Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Contemporary Pakistan’ Category

OWOS Talpur Cover

Ode to a Desert Woman

I remember, within the loose circle of a veil

A face-strong, striking, ancient and pale

Sphinx-like riddle its features bore

An expression so stoic, hard to explore

Chiseled sharply by piercing winds

Tanned copper by the blazing sun

It called for a scribe to write its story

To seek its history encrypted around

In the massive murky past, in the dunes that abound

In such enormity she stood; in distance she was lost

An eternal imprint on my memory she left

Aspiring life in the desert dead

A rare ore amidst the grains of sand

Unread, unnoticed, unnamed

How do I bring you toOzymandias’ fame?

A version of this Ode was first published inFootnotes,my  book of verse.  Later  it  appeared in the Purani Kahani, the ‘Old Story’ of the Desert Woman I published in A Pakistani Trilogy.

Read Full Post »

Antiquity had always fascinated me, whether through archaeology or paleoanthropology. Mary Leakey was one of my first heroes, though her quest was to trace human origins and mine turned out to be the exploration of ancient civilizations. Going further back in time, even as a child I was intrigued by the rustic world that lay beyond the lofty walls fortifying my village house. My father had led me to that world.  A man born much ahead of his times, he had resolved to rid his daughters from the curse of purdah and educate them in an English school, hence us three sisters were allowed to explore anything we wanted. For me, almost everything around seemed to hold some secret. Ancient ruins, an abandoned river bed, impoverished shrines and isolated samadhis, aging trees with their massive trunks and the equally old peasants relaxing under their shade were all mysterious.  At my school when I learnt that only an archaeologist could hold the keys to such secrets, I decided to become one.  I never lost hope even when I was enrolling for my Master’s degree in the subject and discovered, at the last moment, that there was no department of archaeology at Karachi University.

I remember walking into the office of the Vice-Chancellor of the university with the request to establish one.  The Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ehsan Rashid, responded with an Urdu verse that I do not remember but its gist was that I had the audacity to jump all the relevant authorities below and approach the highest with a trivial request. Nonetheless, he took my request seriously and assigned one of his staff members to help me.

The University could not open a department overnight, but on my suggestion Syed Muhammad Ashfaque from the Federal Department of Archaeology and Museums was hired to offer courses in archaeology.  This arrangement enabled me and my five colleagues, and many more after us, to study archaeology at one of the largest universities of Pakistan.

In 1979, I was given my first chance to read a paper at the International Symposium on Indus Civilization, sponsored jointly by UNESCO and the Government of Pakistan to help the “Save Moen jo Daro” campaign.  I was the only Pakistani woman who read a paper at that symposium and I was also the youngest speaker. Bridgett Allchin from Cambridge University, England was another woman who along with her archaeologist husband Raymond Allchin presented the paper on their joint research.

An excerpt from my book on Moen jo Daro

https://www.amazon.com/Moen-Daro-Metropolis-Civilization-2600-1900/dp/1631921649/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482162604&sr=1-2&keywords=indus+seals+parveen+talpur

Read Full Post »

Voter turnout was massive and so was the rigging, this time it was also blatant.  Media reporting was prompt and panel discussions impressive. Updates on social media were just overwhelming it was difficult to keep pace.  Some of the posts on Facebook were wise ‘Pathans proved that they are the most intelligent Pakistanis,’ some were cute ‘Naswar is good for brain’  and some were laughable for instance the outrageous  vote count of a winning candidate- 258 votes per minute in 11 hours of voting! And all this amid complains that many hours were lost as polling stations did not open on time. The voters were resolute this time and continued waiting under uncertainty and dangers.

“At least 13 people were killed and several others injured in two blasts in Karachi’s Quaidabad and Qasba areas.” This was just the first report on violence I read, more was to follow throughout the day.  By midday Jamaat-i-Islami announced a boycott of the elections in Karachi and Hyderabad. Arif Alvi, a candidate of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf , held a press conference to report the rigging in his polling stations. Election Commission ordered a re-election in his constituency while Altaf Hussain, Chairman of MQM,  threatened to separate Karachi. There were also complains about the overall performance of Election Commission but at the end of the day Fakhruddin Ibrahim, Chief Election Commissioner, declared he was a happy man as ‘people had been empowered.’ And he is right as this is the best that could be achieved in the worst moments of Pakistan’s political history.

The new trend in Pakistani elections is a call to move forward, if the polls were violent they were also marked with an unprecedented enthusiasm. A new generation of 40 million voters participated and a majority of the old and new voters casted their votes against the status quo.  There is a spirit of change in the air and that spirit will prevail, ballot papers can be engineered but the new mindset will be hard to manipulate.

As for the results, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz  emerged as the party with majority votes and Nawaz Sharif is set to form his government in the province of Punjab and at the center. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has a sweeping majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and it will form its own government in the province. Awami National Party (ANP), the avatar of the old National Awami Party (NAP), led by a grandson of the Frontier Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan has been wiped out from the frontier province. Votes in Sindh are divided between urban and rural, Pakistan People’s Party and Muttahida Quomi Mahaz (MQM), the two parties representing these divides will  form a coalition government in the province.  Nationalist parties have won the majority of seats in Balochistan, the only province with a very low turnout of only 10%. The overall results clearly show that each province will have its own government, the age-old demand of provincial autonomy has been fulfilled this time without even demanding it. According to Mohammed Hanif’s article in The Guardian of May 13, 2013. 

“Who needs a federation when you can have so much more fun doing things your own way. So in the post-election Pakistan, Khan will rule the north and shoot down American drones while discussing Scandinavian social welfare models with the Taliban. Sharif will rule in Punjab and the centre, try to do business with India and build more motorways all the while looking over his shoulder for generals looking at him. In the south, Bhutto’s decimated People’s party will keep ruling and keep saying that folks up north are stealing its water, destroying its social welfare programmes and secular legacy. And, in Balochistan…” Three days before the elections, Noam Chomsky gave his opinion on the restless province “There is a lot of exploitation of the rich resources [in Balochistan] which the locals are not gaining from. As long as this goes on, it is going to keep providing grounds for serious uprisings and insurgencies.”

Soon after the results, for a moment, the dream of a New Pakistan seemed shattered by  nightmares of a rigged republic with regional governments ready to secede. But those are the ghosts of a past election, Pakistan has come of age. After 6 and a half decades of its checkered history cessation, war with India and fear of a military coup has diminished as for the first time an elected government has completed its term and will be handing over power to the next. 

Read Full Post »

At a local ladies book club in Columbus Ohio, during a talk on my eBook Obscure Women Obscure Stories: A Pakistani Trilogy, the following passage from Purani Kahani, one of the stories, came under discussion and a question was asked.

“Bhaag Bhari would go in the hut to fetch her small chest of jewelry. It was metallic painted green and had a latch from which hung an oversized iron lock. Haji Hussain would reach for the key tied strongly to the tassel of his trouser string. Next, he would reach for the money in the side pocket of his shirt. He would count it, wrap it in a silken scarf with the rest of his savings, place it in the box and lock it again.”

Anybody could have stolen the box, how was it kept safe? I was asked. Here is my expanded answer:

Theft is a universal theme. It took 17 years and more than 1300 pages for Victor Hugo to scrutinize it in his novel Les Miserables wherein Jean Valjean suffers 19 years of imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread.  The novel is not only about an ex-convict and his heroic struggle for redemption. It is also an appeal to law makers to look into the atrocities of law and the risks of judicial errors. For those who do not have the patience to read the novel, here is a theatrical first look of the recently released filmic adaption of Hugo’s classic.

Purani Kahani, however, is a short story about an ancient race of people who did not have any concept of theft. It is hard to imagine a person under severe hunger who would not steal a loaf of bread. Even the birds fight over a worm, but a man or woman from Thar would not resort to such an approach.

So who are these noble people and why am I writing about them since last twenty five years? It is true that being the inhabitants of my home district of Tharparkar I have special bond with them. It is also true that being a historian and archaeologist their antiquity fascinates me – but there is more to it. In an article published in the daily Dawn’s Friday Magazine, dated February, 27, 1987 I had warned: “It is alarming that nothing concrete is being done to record and document the cultures of the tribes living here (in the Thar Desert) who will hopefully undergo an irreversible social and economic change due to the upcoming development projects in the district. The government has not paid any serious attention towards the cultural preservation of Thar though its importance has been emphasized at the highest level.”

The article was actually part of my speech at the Goethe Institute where I was invited to speak on the launching of a photo exhibition of Thar and its people. The exhibits were by Ayaz Rashdi, a high government official, who was also an amateur photographer. It was an individual’s effort to document the life of a dying culture. Such efforts have been made by other individuals in the fields of film, television, journalism, history and artwork.  “Purani Kahani” is an attempt to do the same in fiction.

Thar is a part of the Great Indian Desert lying between Sindh and Rajasthan. It is also the worst section of the desert where temperatures can rise to 120 degrees. In olden days natives called it Marusthali, the region of death, where disasters and diseases were personified into mother goddesses. Out of fear and reverence small pox was called Mata, mother; famine was Bhukhi Mata, hungry or famished mother.  Goddesses in ancient worlds are known to play dual and opposing roles of being healers and killers.  Hundreds of terra cotta figurines discovered from Indus Civilization suggest that they had been ruling the spiritual realms of Sindh since those remote times; 5000 years later their concept survives crudely in the collective subconscious of Thar. There are many more ancient traits retained in Thar communities, perhaps because they have lived in splendid isolation, away from the world and close to nature.   Even in this day and age they accept calamities as part of a natural cycle. Along with their cattle, they arrive in the fertile patches of Sindh during the long spells of famine and return as soon as they see lightening in the East.

In 1987, Thar was in the third year of its famine and Rashidi’s photographs were exhibited to draw the attention of Karachi elites towards the miseries of Desert folks. As a result of the famine a large number of them had migrated to the irrigated and fertile parts of Sindh, some of the families camped outside my village. It was one of the shelters they had been using through times immemorial; they were not strangers to the villagers and I could remember their earlier sojourns  from the 1960s and 70’s (due to the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war).

Amongst the many who came was a man named Qasim, so soft spoken that only he could speak with the animals. He knew ways to diagnose their diseases and heal their wounds, even the bulls and buffaloes would cow down to him. There was an old woman who knew the art of dehydrating all the vegetables under the sun; you need to store a lot for the droughts in desert.  One day I saw her picking up a piece of roti from the floor, kissing it, looking at it with reverence and savoring it bit by bit.  Whole wheat bread is a delicacy for those who survive mostly on millet. There was yet another woman, a seamstress with perfectly carved features and dexterous fingers.  She had no idea of geometry but she could create thousands of geometric patterns in her embroidery and her quilts. She had a chest, her most prized possession, a mini storage that accommodated her colored beads and threads, mirror pieces, cowrie shells, cloves, and a few pieces of silver jewelry. ‘It was metallic painted green and had a latch.’ It looked out of place like a luxury item discovered in the ruins of a civilization that used baskets for storing items. No one robbed her of her precious box but I did steal its image and used it in Purani Kahani.

Thar Desert was incorporated in the Tharparkar district during British rule.  Today in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan it remains to be the home of the largest Hindu population. In a region where the instinct of theft is non-existent the concept of co-existence thrives. There is an unwritten social contract (going beyond the social contract theories of Hobbes and Locke) between Muslims and Hindus, between neighbors, between family members that keeps them contented with their own share of grain. Let’s not create conditions where a Jean Valjean is born; the land lacks a Victor Hugo and the news is not good.

Read Full Post »

A recent article by Shah Rukh Khan describes what it is to be a Muslim in India.

It was published on January 29 in Outlook Turning Points 2013 (Published by the New York Times).  In a prompt reaction, the Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik urged the Indian government to provide security to its well-known Muslim actor. Malik’s statement is laughable and what followed is embarrassing. The Indian spokesman responded by advising Malik to take care of his own citizens. Shah Rukh’s response was even stronger “I would like to tell all those who are offering me unsolicited advice that we in India are extremely safe and happy,” said the actor.  “We have an amazing democratic, free and secular way of life.”  When Jyoti Malhotra, a senior Indian journalist, was invited to comment on the situation on Hamid Mir’s talk show she was surprised that a high official would give such an irresponsible statement. She even doubted if Malik had read Khan’s article. The Telegraph summed up the controversy as “a senseless diplomatic row between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.”

By building this blog on Shah Rukh Khan’s article I am not trying to say that India has not committed any crime.  In fact more sectarian violence is recorded in India than in Pakistan. But that is in the political arena in which I do not wish to venture. Mine is an observation of the cultural front where Pakistan has repeatedly failed to make its mark. If history can be a teacher it is about time that Pakistani officials should learn to discover and nourish their own stars. For this is what the founder of the Pakistani nation would have advised as evidenced from his recently discovered letter, published in the Tribune.

It will be fair to begin with the history of Pakistan and see how the authorities treated talent who migrated from India’s film industry?  To begin with only a handful had migrated during Partition, whereas the list of those who remained behind is too long. Most of them not only flourished but dominated the Indian cinema. Mughal-e-Azam, considered to be the greatest Indian film, was made by a team that consisted mostly of Muslims – K.Asif, Yusaf Khan (Dilip Kumar),  Madhubala, Nigar Sultana, Shakeel Badayuni, Naushad,  Mohammad Rafi  and even  Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan who rendered a raag. To judge the outcome you can watch the 3 hour long film condensed to 15 minutes here. Such magnum opus is not possible to create under dangerous conditions at least they were not around film industry.

Mirza Ghalib, a biopic on the great Urdu poet, made by another team of Muslims – Suraiya, Talat Mahmood, Nigar Sultana, Iftikhar Khan, Murad, Mukri, Ghulam Mohammad and Saadat Hasan Manto who wrote the story and screenplay and who migrated to Pakistan.  Out of all his writings Mirza Ghalib seems to be most dear to Manto, he had taken several years to complete this masterpiece. There were moments of frustration – and inspiration – during the scripting process.  Manto had complained about the dearth of material on the poet’s life and he had enjoyed walking through the streets of Delhi, the beloved city of Ghalib. Manto even named his son after Ghalib’s adopted son Arif and finally convinced Sohrab Modi to produce a film on a slice of Ghalib’s life.

In 1954 Mirza Ghalib was finally released in India. The film was a huge success and won the prestigious National Film Award in India.  Unfortunately by that time Manto was rotting in Pakistan. He was writing short stories for pulp magazines and selling them for Rs. 30 each.  The Pakistani bureaucracy, instead of lending patronage, charged him with writing obscene material. Yes, Manto also had a passion to write on the sub-culture of the sub-continent.  Prostitutes, pimps, tongawalas, and street urchins were some of his most memorable characters but he used them not for any sensual reasons but to highlight the ‘disease’ of society. People loved his short stories and Faiz Ahmed Faiz defended him in a courtroom.  A year after the release of Mirza Ghalib Manto died at the age of 42.

Mirza Ghalib was never released in Pakistan but Pakistanis enjoyed its songs on the radio. It must be admitted that many Pakistanis and Indians came to know Ghalib’s poetry through the ghazals of this film sang by Talat Mahmood, Suraiya and Mohammad Rafi.

Another irony.  The Pakistani government did not even allow the exhibition of its own film on Ghalib. I also came across this piece of information on Wikipedia: “The Pakistan government in 1969 commissioned Khaliq Ibrahim (died 2006) to make a documentary on Mirza Ghalib. The movie was completed in 1971-72. It is said, that the movie, a docudrama, was historically more correct than what the official Pakistan government point of view was. Thus, it was never released. Till this date, barring a few private viewing, the movie is lying with the Department of Films and Publication, Government of Pakistan.”

For most countries film has been a powerful medium to portray culture.  Hong Kong, at the tail end of British era, was marketing its culture of martial arts through films.  The French Ministry of Culture under the Socialists (1981-86, 1988-93) made films to highlight sensitive issues; India is known to the World mostly through Bollywood films; Venezuela makes four films a year, Pakistan can do at least half of this number to correct its distorted image. But film is at the lowest priority in Pakistan’s cultural policy and culture in general is ruthlessly neglected by policy makers. The only effective cultural policy, it is said, was authored in 1970s by Faiz Ahmad Faiz.  Perhaps he saw some hope in the new democratic government. I came to know the fate of his policy in one of his interviews. “It was neither accepted nor rejected by any regime,” Faiz revealed. “They accepted the parts which suited them and rejected the rest.”

Once again a new government is in sight. We can hope to have a sane cultural policy that is capable of creating an environment where quality films can be made and a profound culture can flourish.

Read Full Post »

The recent news of 14 year old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen, had shaken the world. But life goes on, Malala is recovering and I got distracted to a Sufi music ensemble. For the “first time in Midwest” said the advertisement while describing the event as “mystical fusion and mesmerizing Sufi songs.” Star performers were Ustad Hidayat Hussain Khan (son of legendary late Ustad Vilayat Khan) on Sitar and vocals, and the Grammy winner, Steve Gorn on flute. But what has Sufi music to do with terrorism?

Power of music can be calming and inspiring, it can be furious too. Raag Deepak, they say, is capable of igniting fire and can set forests ablaze; Raag Malhar can come to the rescue by bringing in rains. Legend and the film have it that Akbar the great Mughal emperor tested if it could also melt rocks. He ordered a competition between Tansen, one of his nau-ratans (nine gems) and Baijnath Mishra, a young obscure musician. And he let his anxious courtiers witness the supernatural spectacle.

In reality, however, Akbar believed in the powers of the saints and had walked barefoot to the shrine of Saleem Chishti to beg the great saint for the birth of a son. (watch the first scene of Mughal-e-Azam).The miracle did happen, Akbar was blessed with a son, he named him Saleem after the saint; Saleem the Moghul is popularly known as Jehangir.

Sufis and music go together. Sufi songs are hymns to the divine and odes to the beloved saints; set to music these can stir hysteria. Some of the Sufi saints have been poets and some of their disciples have written devotional verses that are still recited around their shrines and beyond. When Ustad Hidayat recited Amir Khusro’s evergreen “chaap tilak sub cheen lee mujh say naina milaikay” (here is a recording from one of his earlier concerts) it mesmerized a versatile crowd mainly consisting of Indians, Pakistanis and Americans. If music is the universal language it can be the binding force between nations, we can turn the pages of history to confirm this.

Sufism is a phenomenon of the vast and diverse non-Arab Muslim World. South Asian Sufism is immersed in poetry, music and dance, and nowhere it has been as effective as in India where it made Islam thrive in a climate of religious pluralism and where Sufis came to be venerated by non-Muslims. Even today the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer, attracts both Hindu and Muslim pilgrims from all over the country. The age old mystique continues in Pakistan where shrines such as of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Sindh are equally revered by the Hindus of Pakistan. Let’s not forget that Sufi saints themselves lived above religious and ethnic prejudices. Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, is known to have practiced yoga and meditation. Shah Abdul Latif of Sindh, traveled with the yogis to perform pilgrimage to Hinglaj Mata, the western most holy place of the Hindus. Sufi saints of Kashmir are even confused with Vedic rishis.  The legacy of tolerance continues as the musicians from India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Trinidad and United States ended their concert in Columbus, Ohio, by paying tribute to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Pakistan. And this reminds me of Runa Laila, a Bengali singer, singing the same song in the seventies of Pakistan.

The concert was a fundraiser for Asha Ray of Hope, a non-profit organization that protects women against domestic violence. Sufi music ensemble was just the appropriate choice as shrines had always been sanctuaries for women in South and West Asia. In their hours of anguish they often wail at the shrines and invoke dead saints through songs and dance. Women can even rise to sainthood in Sufi Islam, Rabia may be the most known women saints of the Muslim World but there are obscure women scions of ordinary saintly houses in rural Pakistan who are symbols of comfort to the many distressed women of their neighboring villages. Militant Islamist groups are certainly against this brand of Islam. In 2009 few days before bombing the shrine of Rehman Baba in Peshawar, they had warned the custodians to stop women from visiting the shrine. Three years later they have stooped to the level of targeting young girls who advocate education. Talibans eventually destroyed the Rehman Baba shrine, the grief and anger bought Afghanistan a step closer to Pakistan as the Afghan government responded by bearing the costs of reconstruction of the shrine. Rehman Baba is revered in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the tribal belt between the two countries; his poetry echoes in the Pashtun land.

Sufi saints continue to keep the countries united even in the worst of times. Sufi bondage between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India is worth recognition by the foreign policymakers of these countries. Perhaps this can be one of the strong pillars of the Afpak policy of Obama administration. Sufi music is equally evolving, it has the power of conquering the youth as it adjusts to the new trends and even creeps in the contemporary non-religious realm. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan has set the trend. And here is the Bollywood version, enjoy.

Read Full Post »

Imran Khan’s Interview on CNN by Christian Amanpour

In his book ‘The First Afghan War 1838-1842’, J.A Norris quoted one of the relevant descriptions of the Afghan character. The quote from the Asiatic Journal states that the Afghans “are neither irritable nor implacable, but retain a long remembrance of injuries not retaliated: revenge is esteemed a duty.”  Norris emphasized that “we should remember this in all that we read about the First Afghan War.” There were two more Anglo-Afghan wars, a decade long Soviet occupation and now we are at the tail end of yet another inconclusive war between the Afghans and the NATO forces.  How much did the western world care to remember what Norris and many others had advised?

Most of the Afghans are ethnically Pashtuns or Pakhtuns. Apart from Afghanistan a large number of them live in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and even larger numbers live in the Federal Administered Tribal Area (FATA) a semi-independent region between the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. When it comes to foreign interventions, Pashtuns and non-Pashtun tribes of the region fiercely resist their enemy. But why is revenge their most powerful weapon to date? Part of the answer comes from their history, which is yet another avenue neglected by military and political strategists.

Since centuries the region is known to be a world where even tribal and family quarrels can easily turn into blood feuds giving birth to endless cycles of revenge.  Revenge is therefore, ingrained in Pashtunwali  (literally, the way of Pashtun), the unwritten moral and social code that predates Islam. The code has evolved through the centuries hence historical currents, along with socio-cultural forces, have gone in the shaping and making of the Pashtunwali.  Each new invasion and occupation, beginning from the Achaemenid kings of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great and from the Moghuls and Nadir Shah of Iran to Runjeet Singh of Punjab, had only sharpened the vindictive instincts of a people who value independence above all.  So it is logical for revenge to replay its role with more vigor in the present Great Game between the new contenders. Each drone attack gives a new life to the resolve of revenge against the US army, and the bloodshed continues. Is there a way to put an end to the cycle of revenge?

Law of revenge – an eye for an eye – is engraved on Hammurabi’s code. It may have existed as a convention even earlier but so has the desire to erase it. There are only bits and pieces of circumstantial evidence scattered in mythology, folklore and literature to support the existence of such a desire. Greek trilogy Oresteia tells us that Goddess Athena succeeded in replacing it by law of mercy. In recent past Truth and Reconciliation Councils have been advocating forgiveness to resolve conflicts.  Imran Khan’s peace march to demonsterate solidarity with the drone victims by all means is the beginning of a process which might lead to the ending of drone attacks and the chain of revenge.  His march is also a reminder that Pashtunwali has another potent component- hospitality.  That is why even in the days of deadly drone attacks peace is not altogether disregarded. The elders of the tribes had welcomed the march, Americans refrained from bombing, the Talibans promised a safe passage; decades of war must have worked a change in their thinking. Khan’s mission was to draw world attention towards the heavy ‘collateral damage’ of civilian killings caused in Waziristan by American drone attacks. An investigative report prepared jointly by Stanford and New York Universities has already revealed harrowing accounts of the victims and  recommended a serious re-evaluation of current policy of target killings by drones. Participation of CodePinkLauren Booth  and Clive Smith  in the march is symbolic of the fact that American, British and Western people are equally against civilian killings.

Now that the United States is already in the process of withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan it is time to sit around the table and plan future relations. This calls for some degree of mutual trust between the participants – Americans, officials from Afghanistan and the Pakistan governments and  representatives of different tribes and militant groups. Once again we need to turn the pages of history to see how receptive Pashtunland is to peace. Surprisingly, non-violent religions Jainism and Buddhism had lasted here for centuries under the Mauryan and Kushan dynasties.

The fact that the largest Buddha images in the world are carved in the mountain walls of Bamiyan, that Buddha came to be represented in human form under the Kushans and that the most beautiful specimens of Buddhist art were sculpted in the Gandhara region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, proves that peace must have lasted long enough for all these accomplishments. History mostly highlights the mountain passes, large enough for armies to enter and exit, but again if one cares to look into its margins it shows the Silk Road that merchants frequented to barter their goods, exchange culture and enjoy exotic stories. So there is more in the region  than mere revenge and bloodshed. Today there are graveled roads waiting to welcome any messenger of peace and there are institutions, experienced in conflict resolution, ready to assist. Conflicts between tribes are solved by Jirga which is a body composed of the elders of the tribes who draw their authority from the people. Perhaps these can help in reconciliation, already there is a thinking that the institution of Jirga should be allowed a role in the present governance of Afghanistan. Why can’t it play its role in the global conflict that involves its people?

It’s about time global makes room for local in the process of peace. It is also expected of representatives of the tribal world to move a step forward and follow certain global norms and who can be the most effective representative of the region than Khan. Hailing from the Burki tribe, long settled in Punjab, he has returned to his ancestral troubled region of Waziristan to nurse its wounds. He has already written a travel book on the region and  he now plans to demonsterate against the drone policy in front of the United Nations. Though Khan was barred from marching in Waziristan but he has shown the road that leads there. Hopefully, the World will see the troubled region beyond the blazing images of drone attacks and will register the positives of the tribal society. Women are inconspicous in that society which is a shame but there are seeds of democracy.  Jirga, at the moment addresses the grievance of each individual involved. Pashtunwali looms large over these indigenous courtrooms, it stresses on community consensus and expects decisions to be unanimous.  The system goes beyond the western concept of democracy.  To explain this I can only borrow the words of Nelson Mandela – the words he used while describing the tribal system of justice practiced in his native land:

“Democracy meant all men were to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was a foreign notion. A minority was not to be crushed by a majority.”

Hopefully women in this part of the world will rise above the status of minority.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »