PESHAWAR: Shop owner Saeed Khan has already buried one child killed in fighting between the Taliban and government forces in northwest Pakistan. He cannot bear to lose another, AFP reports.
So the 50-year-old bundled his wife, son and daughter onto a bus in the Taliban-infested town of Mingora in the Swat valley and hurried to the city of Peshawar, hoping for a future free from further bloodshed.
‘I lost my son, who was a police officer in Swat, in a suicide attack in Mingora early this year. I buried him in front of my house,’ Khan told AFP, tears rolling down his cheeks.
‘I don’t want to dig graves for my daughter and son in Mingora. That is why I left the area… His death broke me. Tell me where should I go and from whom should I seek justice?’
Local officials say more than 40,000 men, women and children have packed up and fled Mingora since Tuesday, fearing that Pakistan’s military could unleash a fresh ground and air assault against Taliban fighters.
The bedraggled refugees, some leading goats and cattle through the streets, are seeking safety for their loved ones, as the Taliban claimed to control 90 per cent of the former ski resort and tourist getaway, once favoured by Westerners.
‘I am immediately leaving the city with my wife, mother and four kids,’ said taxi driver Ali Rehman, 46.
‘I don’t really know my destination and destiny. My family and I need protection.’
At the bus stop in Peshawar — the capital of the North West Frontier Province — exhausted and anxious people told stories of horror as they poured out of vehicles carrying old bags, blankets and bundles of clothes.
Zarina Begum, 40, pleaded for help as she staggered off a bus.
‘A mortar hit my house and as a result, I lost one of my eyes. Please take me to hospital, I want medical treatment,’ Zarina begged.
‘They (Taliban) killed my husband, they slit his throat after accusing him of spying… I escaped Swat because I don’t want my son to be killed under the same circumstances. I don’t want to receive his decapitated body.’
The government had hoped that a peace deal agree in February would placate hardliners trying to impose a repressive brand of Islam, but instead the deal appears to be in tatters.
Clashes have flared in recent days throughout Swat, where wealthy Pakistanis and foreigners used to enjoy the breathtaking mountain scenery from plush hilltop hideaways, or cruise down the ski slopes.
Now, gunfire rings out in Mingora, where armed Taliban patrol the streets.
‘I’m really scared of going to Swat. Whenever I see Taliban, they look like vampires,’ said 25-year-old shop keeper Salman Mujtaba, who lost family members in a suicide attack near Mingora.
‘I will never ever go back to Swat. It has lost its beauty.’