How Those Displaced By Terrorism Are Coping In New Hometowns
Zareen Khan*, 50, born in Chaman district of Balochistan moved to metropolitan city of Karachi at the age of 16 in hopes of finding a job to support his poor family. He started working with one of his relatives who was running a hotel in the city. Zareen washed the utensils for the first few months, after which he was promoted as a waiter and eventually handed over the duties of cook.
“When in the village, I was not aware of the importance of education, but it made me upset to see my peers in Karachi going to school while I didn’t have the means to get an education”, he recalls.
Khan’s father passed away when he was a child, due to which he had to quit education.
Zareen Khan now owns two restaurants named “Quetta Hotel” in Islamabad, and lives in a rented house. His five children study at a local private school in the capital.
He further told Naya Daur that at the age of 36, when he was tired of working at different hotels, he decided to start his own Quetta Hotel in Karachi. Extortion and targeted killings were at their peak in the city at the time, he recalls.
He remembers how two men once came to the hotel and asked him to send 300 cups of tea to their new office for a gathering. “When I gave them the bill, they asked if I didn’t know who they were.” Khan ignored their question and asked them to pay the bill, following which they took out pistols and said, “We won’t waste more than two bullets on you.” He had to comply.
Khan says such orders at gunpoint were the norm. The metropolis was rife with unrest at the time, and militant wings of political parties operated with impunity.
He had to pay extortion money to save his life, as three of his colleagues were killed in broad daylight over refusal. “The murderers were never identified, because the police themselves feared them,” he says.
But security was not the only problem in Karachi. One of his hotels was demolished by the provincial government during its anti-encroachment drive. Disappointed by the dismal situation, Khan moved to Islamabad in 2014.
When asked how he adjusted in an expensive city like Islamabad, he says life here is expensive, “but at least there is peace”.
Recently, intelligence agencies and police noticed the mushroom growth of ‘Quetta Hotels’ in the capital and apparently felt threatened by it. That’s when unknown people started visiting these hotels on a daily basis to interrogate, resulting in harassment of the hotel owners.
“But the matter was resolved after we met Senator Usman Kakar and requested him to take notice of our problem,” Khan says.
Around 150 Quetta hotels are currently operating in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Zameer Khan is running two branches of these hotels in the city.
Gulab Mehsud*, born in North Waziristan, used to own a general store in Miranshah Bazar along with his brothers. They earned enough to support their family. But after the beginning of military operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014, Mehsud migrated to Rawalpindi.
“Our area had always been peaceful, and we kept our doors open, living up to our tradition of welcoming guests, but terrorism took away our livelihood and ruined everything”, he told Naya Daur.
Mehsud shared his story of losing his brother to terrorism. “He was a social activist and always raised his voice not only against Taliban, but also against the powers-that-be. He was also critical of the state’s policies.”
“My brother was mercilessly killed and we received his body on a winter evening”, Mehsud said, tears rolling down his cheeks. Mehsud’s other family members also received threats from unknown numbers. “They told us they would make us an example like our brother”, he says.
The family’s shop which was the sole source of income for them, was blown up by the Taliban. This is when they had no option but to leave their hometown. The family moved to Rawalpindi where Mehsud started a general store.
* Names are changed to protect the identity of thew interviewees.
The author is a reporter based in Islamabad.