Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Internally Displaced Persons

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Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan is a humanitarian organisation that I have been working with for more than a decade and a half. I have written extensively on their relief and rehabilitation project in places like Swat and Thar. Recently I was called to do a short report on their work with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Kohat.

Boys who attend the Health Education sessions at a Mobile Health Unit
I spent two days in Kohat talking to men and women from places as diverse as Orakzai, Tirah and Parachinar and in a word: it was a heart-wrenching experience. These people, whose exact number is unknown, were displaced from their homes over the past ten years or so. Since they left home in small numbers (unlike the deluge following the North Waziristan operation), there were no camps waiting to rehabilitate them.


Isar Jan and his son Tariq
With nowhere to go, they relied on ancient custom and settled into the homes of families known to them. Over time with things not even beginning to look up, many of them saved and scrounge to purchase small blocks of land to build their own homes. And so, most of them have a life of sorts, albeit a far cry from what they lived at home.

The biggest crisis is that these IDPs are not registered by the government: so far as officialdom is concerned, they simply do not exist. Moreover, it is not known how many of these hapless people are forced to live away from their homes. Estimates range from thirty-five thousand to twice as many. But there are no figures.

No surprise therefore that neither the provincial nor the federal governments extend any facilities to these invisible IDPs. This humanitarian service has been taken over by a number of organisations, among which CWS-P/A has been providing health care since October 2013. This was a short-term input and as the project draws to a close, the beneficiaries see the trouble ahead. I don’t know how much my report will help generate funds to keep the facility going, but I know for a fact that anyone who meets these IDPs cannot come away without that lump in the throat.

These are people who ache to return home. To cite just one example, there is Isar Jan, a native of Orakzai. He hates being in Kohat. This is what he had to say, ‘My village is a paradise. The weather is good, we have snow in winter and the summer is always beautiful. This Kohat is always so uncomfortably hot.’

Isar Jan is not the only one who pines for home. Tirah and Parachinar too are places that one could die for. One cannot fault a native of those heavens on earth to not want to be in Kohat or any other place in a house they cannot even call home. Everyone I spoke to had the same painful story to tell.

But consider the largesse of the soul of these wonderful people. They have lost all, their homes destroyed either by the terrorists or by army action, their farms barren for being untilled and their fruit trees dead or dying of neglect, their generosity remains unremitting. I asked Isar Jan if, after peace returns and he is once again home in his village, I visit would he be able to host me in his hujra.

He placed his hands on his heart and said, ‘You will be an honoured guest for as long as you wish to remain with me.’ His sincerity was unmistakable. Not even the adversity of the past ten years has taken away so much as a part of the soul that makes Isar Jan. 

Dr Farmanullah Khan and a young patient
And this man, Isar Jan, is no Khan or Malik. He was an ordinary salaried driver plying a passenger vehicle between villages.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days