Aside from health, education, agriculture and the overall economy, the rise of violence and extremism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) after 9/11 has also taken a toll on the Pashtun culture: with its folklore, art and literature shifting focus from serenity to security.
These views were expressed by speakers at a seminar on “Extremism and Radicalisation in Fata: Impacts on Culture” held here at a local hotel.
Ashraf Ali, president of Fata Research Centre (FRC) said Fata has undergone a massive human migration since after 9/11. Over 1,000 schools have been blown up and the once-enrolled students are joining militant wings. These changes are affecting the Pashtunwali – the code of conduct of the Pashtun people that focuses on principles of honour, courage, hospitality, asylum and inheritance, he said. “New even the poetry is militarised and militants are idealised in it,” he added.
Professor Hanif Khalil shed light on the impact of terrorism on poetry, specifically gazal and tappa forms. “The misperception with the Pashtun people is that they love music but hate musicians, as said by famous Pashto poet Ghani Khan,” he said. “We own Ahmad Shah Abdali, Muhammad Bin Qasim and Mahmood Ghaznavi, but they were Arabs and Turk who had nothing directly to do with the Pushtuns,” he added.
“It is time we follow the non-violent theory of Khan Abdul Wali Khan to spread peace, love and brotherhood,” said Khalil. “Poets are not villains but the silent messengers of peace, reflecting the hidden side of the society,” he said.
The professor shared several couplets about the militants: “Those who would once run the beads of rosary are now the businessmen of skulls” and “O birds make nests in our hands; all the trees and bushes have been perished in my town due to war.”
Arshad Hussain, a TV artist and cultural activist showcased a documentary about actors and singers who have been killed or threatened by militants. “The period of previous government was the worst for art and culture in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as every thing was banned in the name of Islam,” Hussain said. Nashtar Hall, the cultural hub of K-P in Peshawar, had also been closed for many years, he added.
Any artist should have the freedom of artistic expression, but every outlet during those governments was shunned. “Even I was abducted by the Taliban and those nine days were the worst days of my life.”
“Sadly, the incumbent government’s efforts to revive art and culture are aimless and it is up to us to remain united and stand against all odds in this critical time,” he added.
Akbar Sial, the general secretary of Pushtun Cultural Association talked about the changing landscapes of the Pashtun culture. “As a consequence of the ongoing conflict, young Pushtun talent now avoids joining the fields of music or the film industry,” he lamented.
A large numbers of literati, poets, writers, musicians, civil society activists, academicians, researchers and students participated in the seminar.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2012.