Saturday, November 7, 2009

Meena Bazaar tragedy

Seven children orphaned

Arshad Yusufzai

PESHAWAR: Among the dozen people, who went missing and are presumed dead after the devastating bombing of Meena Bazaar, is a couple that left behind seven children to mourn their death.

As their bodies are yet to be found, some of the innocent orphaned children think their parents are still alive and will return home with new clothes and toys for them.

Firdaus Khan, 35, a vendor from Hazarkhwani village in the suburbs of Peshawar, along his wife, Ishrat Bibi, was passing through Meena Bazaar when the deadly blast ripped through the market, killing both of them along with 118 others.

What might have happened to the couple could easily be gauged from the fact that only their shoes and the identity card of Firdaus Khan were recovered from the spot.

The slain couple is survived by seven children. They are, 12-year old Nusrat, Abbas, 10, Waqas, 9, Sana, 7, Jawad, 5, Sapna, 2, and eight-month-old suckling baby, Fawad. The infant is now under the care of his aunt in Pishtakhara village.

“Only Nusrat and Abbas know their parents are no more in this world,” Mushtaq, brother of Firdaus Khan, told The News while narrating the ordeal of the aggrieved family.

“I and another brother of mine asked Firdaus to accompany us to meet a relative. He couldn’t go with us as he had to take his wife to a doctor,” he recalled.

Asked how he was doing at his school, young Abbas said: “All my teachers, friends and other students came to me and asked about my parents. They then raised hands to pray for eternal peace of my parents’ souls.”

Little Jawad, who was still unaware of his parents’ tragic death in the terror act, said his father and mother would come home after buying new clothes and toys for them from Peshawar.

Malik Wazir Khan, a relative of the tragedy-struck family recalled the incident and said Firdaus Khan had taken his wife for treatment at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.

“After seeing the doctor, they were passing through the busy Meena Bazaar when the explosion took place. Shopkeepers in the area belonging to our village had seen the couple walking towards the blast site minutes before the incident,” he said.

However, it was late in the evening that the family came to know about the fate of the couple when they found Firdaus Khan’s identity card and shoes from the blast’s site, he said.

The family’s house is now locked as after the sudden death of the parents, the hapless children have been shifted to the house of one of their uncles located nearby.

Mushtaq, uncle of the minor children, said his niece Nusrat was only 12 and in grief after losing her parents but she was brave enough to take care of her brothers and sisters. “She is discharging all the responsibilities that her mother performed in her life,” he added.

A group photo of six children of Firdaus Khan while seventh is eight-month-old baby currently with an aunt in native village- Photo By Arshad Yusufzai

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Afghan patients facing trouble

Arshad Yusufzai
PESHAWAR: The Afghan nationals arriving in the metropolis for medical treatment are facing hardships during their stay because treatment in Kabul is beyond their means.

During a visit to two private health facilities at Hayatabad town, it was learnt that Afghan patients and their attendants who travelled long distances from their homeland were harassed and fleeced by the law-enforcement agencies.

As they cross the Pak-Afghan border at Torkham, they are teased at the checkpoints in Khyber Agency and then onwards in the city where time and again they are searched and money is allegedly extorted from them.

Despite having proper travel documents, most of them complained that they were harassed and asked to pay bribe at various checkpoints.

Talking to The News, Javed, a resident of Laghman, Afghanistan, said, “We cannot go outside the hospital premises as we fear arrest on charges of staying illegally if we refuse to grease their palms.”

Javed arrived in Peshawar with his ailing father and nephew last Wednesday and alleged that they hired a taxi from Afghanistan to Peshawar which was stopped by a police rider squad near Karkhano Market. “One policeman got into the car and asked us to drive into a narrow street while another policeman followed us on his bike” He alleged.

The Afghan national said one policeman pushed him against the wall and threatened him to keep silent or else they would put us into a jail. “He permitted us to go only after we paid him Rs600.” Javed claimed.

Mullakhel, belonging to Maidan city, who takes care of his sick cousin, said he was sleeping in the mosque of the general hospital as staying in a hotel was not free of risk.

“We paid Rs1,000 at the Principal Phatak checkpost to a grey bearded policeman though we possessed travelling documents” he said.

These travellers rely on money sent by families back home to pay hospital fees and other expenses in Pakistan.

The money is usually sent through Hundi and the attendants collect it from the dealers at Chowk Yadgar or Karkhano Market. “At the checkpoints, the security men often demand money for our safe passage and threaten us with jail in case we refuse to pay”, an elderly Afghan national said while requesting anonymity.

Sources said the police at the Principal Phatak Checkpost, just a few hundred metres away from the private hospitals, took Rs10,000 from one Abdul Hafeez, an Afghan, which was sent by his family members in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.

The staff member, requesting anonymity, revealed that the story about Abdul Hafeez’s family was just a tip of the iceberg as recently a number of people experienced the same situations.

When contacted sub-inspector Gul Arif denied involvement of his force in the practice and added, “We have been directed by the higher authorities to keep a check on suspected persons and vehicles and that’s exactly what we are doing here”. “I am on special duty here and I haven’t seen any of my men taking bribes” Gul Arif insisted.

Another member of the force, sub-inspector Zaitullah said the Afghan people were normally asked to prove their identity and those without any credentials were arrested, yet patients and their attendants were shown leniency. He denied the allegations of bribe-saying “We don’t have any grey bearded policeman at this checkpost”.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Families looking for help after loss of sole breadwinners

Syed Inayat Ali Shah
PESHAWAR: Families that lost their lone breadwinners in the Meena Bazaar car-bombing are passing through hard times and are looking to the government and philanthropists for support.
One such family comprises an elderly mother, widow and three daughters of the 35-year-old Said Muhammad who died in the terror attack last Wednesday.
Said Muhammad, who used to run a tea-stall near the blast site, was killed on the spot in the explosion.
Sharing her grief, Said Muhammad’s mother Iqbala said her three sons and nephew were present in their tea stall when the car bomb went off.
In a choking voice, she said her Speen, the nickname of her son Said Muhammad that she gave him as a child due to his fair complexion, was killed there and then while her two other sons --Bakht Lal and Umar Lal and their cousin Jan Muhammad sustained injuries.
The grieving woman added that she was worried about the future of her three granddaughters as they had no brother while the family’s lone breadwinner was gone.
“I lost not only my dear son but our four families living in a joint household were deprived of our only source of our income due to the destruction of the tea-stall.”
Three generations of the family had been running the tea-stall and earning livelihood from its earnings.
Bakht Lal, the wounded brother of the deceased Said Muhammad recalled that 85 years ago their penniless grandfather left his native Mohmand Agency and came to Peshawar in search of livelihood. “We were told he just had a home-made rope on his shoulder when he left for Peshawar in the hope of a better life. His hard work paid off as he finally came to own this tea-stall. He also managed to buy this house of ours in Mohalla Shah Masoom,” he explained.
According to Bakht Lal, their family had suffered heavy losses following the destruction of their two-storey teahouse in the Meena Bazaar blast.
Khurma, the sister of Said Muhammad, said being poor and living in the constituency of PPP provincial chief and health minister Syed Zahir Ali Shah they should be enrolled for getting assistance from the Benazir Income Support Programme.
Said Muhammad is survived by three daughters Bakht Meena 18, Basmeena, 16 and 10-year-old Noreen.
After passing their matriculation examination, the two teenager sisters had started teaching to nursery kids in a nearby street school to supplement the earnings of their father.

When asked about their monthly salaries, Bakht Meena said: “I am paid Rs.1, 000 while Basmeena received Rs.500.”
The two sisters said they couldn’t go to college because their father was unable to afford the fee. They were worried about the survival of their family after the death of their beloved father. “The future looks bleak,” said Bakht Meena.
She and Basmeena said the government should provide protection to all the children orphaned in the Meena Bazaar blast.

L to R: Bakht Meena, Basmeena and Noreen, the three sisters who lost their father in Meena Bazaar car bomb on October 28,2009