A rude awakening.


Byline: Nasser Yousaf

'SAUDADE' is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement or comfort, and the absence of which now brings a mixture of sad and happy feelings - sadness for the lost past and happiness for having experienced it. It would thus be right to say that one experiences saudade when Abbottabad of the 1980s comes to mind.

Afghan refugees had just started trickling into the serene landscape of the hill station, which then used to be quite sparsely populated. A little before dusk, smoke could be seen billowing from the fires set up outside the tents with the rich aroma of oven-baked bread.

One does not remember encountering garbage, as one does now, during the evening walks in the shadows of the poplar-trees that lined the single-lane road running through the length of Abbottabad. The ubiquitous springs mentioned by Major James Abbott, the first deputy commissioner of Hazara in the mid-19th century, kept bubbling well upto the turn of the present millennium, before drying up completely.

A Pashto idiom states that the time of youth is like an evening of winter, short and indeed fleeting. Our present existence is like a frightful awakening from a beautiful but brief sleep where the Abbottabad of yore seems to have metamorphosed into one of the ugliest places on earth. Most strikingly, a population implosion has occurred, bringing with it the concomitant hazards. Garbage dumps dot the landscape, while houses and shops have been built on watercourses that in the days gone by would carry rainwater.

Young children are seen rummaging through mounds of garbage.

The most galling spectre is the one where young children are seen rummaging through mounds of garbage. Invariably, all these children, with some as young as five, are Pakhtuns of Afghan origin. Not only these children but their parents too - and in quite a large number of cases their grandparents - were also born on Pakistani soil. This by no means is an unfounded assumption; it is substantiated by the incontrovertible fact that Afghans of Pakhtun stock marry young and their four-decade-long stay in the country is long enough to spawn three generations.

It is an ungainly sight to see these children fending for themselves and their extended families from dawn to dusk in extreme weather conditions. These garbage dumps are in fact their habitats in the daytime where they are seen eating, sleeping and even playing marbles. The garbage also...

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