To our Hindu brothers and sisters, we have only this much to say.
“We are sorry. This is not Jinnah’s Pakistan. This is Mullah Omar’s, Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s and General Hamid Gul’s Pakistan.“
More then 200,000 people have fled the fighting in Fata to different camps in Pakistan.—AP/File
Monday, 09 Mar, 2009
AMRITSAR: A group of 35 Hindus, nearly half of them women, from Pakistan have crossed over to India and asked the government to allow them to settle in the country, Indian media reported Monday. ‘We were living in Pakistan under extreme fear due to the domination of a strong group of Taliban who are running a parallel government,’ Jagdish Sharma, a resident of tribal area near Peshawar in Pakistan, said according to report. Four families comprising 16 men, 16 women and three children crossed over to India during the last few days through the Attari check post and later went to Delhi where they got a one-year visa and permission to stay in Amritsar. ‘We strongly urge the government of India to allow us to stay here in India permanently, since we don’t want to move back in that hell where there is no life security,’ said Sharma. Hardwari Lal, resident of Orkzai agency said: ‘I was running my grocery shop there which was forcibly taken over by the fundamentalists who also took possession of our entire property.’ (Dawn)
And to our Eruropean guests, once again, we say: “We are sorry. This is not Jinnah’s Pakistan. This is Taliban’s Pakistan.” ….
Under house arrest
“I HAVE received many calls from our supporters concerning your safety,” wrote the chairman of my UK-based charity’s board of trustees. The targeting of the Sri Lankan cricket team has sparked significant panic abroad.
In Peshawar, life has become increasingly difficult for foreigners. During the days of the Mujahideen, there were frequent incidents of car bombings in the area; NGOs had the usual security guards as well as crow’s nests installed above their gates, which were manned by armed Afghans. Weapons were carried casually and ostentatiously. And the American Club was a swinging rendezvous joint for journalists, aid workers and tourists. All this is no more.
The club is still open, but its clientele reduced dramatically. There are just a few of us here now, and we all keep our heads down. Venturing forth is a hassle. A trip to Islamabad means remembering a list of items — besides our passport, ID card and mobile phone. Women have to remember the chador.
I know a Swiss woman who was grumbling about wearing it and had the same problems as I; wearing the attractive and colourful kameez in the summer is one thing, the dupatta, once learnt, is easy to manipulate, but the chador is much more of a challenge. If it is long, it becomes dangerous as it is all too easy to trip over it. Or it gets caught in the car door. All too often, I find myself flinging the garment off when I enter the secretariat to visit a government functionary. This usually results in comments from my driver but I am too glad to be free of it to heed his advice.
Expatriates have no tolerance for embassy directives. Everyone feels that embassies overreact. But at the other end, something as benign as walking to enter a particular building causes disbelief and resentment — take a security guard who, regardless of the fact that he had been seeing me every week for many months, wanted to search for me and it took several people to assure him that I was without evil intent.
One of my great pleasures in Peshawar is to go to the old city. I used to love strolling through its narrow, dusty streets with my camera and chat with shopkeepers. Once, just after 9/11, I took a team of European television journalists on a tour of the old city. Everywhere, people called out to us with welcoming smiles and even today, when I venture there with a camera, albeit with that wretched chador, the shopkeepers still smile and wave to me — the famous hospitality and friendliness of the people lives on.
Friends in Islamabad have begged me to leave Peshawar and come to their city. How can I leave my home, my office, my work? And would I still not be under ‘house arrest’ there? None of the foreigners go to restaurants anymore, but they do here in Peshawar; people in Islamabad either stay home or visit friends’ homes. However, some still take a walk in the hills or visit tourist sites.
Even if I have to be swathed in several yards of material, I would still prefer Peshawar, a city I now call home. Except for occasional trips to the bank and government offices, and a few visits to Islamabad, I remain within my four walls. But I still lead a busy life. I run my office and am involved in my charity and NGO, enjoy my garden with my dogs and keep abreast of events through the Internet, newspapers and the television. I still have the phone to talk to friends and once in while someone comes over for dinner.
At the moment, I am planning a spring visit to Kabul, and am also figuring out how to get to Chitral. Perhaps my chador will not be sufficient. Many times in the past, I have gone through the towns of Timergara and Dir in disguise. On several occasions, it was to outwit the police in the outlying villages of Chitral district, as law-enforcement agencies were hounding me to permit them to provide security to my driver and me. Now it is a different ball game. When I leave my house, I am actually venturing out into a dangerous and hostile world. (Dawn, 9 March 2009)