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Pakistan: homesick for Swat Valley, but reluctant to take a chance on going back

Pakistan: homesick for Swat Valley, but reluctant to take a chance on going back

As some displaced Pakistanis return to their homes, others are reluctant for fear of further upheaval. A man who has had to flee his Swat valley village three times tells why he's waiting for greater signs of peace before he'll go home.
20 August 2009
After being displaced from his beloved Swat Valley three times, a homesick 'Anwar' nurses his injured leg in his brother-in-law's house, but fears if he goes home now, 'we will be forced again to leave'.

MARDAN, Pakistan, August 20 (UNHCR) - He misses his beautiful Swat valley, but 56-year-old Anwar* won't move back yet because he doesn't want to risk the safety of this family.

"I don't know what is going on in my area, which was once famous for hospitality and peace," Anwar sighs.

Originally from Charbagh, Anwar and his wife, two daughters and eight of his nine sons are living with his sister and elderly brother-in-law near Katlang, a small town in the Mardan district.

The ill-fated family fled the fighting that erupted in the Swat Valley in April this year for the third time, having also evacuated their home when clashes between the military and militants intensified in the scenic valley in January. They had first moved out two years earlier, at the time of the initial military operations in Swat in 2007.

Anwar refuses to move back until he's fully convinced that a permanent peace has returned to the area.

Until recently Swat was considered the Switzerland of Pakistan-famous for lush greenery, snow-capped mountains, fruit-laden orchards and flower-covered slopes washed by the smooth flowing Swat River. A steady flow of Pakistani and foreign tourists gave a strong boost to the local economy and provided jobs for people who had little other income.

Though in his fifties, Anwar looks much older. His white beard, wrinkled face and dim voice all testify to his sorrow and miseries. A farmer by profession, Anwar was injured in the left leg in the most recent fighting between the security forces and militants.

"Two months back when the military operation started, I was in my home," he recalls, lying on a bed at his sister's house. "I sustained severe injury in my left leg from aerial bombing and shrapnel. I was then brought to a hospital in Peshawar in a mini-truck, where I have undergone a 15-day treatment. But this was futile, as I am still facing the problem in my leg."

He also fears his injury would make it impossible for him to move quickly if he had to flee once more.

"My children and wife had to travel 20 miles in five hours by foot with their swollen feet and aching legs, from Charbagh to Barikot," Anwar says, before they found transport for the rest of the way. His family has made the same journey each time they fled.

Around 62 displaced families are living with host families at Ghareeb Abad village. UNHCR and UN Habitat have provided them with some tents, buckets, mats, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, quilts and blankets. The two agencies have also distributed tents in villages around Mardan to house displaced people and ease the burden on local families.

Although Anwar's material needs are satisfied at his brother-in-law's home, he has something different on his mind. "We are getting everything from (my brother-in-law) Gul and UN organizations, but what we want is the restoration of peace in our Swat valley," he says.

According to Pakistani government figures, more than 127,000 families, or 890,000 people, have returned to their areas of origin in Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and Shangla districts since the government began its formal return plan on 13 July 2009.

But as long as Anwar and his family need to stay, Gul - a deeply wrinkled turbaned man of 109 with the government ID card to prove his age - says he will be glad to help them.

"They are not burden on us, as guests are the gifts of God," he says.

By Qaiser Khan Afridi
in Mardan, Pakistan

*Name changed for protection reasons