Pakistan

The Displaced

Young IDP from Swat.  Living conditions are difficult in Yar Hussein Camp, Swabi, Pakistan

Pakistan's crisis - 1.7 million people displaced.  In a three week period, over 1.7 million people fled bombing and shelling in their homeland.  By car, bus or foot, they moved south, to safety. Most of these Pakistanis from the Swat Valley have found lodging with friends, relatives or in community shelters made primarily of schools.  An estimated 20% however, had no where to go.

This 20% of the displaced are living in camps.

The largest of which is Yar Hussein in Swabi where the population surpasses 25,000.  The camps are hot and dry, put up makeshift in agricultural land outside of Peshawar.  They huddle under canvas UNHCR tents in 110+ degree heat; wait in long lines, three times a day, for food; share latrines; and bathe in an irrigation canal.  There are no schools yet, no clinics or running water, and they have no idea how long they will be there.

Living conditions are hot and crowded in Yar Hussein Camp.  Temperatures are over 100 degrees daily. Swabi, Pakistan

Young IDPs from Swat waiting in food line at Yar Hussein Camp. Some wait for hours to find no food left. Swabi, Pakistan

Young girls from Swat washing in an irrigation canal. Yar Hussein Camp, Swabi, Pakistan

A mother holds her sick 3-year old child. His severe diarrhea can be lethal in the soaring heat.  Yar Hussein Camp, Swabi, Pakistan

Men fight for the remaining pieces of bread (roti) being handed out at 11pm. Many have been waiting since 7pm for food. Yar Hussein Camp, Swabi, Pakistan

Suicide bombings

It is a strange feeling, being in a place of suicide bombings.  Knowing that a bomb could go off at any time.  Knowing that there are people, maybe someone right next to you, who is prepared to die and committed to taking as many others with him as possible. Every face is a threat, every person suspicious, every policeman the next victim, every step considered.  Do I walk into a marketplace, do I walk by the local Pizza Hut, do I stay at a hotel with foreigners and tight security or do I stay at a local guest house and hope no one notices?

I spent the afternoon in Peshawar today, photographing signs of the Talibanization of Pakistan.  The city has changed over the past years with extremist influences pouring over from Afghanistan.  Two cinemas have been destroyed, women harassed when outside of the house, and schools bombed.  There is one cinema left in Peshawar, yet everyone is too afraid to go.  I understand why.

It has been calm in Pakistan for the past couple of days, yet Richard Holbrooke visited, and two pro-Taliban clerics killed.  It is time for retribution, and with the Taliban, that comes in the form of a suicide bombing.  Everyone expects a big incident, yet no one knows where.

As I stood in front of the cinema, photographing the facade, men gathered.  They stopped and stared, they told me it was dangerous and for the first time in my career, I felt anxious.  I shot a few pictures, knowing I was directly in front of a target.  A motorcycle drove by, the men looked at me while speaking on his cell phone.  My mind raced and I asked myself if it was worth it.  If something happened, would these photographs be worth it?

Of course not.  Not only my own, but potentially that of the driver.

Of course not.

As we drove toward Islamabad, I began to relax until the text message came. "Security update, a bomb blast at 0 Point, 15 Rescue near PIMS Hospital."  The bomber had struck after all, this time a police station in Islamabad.  Not the cinema in Peshawar, at least today.

Peshawar's one remaining movie theater.

Peshawar's main movie theater. Deemed un-Islamic, cinemas have been routinely attacked by the Taliban. Peshawar has seen two theaters destroyed by suicide bombings. June 6, 2009

Men in Peshawar stare outside from bus window.  Regular terrorist attacks put citizens of Peshawar on alert and suspicious of foreigners. June 6, 2009

Women's clothing store, Peshawar. Most upscale boutiques such as this women's clothing store are closed these days in Peshawar for fear of being the next  targets for the Taliban extremists.  June 6, 2009