At 46, Naseema Nashad is starting her life over, not out of choice but out of necessity. The Afghan woman was just 25 years old when Taliban militants stormed Kabul and her family was forced to flee to neighbouring Pakistan to escape what they knew would be a brutal regime.
They number between two and three million; some have lived in makeshift shelters for just a few months, while others have roots that stretch much further back into history. Most fled to escape war, others simply ran away from joblessness.
Imagine traveling for almost an entire day in the blistering sun, carrying all your possessions with you. Imagine fleeing in the middle of the night as airstrikes reduce your village to rubble. Imagine arriving in a makeshift refugee camp where there is no running water, no bathrooms and hardly any food. Now imagine making that journey as a pregnant woman.
Saleema Bibi graduated from medical school 15 years ago – but to this day, the 40-year-old resident of Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, has never been able to practice as a professional.
Between government efforts to wipe out insurgents from Pakistan’s northern, mountainous regions, and the Taliban’s own campaign to exercise power over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the real victims of this conflict are often invisible.
Some fled on foot, others boarded trucks along with luggage, rations and cattle. Many were separated from families, or collapsed from exhaustion along the way. They don’t know where their next meal will come from, or how they will provide for their children.
Three days ago, Rameela Bibi was the mother of a month-old baby boy. He died in her arms on Jun. 28, of a chest infection that he contracted when the family fled their home in Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency, where a full-scale military offensive against the Taliban has forced nearly half a million people to flee.
Already saddled with a veritable catalogue of crises, Pakistan’s largest province, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) now finds itself on the verge of industrial collapse, as extortion and kidnappings drive away all prospects for production or employment.
Upping the ante against U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, celebrated cricketer-turned-political leader Imran Khan has threatened to block NATO supplies to Afghanistan through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where his party leads a coalition government.
Four-year-old Muhammad Jihad is handicapped, and his parents know who to blame: the Taliban.
Peshawar is breathing a little easier. Prime minister designate Nawaz Sharif’s offer of talks with the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has rekindled hope for peace in this Pakistan border town.
Gul Shada thought it was the end of the road for her when she and her husband met with a road accident last year in the Nowshera district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the four provinces of Pakistan. Not only did the mishap leave Shada widowed at the relatively young age of 37, she also sustained an injury to her back that immobilised her.
If you can’t beat them, at least innovate. That seems to be the lesson that Pakistan’s Awami National Party (ANP) has drawn from its predicament.
“Women in Pakhtun society have traditionally helped their men in hard times,” declares former Pakistani lawmaker Shagufta Malik. They are doing so again, and how, going by their hectic campaigning activity in northern Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.