By: Ashraf Javed
CHAGMALAI, SOUTH WAZIRISTAN – No less than 650-km away from Lahore, the capital of the largest Punjab province where girls wearing jeans are seen strolling around shopping malls, the young woman are chained in caves in South Waziristan.
They are chained by the century-old tribal customs, not by the religion, in this male-dominated society. They are born in caves, give birth to children in caves, and ultimately die in caves. Not enough, they are buried in caves.
Two years ago, Aeman, 2, was introduced to her stepfather Hassan Gull months after the death of her father, Subhan Gull, who was killed while fighting against Pakistan Army here in Chagmalai, a village located a few kilometres away from Jandola in South Waziristan.
The elders handed over Aeman and her mother to Hassan Gull, who was willing to contract marriage with the widow. He is a truck driver and still a stranger for Aeman. ‘When kids play in the streets Aemen does not. She never smiles’, Waheedullah, 18, a resident of the same village said told this reporter during a visit to the small village situated in the rugged mountains.
‘She is four-year-old now and after another five years, she would be put behind the caves till her death’, the boy said. As per local customs, young girls are not allowed to move outside.
‘They have to stay inside caves along with other women of the family’, says Waheedullah.
According to him, digging a cave in each house, build with mud and stones, is mandatory where the women spend most part of their lives.
‘This (cave) is like a drawing room or a bedroom in the civilised world’, Syed Muhammad, a local schoolteacher said.
‘The girls cannot even think of going outside their house. What to say about the school’, he added. Unlike other kids, Aemen is standing near a newly-built market with dozens of shops on the edge of her village. Life has changed for the elders and the boys since Pakistan Army launched the operation (Rah-e-Nijat) in 2009, which left no less than 40,500 people including military personnel dead across the country. The Army has successfully flushed out the militants and taken over the mountains. But everything is same for the women and the girls. They are still locked in the caves by the men under tribal customs and even Pakistan’s powerful army is helpless and unable to press the local for change in the century-old traditions due to one or another reason.
‘We don’t interfere in their cultural or traditional affairs’, a senior military officer serving in the war-torn region told this reporter. ‘They have strong culture and they blindly follow their customs’, he said.
The Pakistan Army has recently established state-of-the-art schools for girls and skill development centers for women but no one is interested to enrol.
During visit to various villages including Sararoga, Spinkai, Murgha Bund, Kotkai, Karangai, and a few others not a single girl was seen attending school or woman on the streets.
The political or government agents are called here Maliks. In the past, the schools here were approved on the proposal of the Malik and each Malik was interested in two things.
‘He (Malik) used to appoint a teacher from his own family, no matter educated or illiterate. He also used to keep the job of the watchman with him in order get monthly salary’, another military officer said.
The locals said that neither the Malik nor the teacher ever visited the schools since decades.
When Taliban took over the rugged mountains, they not only destroyed the schools but also killed all the Malik because they were government agents.
‘Now, no Malik exist here’, a military officer said, requesting his name not be quoted.
A couple of weeks ago, Pakistan Army arranged a special visit of the school boys and took at least 100 boys to Lahore on picnic tour. ‘They were surprised to see the world, the food outlets, the shopping malls and the roads’, another army officer who was part of the picnic tour said.
They were asking innocent questions about the usage of TV, cassettes, camera, and microwave-oven. They are happy since they had seen the world out of caves. They are now urging the military officers for another trip to a big City.
Two forces are working in Waziristan, an Army officer said, adding, one (Taliban) are here to destroy while the other (Army) is building the destroyed.
Virtually, girls are born to be imprisoned till death in this insurgency-infested and poverty-hit part of the globe. Since no law and Constitution exists in this so-called society, men decide the fate of the women. Apart from at least 100 widows, the girls like Aeman, are still ignorant and living in caves. The powerful Army is helpless before the age-old culture.
No matter who rules, Taliban or Pakistan Army, the girls are born to die in caves.