From the ashes of Osh


June 18, 2010

MARDAN: The village of Manga, on the outskirts of Mardan, was as placid as one can imagine in the scorching heat. Locals were more concerned with staying cool, completely unaware of the ethnic massacre underway in Kyrgyzstan.

On the 12th of June, Khizer Hayat was awoken from his siesta by the ring of his cell phone; it was a call from his brother, Imtiaz Hayat, who had left for the Kyrgyz Republic way back in 2005.

Khizer couldn’t fit a word in before Imtiaz exclaimed: “All hell has broken loose, my life is in danger...”

Some 269 Pakistanis were stranded in Kyrgyzstan – among them, more than twenty were from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa; almost all of them students, who had travelled there to complete their medical education.

Imtiaz was one such student, who hoped one day to become a doctor. Mursaleen, his maternal uncle says his mother has not eaten since she found out the state of affairs in the country her son was in. “She faints anytime someone utters his name, although we managed to contact Imtiaz, and we know he is well – but for how long we do not know? Such was the state of affairs before news finally came in that Imtiaz had boarded the plane to return back to Pakistan.

“We are waiting at the airport for his arrival” said Khizer Hayat. His voice was lost in the din of voices in the background, all inquiring if it was Imtiaz.

Asif Sohrab, 27, one of the eyewitnesses from Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, which, by now, has been almost entirely gutted in the riots, recounts his last days there. “Foreigners were no longer treated as human beings. No matter which country you came from, if they got hold of you, they killed you.” Asif was one of those who managed to get on the first plane landing at Islamabad after tremendous pressure was put on the government to do something for its stranded citizens.

Asif explains how he has been unable to sleep for the last several days. “We were instructed not to drink water from the taps as there was a fear it might be poisoned. We had literally starved for four days – with explosions, with mobs wanting to break into our hostel.”

The fear in his eyes was palpable as they widened anxiously while recollecting the trauma.

When asked if he would like to go back to his studies if the situation normalises, he shakes his head and the answer is a blunt, “no”.

“I will not be able to get over it; what I saw will always be an impediment to my ambitions to study abroad.”

The government was put under tremendous pressure by the media and the general public to bring back the people stuck perilously between life and death in Kyrgyzstan. Almost all the students who were spoken to, said the same thing. When they got no response from the Pakistan embassy, they decided to contact the media in Pakistan.

Haji Ghaffar, 63, asked one of the cameramen from a news channel if everything was under control now, and the cameraman replied in the affirmative. “Everything is fine, people have returned safely from abroad.”

The old man nodded his head and muttered, “Thank God... there is some good news at last.”

Published in the Express Tribune, June 18th, 2010.

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