It was a sweet, awkward moment. The brigadier held out the keys. The Sunni tribesman stood there, surrounded by a nervous yet puffed-up crowd. “Take the key, take the key!” someone prompted him. He hesitated for a moment, unsure and aware of too many people around him.
It had taken several rounds of talks and confidence-building measures to bring him to this point. But when he did take the keys, three heavy seconds later, a sigh of relief was expelled and people clapped.
Everyone knew that years from now, they would all be able to say this was the moment when one place in Fata did something to leave some collective pain behind.
This historic ceremony was held last week in Parachinar to welcome back 10 Sunni families who had fled when sectarian violence erupted in 2007. The fighting left hundreds dead and many more wounded, in a massacre that transformed the demographics of the region. Families from both sects, Shia and Sunni, vacated their houses and relocated to safer parts of Kurram.
Ten years later, in 2017, the government started to rehabilitate internally displaced people in Fata. Part of this story played out in Kurram as well. The Shia families displaced from lower Kurram who had fled to Parachinar needed to go back and the Sunni families of Parachinar who had fled to lower and central Kurram had to return. In the long run everyone knew deep down inside that it was only in religious and cultural diversity and not in ghettoisation that survival and peaceful co-existence could be found.