At last, I am in the heart of the North West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.) of Pakistan-the land of countless Pushtoon tribes and rugged mountains, and home to a score of Persian based languages, fearless emerald-eyed Afghan children, and caravans of colorful double-decker flying coaches. It is here, near the banks of the Indus River that my journey begins.
It is a fine and fitting setting for my adventures since my parent’s journeys also started here-it is their homeland I describe. Their village, a small community of mud and straw huts and square cement buildings on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border serves as a stark reminder to my siblings and I, that this was one potential future for us-a life devoid of the luxuries that we consider absolute necessities-heat, electricity, clean running water. It also further serves as a testament to the fact that, even in the 21st century, despite all the advancements that modern technology has made, that the majority of people in the world live in such squalid and sub-par conditions. Yet, life continues in these towns and villages, not flourishing but not whimpering either, as it has for centuries.
These villages differ from their counterparts in Afghanistan in the amount of warfare they have witnessed and experienced. While squabbles occur in N.W.F.P., they are often the result of disagreements amongst tribes and are therefore localized. In contrast, decades of conflict and foreign occupation have destroyed Afghanistan’s rudimentary preexisting infrastructure and littered the countryside with mines. Millions of refugees fled to the neighboring Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan to escape the devastation. In Peshawar alone, roughly 3,000,000 refugees found a home in a similar cultural and linguistic environment.
The massive influx of refugees contributed to increasing resentment by Pakistanis. Since the bulk of Pakistan’s budget goes towards defense spending, the residual is already thinly stretched across health care, education and social services prior to the additional expenses incurred by having to make provisions for refugees. This leads to increasing hostility towards one another by both Pakistanis and Afghanis. The Pakistani’s become upset that their taxpayer dollars are going to the refugees and the refugees become embittered by the meagerness of what the Government provides them.
In my short time here in Pakistan, I have already witnessed firsthand the existing tension between Afghanis and Pakistanis. With everyone at the office knowing that I am a Pakistani-American, I wondered initially if they thought me twice the enemy? My fears were dispelled by my third day at the office when I was asked to interview a Pushtoon gentleman that works on anti-drug trafficking in N.W.F.P. Leeda, my office manager, accidentally mentioned that I was Pakistani while introducing me. Her eyes widened and her hands flew to cover her mouth as she realized her error. The man replied in Pashto saying ‘it’s okay, she may be Pakistani, but she is also my sister and we are doing the same work.’ In addition, I am already being considered ‘one of their own’ by the other women and men at the AWN office.
The Pakistanis I’ve met are confused as to why I am working at an Afghan organization. At a time when Pakistan is furiously repatriating Afghan’s saying ‘it’s been 30 years, enough is enough’, the general populace of Pakistan is eager to see them gone. However, I am also aware of the fact that refugees often are blamed for straining financial resources, spreading diseases, and contributing to regional instability by the local populations in their host countries. What usually is the case though, is that refugees simply exacerbate existing conditions. Peshawar has always had problems. The Pathans and other Tribal groups in the N.W.F.P. have always held a strong disregard for centralized authority, leading to the orientalization of the province as a modern day ‘Wild West’. While millions of refugees certainly didn’t help curb those problems, I believe that Pakistan still must take accountability for its actions or lack thereof in this province.
Posted By Saba Haq
Posted Jun 11th, 2007