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Pakistanis displaced by Taliban face miserable Eid

Pakistani families uprooted by conflict with the Taliban face a miserable Eid al-Fitr, with no cash to splash on celebrations and longing to return to homes they fear no longer exist.

world Updated: Sep 20, 2009 07:18 IST

Pakistani families uprooted by conflict with the Taliban face a miserable Eid al-Fitr, with no cash to splash on celebrations and longing to return to homes they fear no longer exist.

"All I want is to go back home this Eid," said Khalida Bibi, a 10-year-old girl standing in a queue to collect packages from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in the Jalozai camp for displaced people in northwest Pakistan.

In a family of 10 brothers and sisters, Khalida remembers presents, money and new clothes for Muslim festivals at home in Bajaur, where Pakistan launched a bloody operation against the Taliban near the Afghan border last year.

"When we were at home in Bajaur, we enjoyed Eid a lot. We wore new clothes, new shoes and had our wrists full of bangles. We got money and gifts.

"This year, we'll wear old clothes on Eid because we have no money to buy new ones," she said, her green tunic and blue headscarf slightly grubby.

The United Nations said about two million Pakistanis were displaced as a result of fighting between the army and Taliban militants, which the United States branded an existential threat to the nuclear-armed country.

Officials say 1.65 million have since returned home, but a fresh operation launched this month in the Khyber district, a major supply route for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, has displaced another 56,000 to 100,000 people.

While most displaced shelter with friends and relatives, many of the poorest have crammed into 17 dusty refugee camps where morale is low despite handouts from charities and assistance from UN agencies.

Few can expect the new clothes, shoes, bangles and henna parties with which millions of Muslims the world over celebrate the end of Ramadan, when people abstain from food, liquid, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk for a month.

"We celebrate Eid in terrible circumstances. We're sad and worried. Our home was destroyed during the operation," said Bibi Gul, a 40-year-old mother of 11 who fled fighting in Mohmand -- like Khyber in Pakistan's tribal belt.

"We were happy when we celebrated at home. We used to buy new clothes and shoes for all our children at Eid but now we have no money to buy anything."

Shams ur-Rehman, 21 from Bajaur, wears a brown shalwar khamis as he watches UNHCR staff distribute Eid packages. "When I was in Bajaur, all our friends got together on Eid. We used to beat drums, dance and sing. We had a lot of fun. Now everything is finished," said the father of one.

"I don't know when I'll go home, when peace will be restored and I can sing and dance again on Eid."

With inflation at 11.17 percent, shopkeepers believe even well off families are spending less on Eid luxuries as the country struggles from extremist attack, fighting with Islamist militants and economic malaise.

In the capital Islamabad, one of the wealthiest cities in the country, many clothing and shoe shops stood empty in the run-up to Eid, despite gaudy decorations of lights and plastic flowers designed to pull in passing trade.

"Last year I sold clothes worth 50,000 rupees (just over 600 dollars) every day but this time I hardly made 15,000 rupees (180 dollars)," said Gul Zaman Abbasi who runs a clothing shop.

"This year, Eid will not be same as the last one. Inflation has cut people's budget for celebrating," he told AFP.

Pakistani outlets of global shoe company Bata slashed prices on decorative shoes made specially for Eid, but staff said business was slow.

"The company reduced prices by up to 25 percent on shoes manufactured for Eid but even this is not attracting many customers," said Shahid Siddique, the manager of a Bata children's shop.

Customers bargain for further discounts, reeling off tales of personal woe in a bid to secure cheaper prices, he said.

Samina Javed, a 35-year-old mother looking for shoes for her daughter, said she sacrificed her needs in order to treat her child.

"My husband is a government employee and earns only 15,000 rupees a month. It's hard even to run a household. I spent months saving to buy my daughter an Eid dress and shoes," said Javed, standing outside a shop in faded clothes.