EVEN the rainfall the night before could not dampen the spirits of voters in Wacha Khwara: a small village in South Waziristan’s Sararogha tehsil. It was July 20, 2019, the day of the first provincial election since the historic merger of the tribal districts with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A public holiday had been declared, and twelve-year-old Faiqa was eager to spend it with friends. Like thousands of tribespeople from the Mehsud Belt, her family had migrated to Dera Ismail Khan before Operation Rah-i-Nijat was launched a decade ago. But summers in the city were unbearable, and as electricity bills soared with the rising temperatures, the families would return to their ancestral villages during the school holidays.
On that day, Faiqa’s father dropped her off at an aunt’s house, a half-hour drive from the polling station, built on top of a barren mountain. But something ominous lay beneath surface that afternoon, out-of-place with its surroundings. As soon as she stepped outside to join her friends playing in the distance, she fell prey to a landmine: buried under the ground, the colour of wet earth.\
Landmines, IEDs and other unexploded ordnances pose a threat to the people of the tribal districts — particularly children
The sound of the explosion reverberated through the valley — but Faiqa could not hear it. She briefly lost consciousness, disappearing in a haze of smoke and dust. Several members of her extended family rushed to help. They placed her on a charpai and carried her down from the mountain to the road below. “That road is desolate, especially in the afternoon; but because of the election, there were a few vehicles passing by that stopped to help,” Faiqa’s mother recalled.
They hastily drove her to a government hospital in Dera Ismail Khan. Once there, she was administered a painkiller and her leg was bandaged to stop the bleeding: her calf bone had shattered, with only flesh dangling from where her leg once was. Military officials soon swept in and shifted her to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in DIK. That evening, Faiqa’s right leg was amputated just below the knee.
“We can’t leave our home.”
THREE months later, Faiqa’s mother helped her sit on the edge of the bed and quietly placed her crutches beside her inside their home in Dera Ismail Khan. The child smiled self-consciously.
Her words remained terse, until she was cajoled to speak by her sisters, who whispered the questions into her ear. Later her grandmother shuffled into the room and placed a dupatta over my head: “It’s Jummah,” she muttered under her breath.
She mentioned that Faiqa frequently burst into tears because she felt “different, excluded from the other children.” She used to help her mother with the housework, but now required assistance even with simple tasks: putting on her clothes, or washing herself. Once her wound heals, her family will get a prosthetic leg made for her in Peshawar, so she can become self-reliant again.
“We heard about similar cases in other parts of Waziristan, but this was the first incident of its kind in our village,” Faiqa’s mother said. “One month after, two other boys were wounded by landmines: one lost his eye, the other his right hand. They were even younger than my daughter.”
Despite the risk, the family hoped to return to their village. “We can’t leave our home,” the grandmother sighed. “That’s our land, our water.”
Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2020