worsened because my father missed his brothers and the rest of our family, which we had left behind when my family came to Karachi. [FH states that his family origins lie in Waziristan, but did not specify North or South Waziristan. He also did not disclose the name of his village or district].

Where are you now? 

I live in Sohrab Goth, Karachi, where a lot of other people [from FATA] are too. My family all moved back to Karachi soon after the war in Waziristan in 2000, when I was around 10 or 11 years old. We have been living in Karachi for some time now,  and I met my wife, who was also from FATA and had come to Karachi around the same year as us.

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After maybe 17 years of being in Karachi, the government compensated us for what we had to leave behind, but it wasn’t even close to being enough considering we had to divide that little sum among the whole family. My father was given 400,000 rupees, which he had to split with his three brothers, who are all married with children, and my siblings and I, who are also married with children. It came nowhere close to being able to replace what we had lost; all our clothes, our farm and its produce and animals, our home.

What do you do for work in Karachi? 

I work as a security guard, the work is easy to find, but the pay is very low. When I first started working as a guard in 2003, my salary was 12,000 rupees a month, and it used to be enough for me. Now, my salary is 24,000 rupees a month but it isn’t enough for my children, my wife, and I, especially since school fees have increased. I have two sons, a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, so paying their school fees takes a huge chunk out of the monthly earnings and barely leaves us with enough for anything else.

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

I want to open my own grocery store, just a small one as rent is very high, but it will be better for my family. As a security guard, I leave home just as my children are leaving for school, and I don’t come back home till 11 or 10 at night when they are fast asleep. I hardly get to spend time with my wife or children, which is very difficult as a father. I want to be there for my children especially as they are growing up.

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

We took the safest route we could, which was all barren land. We had to travel by foot, and we traveled as a large group with other people who wanted to come to Karachi, so that meant having young children and the elderly with us, too. We weren’t able to bring anything along, and only carried a change of clothes and as much water and food as we could. All our other belongings and whatever animals we had at the farm were left behind. It took around two days to arrive at Dera Ismail, and from there we were able to hire cars for the rest of the way to Karachi.

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

Everyone wants to go back to the village, as life was more peaceful there and far simpler, but there are things that Karachi offers that Waziristan didn’t and won’t be able to for a long time. I remember when any one of us would get sick, we wouldn’t be able to go to the hospital as the nearest one was 60-65 kilometers away, and we didn’t have access to any cars. There were small family doctors in clinics around the village, but they weren’t very good. There were also only one or two small public schools in my village before the war, which weren’t as good as the ones in Karachi, but in Karachi, the schools are also much more expensive. It’s almost like you’re buying the quality of your education, and if you can’t afford to spend thousands on your children every month, they won’t receive a worthwhile education.

The Army Public School only recently opened in Waziristan in 2016. I would like to go back as I have landed there, but that’s the only thing left for me in FATA. My family had their businesses there, and we had our farm where we would grow potatoes and wheat during the summer and sell them during the winter and use our goats and cows for milk and meat, but we lost that all in the war. Maybe I will go back once things are more peaceful and we [my wife and children] have a guarantee for our safety and once we grow tired of Karachi, but as for now, we can’t lose the facilities provided to us here such as the schools and the hospitals.

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?

There is a lot I miss about my village, mainly the simple things. It used to be very cold there, but I prefer that over Karachi’s stifling heat. I remember we would all have to heat water up over the stove for Fajr because it was so cold it was impossible to perform Wudu with such cold water, but in Karachi, we don’t even have gas to cook let alone heat up water. Another thing you won’t find anywhere in Karachi is the clean and fresh air.

In my village, we didn’t have as many people or factories or cars as Karachi does, so obviously the air would be thicker and more polluted here, and even the food isn’t as clean and pure. I miss the atmosphere and how calm life was in the village before the war. We would go to sleep early and wake up early, before the Azan, and then make our prayers and go out to the farm to tend to the animals and crops. The culture in Karachi is very different from Waziristan, and it’s not any worse or better, but I do miss all our culture and traditions back home.

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 troubles started around 2000, and we left for Karachi when things had just started taking a turn for the worse. I was scared for my life, everyone was. There were a lot of clashes between the army and the Taliban, with gunfire from both sides. People started leaving from 2000 till 2010, which is when things weren’t as violent anymore. People were hurt, forced to leave their homes at odd hours of the night with no prior warning, and even killed. It wasn’t safe for anyone, so many people tried getting away, even if they had to leave everything behind and had no one or no place to go to in Karachi. We had no other option.

What are the circumstances that prevent you from going back?

We have nothing left over there, and we have access to better facilities here such as schools and hospitals. It’s also safer in Karachi than it is in the village, even though things started getting better in 2016. We are all still very scared and think it’s too soon to go back. I am especially afraid for my children. I have seen and been through things that people could never imagine and I don’t want to risk putting my children through that or putting them in danger. We are all safe here, my children are studying here and my wife and I have found work here. We have no reason to go back except for the land we have left in the village.

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 three brothers and three sisters all came to Karachi at the same time as the rest of the family, so they, unfortunately, had to go through the same thing every person in the village did. My children, however, were born in Karachi and have never experienced anything like the war. They have simple lives and are safe, and I want them to continue living that way, away from all the horrible things my siblings and I have endured.

Do you have family in FATA?

My uncles from my mother’s side currently live in FATA. They left at the same time as us but went back after 2016. They used to rent a home in Dera Ismail Khan, which ended up being very costly, so they went back to the village to rebuild their own homes for their families. They come to visit Dera Ismail in the summer but go back to the village in winter. We haven’t met in a few years, but we occasionally speak over the phone.

What do their everyday lives look like, compared to yours?

They tell me they are happy in the village, but that nothing is certain and that they might have to move back to Karachi again in the future. They have their businesses and land there, which they manage in their own time. They have much more time to spend with their families than I do, as I have to work a job and don’t have flexible time.

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.