Army curfew forces hunger and illness in NE Pakistan

Residents struggling with hunger after relentless curfew in North Waziristan in NE Pakistan

Army curfew forces hunger and illness in NE Pakistan

World Bulletin/News Desk

In Pakistan's northeastern North Waziristan region, it is not unusual for the local residents to have to bear the brunt of conflict between Taliban fighters and Pakistan's security forces. Now, with violent infighting between two Taliban factions and operations being carried out by security forces, eight days of a crippling curfew has forced them into desperation. 

A brief three-hour respite on Tuesday was the only break in an "indefinite" curfew that was enforced following an attack on a military convoy that killed nine troops last week. Residents are struggling with hunger and an acute shortage of medicine and other essential commodities. 

“Believe it or not, there is nothing left in my home to eat,” Gul Behram tells Anadolu Agency. 

Behram, a farmer, lives in Ghulam Khan. The town, which sits on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, was the site of the military convoy attack and has been the worst-affected by the curfew. 

“Everyone is talking about attacks on the army but no one bothers about the situation we are facing,” says Behram. “Our women, and children are dying for food but the government and the media are completely ignoring us.”

North Waziristan's current curfew is the longest in the semi-autonomous tribal region's recent past, and comes after 6-day curfew was imposed following a suicide attack killed 20 troops in the nearby Bannu district in January. 

Some are claiming that local Pakistani media are not highlighting the effects of the curfew because of the army's involvement in a dispute with Geo TV, one of the country's largest television channels, whose journalist Hamid Mir was shot in April. Mir and Geo TV accused the country's top intelligence agency, the ISI, of involvement and have since been accused of "tarnishing" the image of the army and the ISI.

More than half of North Waziristan's 700,000 population live in mountainous villages and it would be almost impossible for them to reach major towns to buy food, and return to their homes within two hours.

Hundreds of North Waziristan residents have been stuck in Bannu since the curfew began and held a protest against its imposition on Wednesday. Goods from Bannu have been completely blocked, leaving North Waziristan's major towns with a paucity of supplies. Traders complain that trucks and wagons loaded with food and other perishable items had been parked along the Bannu-Miramshah road for eight days, causing them millions of rupees of losses.

“We have been compelled to eat rotten bread with salt and pepper mixed in water as there is nothing else to eat at home,” says Malik Jalaluddin, who lives in a village 10 kilometers from North Waziristan's main administrative town Miramshah.

“I know various aging people, and patients in the vicinity require immediate medical treatment but they could not go out,” Jalaluddin says. “Are we being penalized because we could not stop attacks on the army?”

Though desperate for food, especially for his children, Jalaluddin is not prepared to violate the curfew. The security forces shot and critically injured a man who left his home near Miramshah on Monday. 

Local journalist Haji Pazir Gul journalist confirmed that a large number of people living in far-flung villages have been the worst hit. The residents of those villages, who must trek for five to six hours along mountaineer routes to reach major towns, gain little benefit from such short breaks in the curfew. 

The lingering restriction has not merely caused a food shortage, it has also caused a drastic price-hike. “Those who still have some stock are selling food-related items at 200 to 300 per cent higher prices,” Gul says. “Flour is the most-demanded item nowadays here, which is available at double the price and in very few places.”

Haji said a tribal council, known as a jirga, was negotiating a resolution to the crisis with security forces officials.

A group Shura-e-Mujahiddin North Waziristan, a Taliban faction that has held a peace agreement with security forces since 2007, has condemned the attack on security forces and demanded the lifting of the curfew.

“Shura-e-Mujahiddin strongly condemns attacks on security forces,” the group said in a statement. They added that the curfew is compounding the miseries of North Waziristan residents.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Mayıs 2014, 17:39