Pakistan: Pashtun hospitality for 19 adults, 25 children, and four camels
Why Pakistanis open their homes to refugees from the fighting in Swat Valley and Buner.
Nightfall was closing fast and Hussein Gohar's clan of 19 adults, 25 children, 4 camels, and 4 buffaloes felt every inch of the 37 miles they had just walked.Skip to next paragraph
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That's when Zarnosh Khan and Sher Wali Khan – two wheat farmers in the valley city of Swabi – spotted the group two weeks ago.
"We didn't know them [but] it was evening and the kids were with them. So we thought, 'Where will these people go? Let's give them shelter,' " says Zarnosh. Added Sher Wali: "If we were put in a situation like this, then we would also expect help."
Neighbors brought portable fans from the mosque and food, utensils, cots, and carpets from their homes. They set up the Gohar clan in the hujra, the Pashtun equivalent of a neighborhood community center.
Strangers are opening doors to strangers all across the Pakistani communities that lie in walking distance from Swat and Buner, easing the burden on the crowded official refugee camps. Residents say their hospitality traces back to an ancient Islamic practice known as muakhat, as well as pashtunwali, the ethnic code of behavior that in different circumstances has led some Pashtuns to shelter fleeing Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Culture of hospitality
"It is a religious duty [and] it is also the culture of the Pashtuns that you give shelter to guests and the needy," says Muhammad Saleem, a doctoral candidate researching the region's social safety net. "When the state is absent from these duties, people have to fill in the gaps."
The state is also responding. On the outskirts of town, a refugee camp named Chota Lahore now houses more than 5,000 displaced people with an average of 90 new families coming each day. The camp offers four meals a day, makeshift schools for girls and boys, and 98 latrines. But it's located in an isolated, hot, dustbowl – generating complaints that have prompted authorities to order it moved to a new spot that can hold 14,000 people in tents.
Overall, the number of people displaced by the conflict stands at more than 500,000, according to United Nations figures. Some Pakistani officials Wednesday put it at 800,000.