In the public imagination, South Waziristan is at the heart of a battle against Taliban militants. But Wana, the largest town in the tribal agency, has another, lesser-known story to tell.
Manga Masih, a 99-year-old Christian resident of Wana recalls pre-partition times when, “apart from Christians, there were Hindu and Sikh families in Wana. The Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India during partition, but it was of their own free will. A jirga of the local Ahmadzai tribe had requested them to stay, and assured them of protection of their life, honour and property.” While both communities chose to decline the invitation, many Christians decided to remain in the place they called home.
“Khan Chand, a Hindu hakim, had a treatment centre at the Kari Kot village in Wana and was highly respected by the locals. Although the Hindus and Sikhs migrated, Khan Chand and many others maintained contact with their friends back home via letters. God bless them, all these people must be dead now,” Manga says nostalgically. The-99-year-old resident was born in 1913 in Sail Kot, Punjab and came to Wana in 1935. He now lives in Wana Scouts Camp with the rest of his family.
Malik Sardar Khan, another elderly resident, points out that when the Hindus and Sikhs migrated, local tribesmen paid them for the land they left behind.
According to statistics collected by Al-Khidmath Christian Welfare Society Wana, there are 1,200 Christians living in Wana – most of them live either in the Scouts camp or in the tehsil building. While many do low-end janitorial jobs, others have now set up small businesses in Wana Bazaar.
Contrary to what one might think, the minority community feels completely safe in their homes. Jawad Masih, a tailor in the bazaar says, “There is no interference from the local Taliban in my business.” He adds that over the years, he has trained many young men of the Ahmadzai tribe in tailoring. Jawad says, “I often go on the invitation of my pupils to their homes and we participate in each other’s religious rituals.”
Danish Masih, 17, is a medical student at the Wana Government Degree College. Praising his fellow students, Danish says, “The other tribal students sometime fight with each other, but since my school days, no one has ever fought with me … There is no hatred on the basis of religion.”