In the public imagination, South Waziristan is at the heart of a battle against Taliban militants. But Wana, the largest town in the tribal agency, has another, lesser-known story to tell.
Manga Masih, a 99-year-old Christian resident of Wana recalls pre-partition times when, “apart from Christians, there were Hindu and Sikh families in Wana. The Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India during partition, but it was of their own free will. A jirga of the local Ahmadzai tribe had requested them to stay, and assured them of protection of their life, honour and property.” While both communities chose to decline the invitation, many Christians decided to remain in the place they called home.
“Khan Chand, a Hindu hakim, had a treatment centre at the Kari Kot village in Wana and was highly respected by the locals. Although the Hindus and Sikhs migrated, Khan Chand and many others maintained contact with their friends back home via letters. God bless them, all these people must be dead now,” Manga says nostalgically. The-99-year-old resident was born in 1913 in Sail Kot, Punjab and came to Wana in 1935. He now lives in Wana Scouts Camp with the rest of his family.
Malik Sardar Khan, another elderly resident, points out that when the Hindus and Sikhs migrated, local tribesmen paid them for the land they left behind.
According to statistics collected by Al-Khidmath Christian Welfare Society Wana, there are 1,200 Christians living in Wana – most of them live either in the Scouts camp or in the tehsil building. While many do low-end janitorial jobs, others have now set up small businesses in Wana Bazaar.
Contrary to what one might think, the minority community feels completely safe in their homes. Jawad Masih, a tailor in the bazaar says, “There is no interference from the local Taliban in my business.” He adds that over the years, he has trained many young men of the Ahmadzai tribe in tailoring. Jawad says, “I often go on the invitation of my pupils to their homes and we participate in each other’s religious rituals.”
Danish Masih, 17, is a medical student at the Wana Government Degree College. Praising his fellow students, Danish says, “The other tribal students sometime fight with each other, but since my school days, no one has ever fought with me … There is no hatred on the basis of religion.”
The flip side
President of the Al-Khidmath Christian Welfare Society Wana Jehanzeb Masih told The Express Tribune: “The local Taliban take our complaints seriously and address them but the local political administration is a big hurdle in our progress. Political Administration officials are denying us our basic civil and political rights. Christian boys and girls cannot get education after Matriculation because a domicile is required for admission. We appealed time and again, but the local political administration won’t give us domiciles.”
Jehanzeb added that Danish was admitted to the Wana Government Degree College on the condition that he eventually provides the college with a domicile, since he cannot appear in board exams without it. The college principal admitted him on goodwill alone. “I myself was put in jail by the political administration,” he adds. Jehanzeb explains he was imprisoned after demanding funds that the Political Administration received specifically for the Christian community but which they never distributed.
He adds that while the Christian community voted for a Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) candidate in the 2008 elections, their concerns about domiciles were never addressed. Jehanzeb also made an appeal to the late minority affairs minister, Shahbaz Bhatti.
The assistant political agent of Wana, Shoaib Khan, told The Express Tribune that the domicile issue is under consideration, but did not explain why the domiciles were being denied in the first place.
Interestingly, the spokesperson of the Mullah Nazir Taliban Group, Lala Wazir, told The Express Tribune: “Christians have been living in Wana for centuries. They are the people of this land and free in their religious activities, but the domicile issue is between them and the government.”
Regardless of the administration’s discrimination, it appears that the Christian community in Wana may be safer than the locals: Both the tribesmen and the Taliban are their guardians.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2012.