Interfaith harmony: Waziristan’s lesser known tale

Published: September 5, 2012
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"The local political administration is a big hurdle in our progress", says Jehanzeb Masih. ILLUSTRATION: FAIZAAN DAWOOD

"The local political administration is a big hurdle in our progress", says Jehanzeb Masih. ILLUSTRATION: FAIZAAN DAWOOD

WANA: 

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.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • faraz
    Sep 5, 2012 - 5:32AM

    Awesome! Tribal culture respects minorities much more than urban areas of mainland Pakistan. Pushtoons were always used as cannon fodder, the real bigots live elsewhere

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  • Falcon
    Sep 5, 2012 - 6:56AM

    This is surprising to say the least. Does this lend credence to the idea that a key factor contributing to the violence in region is political rather than religious?

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  • John B
    Sep 5, 2012 - 7:23AM

    The story of humanity.

    “Christian community in Wana may be safer than the locals: Both the tribesmen and the Taliban are their guardians.” – sense of humor in the factual statement made me chuckle.

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  • Conspirator
    Sep 5, 2012 - 7:54AM

    Yes this is the real description of Pakistanis. We all used to enjoy life till homegrown incompetent politicians conceded ground to the military and to foreign powers.
    .
    We need to stop waiting for someone to solve these problems us and start solving them ourselves

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  • S.H
    Sep 5, 2012 - 8:00AM

    They are also safe in Malakand, Buner, Peshawar and Mardan and doing their businesses. It is basically the Pakhtoon custom that give them protection.
    It has nothing to do with Islam.

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  • Waziristani
    Sep 5, 2012 - 9:33AM

    We strongly condemn the role of Political Administration by refusing domiciles to the Christian community. I request the local community to put pressure on PA to provide them domiciles as soon as possible. They are equal citizens of Waziristan. At last I salute the reporter for raising such an important issue.

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  • SaneVoice
    Sep 5, 2012 - 9:50AM

    Interfaith harmony in Waziristan is a deceptive term when it is applied on negligible population of Christians belonging to a lower working class who has nothing to do with local power game. I would be definitely an admirer of interfaith harmony if there were Jew or Hindu Businessmen controlling the Waziristan Trade and the people of Waziristan were happily living with them..

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  • Rashid khan
    Sep 5, 2012 - 10:42AM

    Hi Sane voice,
    It is mentioned in the story, if u read with care that Christians are doing bussines and other activities, and they are free and no interruption from the tribes and taliban… this is something good and positive from the region known as the land of savage and cruel people.. Even u look at the first paragraph, the Hindus migrated from Wana, and even did payment for the property the left behind.. and we know that kind of treatment was given to Hindus and Sikhs during partition time in Punjab and Sindh…. this is something positive, ever heard from waziristan.Recommend

  • nawab
    Sep 5, 2012 - 10:46AM

    Pashtoons are peace loving people :)

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  • Sep 5, 2012 - 10:57AM

    Don’t you know that the Pashtoon Afghan culture is one of the most liberal and secular one, every faith is given the right of practices. How is Wanna discussed in media, how badly the people of Waziristan and complete FATA are disturbed? But see their religious harmony, their respect for people and their love of humanity.

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  • Antisecular
    Sep 5, 2012 - 6:14PM

    @SaneVoice: I can give you example of Tirah Valley Khyber Agency, most of the business controlled by Sikh minority. Unfortunately religious intolerance is at much higher ratio in rest of Pakistan in comparison to KPK or FATA.

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  • Ahmed
    Sep 5, 2012 - 6:31PM

    Communal harmony is intact in Wana because it was never ruled by Pakistani states and mullahs. Tribemans are more harmonious than mullahs.

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  • Waziristani
    Sep 5, 2012 - 6:42PM

    @Conspirator:
    This is historical description of Pashtun nation.

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  • asy-ma-wail
    Sep 5, 2012 - 6:59PM

    They have always been protected by pashtoons, be it the Hindus and the Christians of Waziristan, the Sikh and Hindus of Orakzai and Khyber agency or the non-Muslims in other remote areas of KPK, there is nothing new to this information, but of course, still a lot new for those low life bunch who’s only source of learning about a whole ethnicity and region are those “not-really-so-funny” jokes they keep hearing from their illiterate wannabe stand up comedians and reproduce them in a disastrous attempt of being funny. Recommend

  • irum shaphan
    Sep 5, 2012 - 11:04PM

    Good to know that Christians and Muslims are living peacefully…but the mind doesn’t accept that Taliban are THE GUARDIAN and they are protecting CHRISTIANS….

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  • RS
    Sep 5, 2012 - 11:09PM

    Songs of Pashtoon generosity, its marketing n sales has gone too far for too long. Question remain UN-answered Why, Christian n other minorities (who are living in these areas from thousands of years) still being denied local Domicile? Same situation n condition exists in Balochistan. Off course, both transfer blame to local government, when infact they are the local governments – please stop this hyprocratic memo jumbo .

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  • xor
    Sep 6, 2012 - 1:53AM

    The criminals n thugs join the ranks of Talibans, they have been getting support and easy money from different sources. They are using local population(youth n teenage) in the name of religion and Jihad. Thanks to this WOT. It is for their greater interest that this war should continue.

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  • The Mahsood
    Sep 6, 2012 - 6:54PM

    Tribal are the most peaceful and the patronage of tolerance. It is the most remarkable example of their tolerance. Here the law prevailed from a century; is the real cause of tribal defamation. We condemn it on every ground and it is not the time to live us under this Law. Tribal are the most loyal and law abiding people. Look the president of Christian community, did not complain against any local person but of the Political administration. They are getting suffering from Political administration; as the other tribal are/were being suffered. It is very hilarious but a tear-jerking situation, that why their domicile are not being issued. The thugs of Political administration really responsible for the embezzlement of their funds. Jahanzeb was imprisoned, so that to fill their repositories from the funds of these destitute. Oh God!!! give us salvation from this law, and bring all these thugs under true justice. Amin Suma Amin Recommend

  • khan sarwar
    Sep 7, 2012 - 12:32AM

    VERY GOOD but on the other hand waziristanis are branding with new names in media which is a baseless allegation ,wazir are a peace loving tribe and contributing a lot in peace and fraternity in the entire region.so we can do a lot to give encouragement and promote education in the region ,paying tribute to such journalist who r torching and highlighting such issue and depict the true pic of international politics and actual situation of any area

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  • Carol Anne Grayson
    Sep 7, 2012 - 10:50AM

    Its so good to read this story, the media so often forget to print the positive. I am looking forward to visiting Waziristan as part of Imran Khan’s peace march which will be inter faith, attended by international campaigners speaking out against the use of drones. We will march side by side in solidarity and refuse to become enemies because of corrupt governments that only fuel their own need and forget their responsibility to local communities… My personal experience of the people of Waziristan is kind, helpful and welcoming and I consider many to be my friends. I know I will receive a warm welcome and the same would be offered on my part to anyone visiting my home region in the UK… Muslims and Christians alike are having difficulties with local political administration and I hope that can be addressed…

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  • Aziz Khan
    Sep 7, 2012 - 11:28PM

    Waziristan is the frontline area on the war on terror, and it is interesting that Christians in this frontline area are safe and secure.. and doing their own bussiness. it means that the war on terror is not like as projected by the media, and image of the local tribal and taliban is not like as projected by media, this kind of inside stories reflecting the actual situations can show what is the real waziristan not the one that we see on Google.

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  • Sep 8, 2012 - 12:13AM

    Very nice read. Fata has all types of problems and stories like this one, give another side to the ongoing evolution of Pakistan. Other stories tell of Fata carring feuds over centuries, women, children denied education and the like, a very broad brush is used to paint a different picture. Seen the same in Iran with very old Jewish settlements. The big difference, Iran does not hide suicide bomber plotters, drug smugglers. I pray the real Waziristan story emerges and the area gains many tourists.

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  • hamid Wazir
    Sep 8, 2012 - 10:25PM

    Minorities have been living in South Waziristan for centuries sans any fear. There is no single example that ever they have been subject to suppression or forced to convert their religion. They are enjoying complete religious freedom in the area which was wrongly and falsely portrayed as hub and safe heaven of fanatics and extremists.

    As the issue of political administration is concern, all the inhabitants of the agency irrespective of their religious affiliation are subject to PA exploitation therefore, in this regard the local waziris could not be blamed for the issue of domicile.

    It would be great injustice not to give credit to the reporter as his fantastic work might prove an eye opener for those who are considering FATA people extremists. The dwellers of FATA are the most loving people on the planet just dont hurt their self-respect, as they give respect and want to be respected……….

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  • sheryar
    Sep 8, 2012 - 11:27PM

    exilent zulfeqar ali……. apreciate this report that shwo,s,,,,, waziristani are the peopl whome respect for thr humans,,, and they never act like the mol v does with seven year old mainorety gilre….and its also show our great curage….

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  • Arif Khalil
    Sep 8, 2012 - 11:37PM

    @Rashid khan: The history proves these indigenous people were the custodian of peace… it’s only after a 20 year study by the US of this area and this 30 years war of the ambitious but weak army which has transitioned this area into dirty businesses.

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