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Displaced Pakistanis to spend Ramadan in refugee camps

A military offensive in North Waziristan has uprooted thousands

Displaced Pakistanis to spend Ramadan in refugee camps

Men prepare food for internally displaced Pakistani civilians uprooted by military operations against a resurgent Taliban in the country's northern tribal areas. (AFP photo/Karim Ullah)

Shaukat Khattak for AFP, Bannu

June 30, 2014

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For half a million Pakistanis displaced by a military offensive, the prospect of fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan amid severe food shortages has sharpened anger towards the government.

The military began long-anticipated strikes on the North Waziristan tribal district in mid-June, hoping for a swift victory over a resurgent Taliban enemy in the aftermath of a bloody attack on the country's busiest airport in Karachi.

Far from the comforts of home in their cool mountainous district, many displaced people are facing up to life in tent villages a few kilometers east of the region's border.

Temperatures approach 50C (122F) and riots frequently break out over the lack of food supplies.

At a food distribution point in the town of Bannu, Niaz Wali Khan, a 55-year-old pharmacy owner, said he had been queueing for four days but was turned away without rations each time.

"We are depressed over the role of the military who are responsible for our suffering," said Khan. "They have launched this operation just before the Holy Month, but these militants were living here for years. Why now?"

But Khan vowed to adhere to the month of fasting required of observant Muslims, which began on Sunday in parts of Pakistan and Monday in others – despite the hurdles.

"We are facing extreme difficulties after the displacement but I will be fasting with a hope that God will solve our problems," he said.

Others were less confident they would meet the challenge.

"We have spent all our money paying to rent vehicles to get here and for accommodation. Now it seems we will only have water left to break our fasts," said 43-year-old Jalat Khan, who was also standing in line.

In addition to shunning food and water from dawn till dusk, many offer special prayers during the evening that require several hours to complete.

"For me, it will be difficult to take care of my prayers in this homelessness," said Jalat Khan, echoing several others who were asked about the issue.

Some doubted they would be able to complete the fast at all, which is mandatory for healthy adult Muslims, barring exemptions during travel, menstruation and pregnancy.

Taxi driver Shakeeb Ur Rehman, 40, said: "My house has been bulldozed by the military and my car was destroyed in a bombing. I'm homeless and seriously worried about fasting in this hot weather. I think religious scholars should issue a decree allowing us to be exempt."

Despite the misery, some were hopeful that Ramadan would still bring blessings.

Muhammad Aziz, a 31-year-old laborer, lost track of four of his nine children on the two-day trek undertaken by thousands who fled his village to a camp in Bannu.

"It was a dark day for me and my wife would not stop crying for four days," said Aziz. But on the fifth day, his prayers were answered when his children were found by a relative and came home.

His family's joy was soon compounded when his wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy – whom they named Azb Khan, after a sword used by the Prophet Muhammad, which is also the name of the military offensive.

"This word will remind me of the sufferings we passed through and the happiness of his birth," said Aziz. AFP

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