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One million displaced by Pak-Taliban war

But like most of the estimated one million people displaced by fighting between government troops and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s troubled northwest, he felt he had no choice but to leave.

world Updated: Apr 30, 2009 01:01 IST

“Helicopters shelled our village and our children were terrified,” said Jehanzeb Khan.

“When a nearby house belonging to a local prayer leader was destroyed in the bombing, we decided to leave our home to save our lives.”

Until this week Khan was a driver in the Pakistan village of Takatak.

But like most of the estimated one million people displaced by fighting between government troops and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s troubled northwest, he felt he had no choice but to leave.

Khan brought eight members of his family to Peshawar, a refuge for those escaping military offensives against the Taliban militants who are advancing their Islamist cause at home and pushing war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

For three hours the bedraggled family walked past scene after scene of fighting and destruction.

“On the way we saw destroyed homes and Taliban carrying Kalashnikovs,” he said. “It’s a nightmare leaving my hometown and living in a cramped two-room rented house.”

Pakistan officials have appealed for aid from international aid agencies, who in turned have warned about the gravity of the situation in the region.

“It is a certainly a major displacement, one of the world’s biggest if these figures are right,” said Dennis McNamara, adviser at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

“It is a serious humanitarian situation of major magnitude.”

A provincial minister said that around 30,000 people have been displaced — just since the weekend — by the latest military offensive to flush out Taliban militants.

Waheed Khan, 36, left the hometown of pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammad, who brokered a deal between the government and the Taliban to implement sharia law in exchange for an end to the fighting — an agreement that is now in peril.

“The operation had started when we went to meet our relatives in another village. When we came back, only a pile of rubble had been left behind. Our house had been bombed or shelled during the fighting,” he said.

He said 15 of his relatives had squeezed into the house of one of his brothers in the town of Mardan, living in a desperate situation and not knowing when things will improve.

“We came empty-handed,” he said. “We couldn’t take anything out of the rubble.”

Khan said 15 people from his family have been displaced — four brothers and their young families. Their flight meant his niece missed her important school exams.

“We reached Mardan after walking on foot for three hours. My niece developed blisters in her feet after walking for such a long time and a long distance.”

A nearly two-year Taliban insurgency in the district of Swat saw scores of girls’ schools destroyed by the Islamist hardliners, who often oppose education for girls.

Khan’s nine-year-old niece Shumaila Sarir said she had still managed to bring some books with her when her family fled.