PESHAWAR: Growing concerns about their children’s future as the influence of the Taliban spread across Bajaur Agency had begun a trend of sending the girls from the tribal agency to Karachi.
The recent incident that has shaken many a conscience of the minor girls from Bajaur found in Karachi is linked to this. Investigators have begun to question suspects involved in what is now being taken up as possibly a case of “human trafficking”, said officials.
The discovery of 26 girls (whose numbers might be more than what was originally believed) has raised serious questions. The families of some of the girls were identified but they said they were unaware of the developments that had led to the current situation.
“I am clueless as to what happened. I sent my daughter to Karachi because education was free,” said Tulla Khan from the Pashat area of Salarzai tehsil, Bajaur, talking to The Express Tribune via phone. Khan said he did not know the complete details of the stay of her nine-year-old daughter, who was studying at a madrassa for two years and eight months. “These were not the first girls that were sent,” he said. “We only sent our daughters after many other girls from poor families were also sent to be enrolled in these madrassas.” He said his nephews who lived in Sohrab Goth visited his daughter regularly and brought her home on holidays.
Mir Zaman Khan, father of another girl who had been studying at the madrassa, said that his daughter was part of a group that left for Karachi to study at a seminary 11 months ago. “Since then, I have had little contact with her,” he said, adding that “it’s a trend around here to send the girls to study in Karachi.” Mir also said that he was awaiting confirmation from the political administration of the agency who had contacted him about his daughter, but said he knew little as to what had happened to her.
Tribal maliks from the area told The Express Tribune that the trend to send girls to Karachi had developed in 2008 when the militants started to exercise considerable influence in the area. “The elite send their children abroad, but the poor had no other choice but to enrol them in seminaries that offered free education,” one of the elders said. “While we intervened initially, we could not stop them because they thought we were impeding religious education,” he said, explaining that the consequences of such an allegation could’ve been deadly at the time.
Investigators have taken three people into custody, one of them identified as Qari Saifullah, the nephew of the woman who took the children to Karachi. “The details of what actually happened remain murky,” a senior administration official told The Express Tribune. “It seems that the girls might have been sold to Qari Ayub in Karachi,” he said, and there is evidence that a large number of girls from previous years who went to study in Karachi had returned.
While the issue has gained political importance, the governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has sent the assistant political agent from Bajaur to Karachi to identify the girls and bring them back. The Additional Chief Secretary of Fata, Azam Khan, has issued orders to release funds on immediate basis to get the girls on a chartered plane which will land at Peshawar airport, the Fata Secretariat said. However, the investigation is still ongoing and the time frame for the return of the girls cannot be specified, said officials.
The MNA from Bajaur, Shahbuddin Khan whose village the girls belong to, told The Express Tribune from Karachi that he had requested the Sindh government to let him meet the girls since he had landed in Karachi late last night after he had heard of the incident “but I was not allowed to meet them,” he said. “The facts could be contrary to what is being said,” he said, adding that despite being requested twice by the governor of K-P, he had not been allowed to meet the girls. “These are our daughters!” he said. “I had come to take them back home but it seems the issue is now of political point-scoring rather than a humanitarian concern.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2014.