On May 10th we arrived at our relative’s place in Peshawar. We had to leave our house in haste because the army had moved into Swat and other areas to wipe out Taliban. It had become risky to live there besides the sound of shelling and firing had become intolerable. Every time my young siblings and cousins would hear the blast they would start crying and would hide in their parents’ lap.
The first time I heard the whispers of the word – Taliban – from parents about two years ago who expressed deep concern about their growing influence. Taliban looked very different from the local people. They would wear bushy beards, black or khaki turbans, ankle length shalwaar and baggy shirts. They wouldn’t hesitate to brandish automatic weapons. Their faces with crude features would always wear a tense and frowned look as if they had never learnt to smile. One would always find them yelling, threatening and ready-to-kill.
Slowly and gradually they crept into our lives and started dictating their orders. Those defying would pay a huge price. Every week they would publish a list of wanted people and their crime was only that they had refused to follow them. They had infiltrated spies in every neighborhood who would keep an eye on people’s activities and speech; so many of our acquaintances had left their homes just because they were wanted by Taliban. They snatched girls’ right of education, bombed the schools, forbade barbers to shave beards, ordered women to wrap themselves up in burqa and be accompanied by a male member when they go out of their homes, cable channels and music were declared forbidden and evil.
Such restrictions were smothering; I was afraid of laughing out loud even. My baba brought me the Afghani style burqa when it became mandatory for women. I tried it on; it felt like a dark cage that made breathing arduous. I wondered that’s how life would seem from behind the bars. I started to cry and asked my father that I didn’t like putting it on. He felt equally helpless because he had never asked me to wear burqa; in fact, no one in my family had ever worn burqa. So when I cried and threw the burqa away, he said, “Do you want Taliban to beat you up and kill me?” I shuddered at the thought of killing. I silently folded the burqa and put it in the cupboard for it had become a permanent dress item. I never understood one thing that why I was bound to obey someone else’s command about the dress code.
When a group wants to establish its rule I think their foremost concern should be to win the hearts of the local people. But Taliban only knew to rule through terror. They terrorized and humiliated people by maiming and beating them up publically; they had zero tolerance for dissent. They believed they were right and no one could pin point their wrong policies or decisions. They instilled fear in the minds of people by beheading their victims. Decapitated bodies would often be found in the streets or could be seen hanging in the chowk. One day I saw a headless body clad in the light green clothes lying at the road side. The flies were buzzing all over and the body was giving away fetid odor. I can never forget that scene. I often see that headless body in my dreams.
After Taliban’s final ultimatum our schools were shut. Most of the school buildings were already dilapidated due to bombing. I had no clue what future had in stored for us. Insecurity and fear had marred our lives. Around that time, dominated by fear, I developed many psychological issues. I lost confidence; had become quiet; wouldn’t feel like laughing and had lost sleep and appetite too. I used to think that Taliban would come and slaughter us all with their big, silvery knives. Our yard would be littered with blood and bodies – headless bodies because they cut off the head. I don’t know what they do with heads later on. My otherwise fair complexion and rosy cheeks had turned pale. There seemed no escape from the booming sounds.
In May, when the situation got worse, my family decided to move to Peshawar. We were one of those lucky people who stayed at their relative’s place. Our generous hosts welcomed us smilingly. I had seen people living in the tents; the life over there was quite miserable and tough. We could have rented a place in Peshawar but the opportunists had raised the rents and were charging 5,000 Rs. for a single room. After a few days, we got ourselves registered for the aid. When we received ration the first time I felt both happy and sad. Happy that there were people who cared about us and sad because we used to have established businesses back home that were destroyed due to the ongoing conflict. In the matter of months we had become takers than givers. It was the dilemma of many families.
The government paid us twenty-five thousand Rs. and ration that included wheat flour, nutritious biscuits, pulses, sugar, cooking oil, blankets, utensils, tea etc. We were told that the government would provide ration to the affected people every month for the next two years. Getting ration was a cumbersome procedure. My father and uncles had to wait for hours in the queue. Some people remarked that officials who distribute ration want to discourage people otherwise they can open several booths to serve them better. Now that most families have returned to their homes they have to travel to Peshawar every month to get ration.
When we returned after almost a month everything looked so changed. The markets were destroyed by bombings. I was apprehensive that a group of men would emerge from some corner and kill us but the presence of army was reassuring. In the beginning, even the chirping birds would sound sorrowful but ever since the school started again I got over the gloomy feeling. It was nice seeing my friends and teachers. We talked about our anxieties and experiences. I still hear the gory news emerging from our troubled area. Taliban still seem to be active. The military imposes curfew in the evening and nightmares do haunt me but despite all that future looks promising because I have started school again and more importantly I have family beside me unlike many other girls of my age who lost their loved ones in that conflict.