Psychological impact

Return of the natives

Psychological and physical impacts of the operation and displacement

By Tahir Ali

(The News on 27-09-09)

Despite experts and locals talking about the traumatic experiences the people of Malakand Division in general and Swat in particular have gone through, one finds very little government attention being paid to this aspect of the IDPs.

Reportedly, over 2.3 million people in the region had to bear hardships of different kinds when they were forced to flee. They had to live in miserable conditions in makeshift camps or congested buildings with their hosts. And, sadly, their misery didn’t end even as they returned to their homes. The women and children were coming back, having assimilated the horrors of displacement on the one hand and the devastating battle between the military and the militants on the other. For months, the young had been fed on images of blood and gore, throats being slit, bodies being hanged, and so on. They had witnessed the Green Square, in Mingora, now rechristened ‘Bloody Square’.

The educated and professional lot — lawyers, journalists, teachers, people related to industry, police officials, political party activists etc — also took a beating.

According to reports, around 200 girl schools in the region have already been destroyed by the militants which means thousands of female students will be without education now. A teacher at a high school that was blown up by Taliban, remembers the horrors of the night: “The Taliban attackers broke into our school, shouting slogans of ‘Allah O’ Akbar’. They blindfolded us, tied our hands behind us and picked up all sorts of expensive goods while detonating a bomb in the building.

“Luckily, they spared us on the condition that we’d never come back to the place.”

The teacher laments the fact that the careers of thousands of youngsters had been destroyed.

Doctor Mohammad Farooq Khan, a well known psychiatrist from Swat, says the people in the affected areas have returned but not without some mental conditions — “chiefly depression and psychosis.”

He tells TNS, “The conditions are likely to aggravate because these people have been under continued stress and without proper medication.”

Dr Farooq also speaks of having met cases of acute anxiety disorders. “People have been passing out on the street. The women, especially, complain of getting panic attacks. Insomnia (sleeplessness), nightmares, hopelessness and a strong sense of helplessness are the order of the day.”

Dr Farooq says he identified 10 to 20 percent of people in relief camps as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “The patients of PTSD are haunted by unpleasant and painful memories that badly influence their sleep, mood and behaviour.”

Common psychological aberrations such as anger, peevishness, fighting over petty issues, urge for vengeance and conspiracies and highly suspecting nature are some of the other ailments that have been increasingly found among these people.

Dr Farooq suggests comprehensive treatment and psychological counselling for the purpose of which “the number of psychologists should be increased five times in Swat. The schools should have in-house psychiatrists.”

Ex federal minister and ANP leader Afzal Khan Lala tells TNS that the people of the region have been transported back by half a century in the march for progress. “Our children have received big psychological shocks. Their future is at stake. We need preferential support from the government and the world outside. We are entitled to special quota in jobs and development funds on long-term basis. Unless the area and its people get the required funding and support, they can’t compete with the rest of the country.”

It may be mentioned here that Lala himself sustained injuries in an incident when the insurgents pursued and killed the brothers of Ayub Ashari and Wajid Ali Khan, provincial ministers of ANP.

NWFP Minister for Forest and Environment, Wajid Ali Khan says ANP was on the hit-list of the insurgents. “Over 150 (ANP) activists and office-bearers were murdered in Swat. These are indeed testing times for us and the people of Swat.”

Wajid says a comprehensive plan worth $2 billions has been prepared for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the area. “Education will be given priority, vocational institutions will be opened, jobs will be provided; losses to businesses, agriculture and properties will be compensated. The world should support us in our reconstruction efforts.”

Mumtazuddin, former administrator of an IDP camp in Mardan, says, “In our camp, there were cases of acute anxiety, depression, loss of sleep and other psychoses. Though they were treated, the nature of these ailments is such that they could recur any time in the future. Therefore, these patients need to be on medication for a longer time.

Sirajul Haq, former finance minister NWFP, says the province was pushed to war-like situation but was not sufficiently funded for the losses. “NWFP has incurred an estimated loss of Rs 25 trillions while agriculture in Malakand lost Rs 72 billions. The situation warrants that the province should be declared a war-affected zone.”

“Unfortunately, the trauma continues as no compensation has been provided to the people as yet. Despite emergency relief, work on recovery and rehabilitation has been slow,” says Aftab Alam, advocate and President, District Bar Association Swat.

He adds that the resilient legal fraternity — both judges and lawyers — decided to revamp the legal system in Malakand in the wake of the hazards for the future of the country. “But our problems have not been addressed. There are cracks in our office buildings. The judges face housing problems. We asked the government for help and, in February this year, a sum of Rs 3.5million was sanctioned for repair work in district courts. That, however, is yet to be released.”

The journalist community has also suffered. A Swat-based journalist tells TNS that the breaking news phenomenon had aggravated their woes. Several journalists have been killed while covering rallies and programmes in the region. “The media organisations want the latest news at any cost. The security forces have their own demands while the militants are also unhappy with us. We are virtually caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

A government official says that around 83 percent of the total 1,800 Swat police officials quit when Taliban unleashed a reign of terror against them. “The situation now looks encouraging as the old guard has rejoined while new inductions are being made.”

People related to the entertainment industry had to wind up their projects after 2007. CD shops and music centres were shut down and female dancers in Mingora were forced to leave the place.

According to the journalist, 25 percent of the entertainment industry people have returned to Swat. “Most of the poor people have returned. But unless the MPAs, MNAs and the influential people from the area return to the area, the public morale is likely to remain low.”

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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