My father was born in the North West Frontier Province. I used to think that that was very cool. The people of this region are handsome; strong-limbed, often tall and elegant, with clear, fair, skins. Their hair is sometimes a lighter brown than elsewhere on the Sub-continent, and often, family members have a characteristic that I adore; light-colored eyes. My father, now in his eighties, has big, hazel eyes. My paternal grandmother had blue eyes. Those light-eye genes move recessively through the generations, so my sister has them, as does one cousin in each branch of my family. I wonder where exactly in my ancestry our bloodline merged with that of a descendant of one of Emperor Alexander's generals.
My father was born in Mardan. I have worked all over Pakistan, recording, interviewing and making programs, and I have made a point of visiting many places significant to my family. I feel a pull from the land, especially from the mountains. It is really, really beautiful in the NWFP and especially in the Swat valley; the air is crisp and fresh, village lights twinkle at night as dusk is settling. It was a favorite resort for honeymooners and tourists.
I don't see how I can ever go back to Swat Valley now.
In 1947, at the time of Partition, there was a mass movement of people traveling between the newly formed Pakistan and India; Muslims going one way, Hindus and Sikhs the other. They became refugees, giving up everything they owned; property, professions, livelihoods. There was mayhem and many innocent fleeing civilians were murdered. Any form of travel was used; trains, trucks, cars, horses, walking. Estimates at the time say that there could have been around a million people on the move. No accurate records were kept.
We were always taught to respect the NWFP, where the government gave way to jirgas, control by tribals and village elders. The law of Islamabad had little significance here. It still doesn't.
Since the Pakistani military/Talibani fighting began earlier this year, 2009, the UN estimates says that a million people have fled the conflict. I have a real sense of déjà vu, even though I wasn't born when the first exodus happened. Many second generation South Asians like me are scattered all over the world. We carry the legacy of 1947. Though we are born and educated in the countries our parents adopted, we have no ancestral homes to pass on to future generations. Someone else now owns the land our forefathers owned.
In my case, my father went to England to study international relations and then became a diplomat.
Though I feel a strong attachment to Pakistan and an umbilical cord to the Sub-Continent, I also feel historically lobotomized; for there is no-one from my family living where my father spent his early childhood. My past isn't embodied in a physical entity where I can visit or mourn; if I stretch out my hand, there is nothing to hold onto.
We see pictures of civilians fleeing on trucks and carts. They have left the battleground with whatever possessions they could muster, and most likely if or when they ever go back to their towns and villages, they will find destruction and homes razed to the ground.
Prime Minister Gilani today visited camps for the displaced persons. Geo News reports that he said that those in the camps 'had sacrificed their today for a better tomorrow for Pakistan.'
Problems in Pakistan are so widespread and endemic that I don't think that things can get too much better, however much money is pledged in aid. We don't see the money trickling down to those who need it most. The plight of the Pakistani common man does not become better exponentially.
And the waters are muddy. As reported in Pakistan when President Zardari visited the US just last week, he told NBC that the Taliban is a historic creation in which the Pakistani military, supported by the US, played a part. It is no wonder that the Taliban, now strengthened by foreigners in an area awash with arms since the Cold War, is a deadly fighting force.
So in a way, the Pakistani military is fighting its own. In this part of the world, though outwardly the unformed sides are divided into khaki and black masked/hooded gunmen, I don't really know who has morphed into whom.
The current SWAT crisis is a throwback to sixty-two years ago. What is more tragic is that this time around, it is mainly Pakistanis causing the suffering of Pakistanis... I just hope that the children of those fleeing the current crisis will one day leave the camps or houses where they are sheltering, frightened, and have a life, even if their physical past disappears, just like mine.