The armed conflict between the rebellious groups and the army had brought life in the valley of Swat to a standstill. Over the past few months, the fighting had been escalating and had now reached a point where normal life was impossible to live. Every single day passed with a bomb blasting here and there, in the mosque, outside the girls' school, the market place, anywhere, killing scores and injuring and disabling many more. Every single day there was shelling by the army which, ever now and then, hit a civilian house, killing and maiming many innocents.
A round-about which used to be called Nishaat chowk was now called Khoni (bloody) chowk. Every day when the inhabitants of the city visited the round-about, hanging from an electrical post, by the heels was the dead body of a local, with the neck slashed, often head cut off and pinned to the post beside the feet. The person killed would usually be known, as the people who ran this murder ring, had an FM channel through which they announced the name of the next person to be executed.
Many people had already left the city for safer places. The first ones to leave were those who had enough money to buy comparable houses and to afford a comparable lifestyle elsewhere. They had escaped as soon as the first shots had been fired. Many others were forced to follow later. However, some people still stayed behind. Of course, these were the ones whom nature has not blessed with many choices in life: the poor. Although their life was in tremendous peril, these poor families could still not think of leaving the place since they did not just have anywhere to go.
Then one day when the government decided they would carryout a sweeping operation, they ordered the people to evacuate the city. Again the poor were left with no choice but to leave their homes for nowhere. A mass exodus started and it was a heart rending scene indeed.
It was complete chaos. People had not planned they would would leave their houses. They did not know how to move. Lucky were those taxi and Rickshaw drivers who, although they were very poor as well, yet had the luxury of not having to go on foot.
Salam Din's was one such family which had been struck by this calamity. He was a retired clerk who now ran a small grocery shop to take care of his family of four including himself, his wife and two daughters. His wife, Bano bibi, was a woman in her late thirties. The two daughters, Kashmala and Gulalai were 17 and 13 year old. The family was not too poor to do well for themselves; yet, they were rather unprepared for such a change of luck.
to be continued
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