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Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 15:57 UK

Displaced by Pakistan's 'war on terror'

By Chris Morris
BBC News, North West Frontier Province

Nowshera camp
People complain they have lost everything

In a school compound on the outskirts of the town of Nowshera, more than 1,000 people are getting used to a new life.

Living in tents under a sweltering sun, these are the frontline victims of the war on terror.

"It's so hot here," said one young man. "We come from the mountains and we're not used to it."

They have fled from a huge Pakistani military operation against Islamist militants in the Bajaur tribal area near the border with Afghanistan.

As many as 300,000 people have fled from their homes in a matter of weeks.

We've had hostility with India for 60 years and they've never bombed us. Now our own government is bombing us with F16s and helicopters. Where does this cruelty and injustice come from?
Niaz Mohammad

Some are staying with friends and family in safer areas, but many are relying on temporary camps and assistance from NGOs and the government.

It is a huge challenge.

Water and cooking utensils are being handed out, and tents are sprayed to give some protection against malaria.

An appeal has been made for millions of dollars in aid to help provide food and shelter for people who arrived here with almost nothing.

Anger

Understandably, they are bewildered and angry.

"We've lost our cattle, all our possessions, all our crops - we've lost everything," complained Niaz Mohammad.

Stop the bombing, stop trying to please America
Abdur Rehman

"We've had hostility with India for 60 years and they've never bombed us. Now our own government is bombing us with F16s and helicopters. Where does this cruelty and injustice come from?"

"[President Pervez] Musharraf is finished, and this is supposed to be the people's government," said Dost Mohammad. "So why hasn't the war come to an end?"

One of the reasons is that as the Pakistani Taleban's sphere of influence has expanded, the border region has become a sanctuary for groups linked to al-Qaeda.

Foreign fighters

The authorities in the North West Frontier Province said that if a military operation had not been launched this month in Bajaur, the area would have been over-run by "Arab, Chechen and Uzbek militants".

It is the influence of foreign fighters and al-Qaeda that really worries people.

Bajaur has always been one of the places suggested as a possible hiding place for Osama Bin Laden.

I've never seen any militants or any government officials dying. It's people like us - the ordinary man - he's the one who's dying
Sami Khan

And as a result, many people who have fled from Bajaur feel trapped.

There is little support expressed in the camp for the local Taleban or for their foreign allies.

Sami Khan studied in England for four years before returning home.

Now he has been forced to flee in a hurry.

"It's a fight between militants and the government," he said.

"But the thing is I've never seen any militants or any government officials dying. It's people like us - the ordinary man - he's the one who's dying."

Niaz Mohammad
Niaz Mohammad wants to know why they have been forced out

And no-one knows quite when it will be safe for them to go back to their villages.

The school in Nowshera is due to reopen soon, so the displaced may have to move on again.

The instability in the tribal areas is spreading into the rest of the country in more dangerous ways as well.

The Taleban has said the double suicide bombing last week, killing more than 60 people outside Pakistan's main arms factory, was in direct retaliation for the military offensive in Bajaur.

So among the newly displaced in the school field, there is a simple suggestion.

"Stop the bombing, stop trying to please America," said Abdur Rehman. "The money that Pakistan gets for this will come and go, but the people won't forgive them. If the people's hearts are broken, they won't forget."

Among these tents, and in this heat, it will be an uphill battle for the government to persuade its citizens that the war against extremism is their war, too.


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