Salaam Pakhtunkhwa

Haligoli, (2001), a miniature by Saira Wasim – collection of
Robert Roder

Peshawar, a city destroyed
by terrorism

IDPs returning to their homes

Wherever I went to eat, there was a meat-fest in waiting. There comes a time in life when you want to give up meat forever and that moment arrived on a dark, load-shedded night in Peshawar

Raza Rumi
My recent weeks have been consumed by travels to the capital and to the grim frontiers of Paktunkhwa. As part of an unwieldy team undertaking a survey of the wretched internally displaced persons returning to their homes, I was in and out of Peshawar several times. Other than encountering the depressing stories of a people trapped by their history and geopolitics one had to struggle for a vegetarian meal in good old Peshawar. Wherever I went to eat, there was a meat-fest in waiting. There comes a time in life when you want to give up meat forever and that moment arrived on a dark, load-shedded night in a cloistered guest-house reeking of cigarette-smoke and untreated sewage. Thank God for my friend Ahsan, who like a good comrade humoured me and regurgitated the lessons of being patient and calm. I must not complain too much for I’m not an ungrateful wretch. There are many in the subcontinent who cannot even afford a basic meal, let alone pleasures of the flesh. But there has to be a limit to the carnivorous instinct that we are so given to in the Land of the Pure, Purists and Puritans.

As if a non-vegetarian diet was not enough, the scare of being smoked out by the Al-Qaeda goons was even more disturbing, dare I say, indigestible. A happy-go-lucky and overly-healthy host, as he drove us into the by-lanes of the old Peshawar that must have been beautiful once, gregariously referred to all the sites where bombs had erupted were a little disturbing. Not that I am scared of dangerous places, for I have braved a post-war Kosovo with a fair measure of bravado. But the hysterical “outsiders” ranting about how insecure we were in Peshawar was a little dampening for a Lahori soul. We do live in interesting times, made even more interesting by naïve security experts and people fed on Western media reporting on Pakistan being a truly dangerous pit-hole of the world. Sometimes the propaganda war does conquer your senses, I must confess.

So we visited the camps where thousands had been packed like sardines and where women recounted stories of bereavement and heavy-duty terror-mongering by the good Taliban as we are told that there is a clear distinction between the good and the bad Taliban. Now if the good Taliban, referred to as “patriots” not long ago, are such barbarians, I shudder to think what the bad Taliban might be like. The children at these camps were suffering even more. The heat could be unbearable and drinking water was not always available. And to top it all, recreation and education were non-existent. But all of this is well-known and I see no point in re-hashing what has already been told umpteen times.

What I can safely say after a first-hand encounter with the affectees is that we are an unkind, cruel society and are unable to provide citizen rights equally and without discrimination. Most provinces and their rhetorical leaders refused to give shelter to these unfortunate victims. This is why my visits have been an eye-opener about the sheer beauty of the traditional Pakhtun culture. The host families, regardless of their limited means and trying conditions, did not raise an eyebrow when they had to take care of the IDPs. More importantly, the displaced people themselves had such a remarkable understanding of what is going on in the Frontier and its neighbouring country, i.e. Afghanistan. They bore the scars and dealt with the wounds with immense grace and perseverance. True heroes, I’d say.

And what have the other regions been doing continuously: denigrating the “Pathan” stereotype akin to the way Sikhs are the butt of jokes in India and elsewhere. We have ascribed every possible quirk to these brave people and love to call them names every now and then. About time that I admit to the ingrained prejudices and offer my salaam to Paktunkhwa.

A new friend that I have made is from the erstwhile ruling family of Buner. An urbanite to the core, with spiked and gelled hair, Qaisar is an information-technology professional who is candid about the troubles that engulf his beloved Buner. There was not a single moment of justifying the Taliban under the imagined banner of Islamism or imperial resistance. He narrated how his entire family had left the district and was found in relatives’ homes in Islamabad and how the nexus between the Holy Cow institutions and the Taliban was a widely-known secret. Qaisar and his generation inspires me and instills hope in my cynical heart that has been wounded each time a TV anchor propagates Talibanization as the panacea for our ills. Or when a leading maverick posing as a journalist defends the lashing of a 17-year-old as a kosher act under the man-made Shariah. Not to mention that each Talib is an un-circumcised Hindu btard. The only saving grace is that perhaps the Israelis and the Ahmedis have thus far not recruited the Taliban.

As I reached Islamabad and entered a posh restaurant for a little congregation, the unreality almost took me to the level of de-realization, which a friend tells me is a psychological phenomenon. A couple of days ago, he even accused me of sporting the syndrome caused by stress and sleep deprivation. All I could tell him was that he was wrong, for Pakistan itself was in the process of de-realizing itself. How could its inhabitants remain unaffected by it?

As I scramble these lines, the mindless euphoria of Independence Day celebrations is about to break out on the streets of Lahore. There will be the usual hooliganism, the negligence of those who have to protect the roads and a plethora of press reports and usual editorials on what an unruly mob we have turned into. Platitudes will pollute the television channels with little introspection. The IDPs will continue to search for their looted belongings and the liberal elites will continue to bemoan what an unlivable place Pakistan is. Life, as they say will roll on.

And readers, your Man Friday will sleep through the day and alleviate the sleep-deprivation syndrome.

Raza Rumi is a development professional and a writer based in Lahore. He blogs at www. and edits Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama e-zines


Filed under North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, Peshawar

18 responses to “Salaam Pakhtunkhwa

  1. PMA

    “pleasures of the flesh”……and……”Land of the Pure, Purists and Puritans”.

    Say Raza you did not mean to say that!

  2. Anwar

    Power brokers in the capital destroyed my city…

  3. SSD

    RR, salute to you — for being in the fields and making a difference in whichever way. You are an amazing man — wish many would have your pulse!


  4. shafik

    untill jumatislami a bastard cleric party of hooligans and gingoists is flourishing in Pakistan , Pakistan will remain hell for all times to come as all these jehadi phenomnenans are diract ascription of JI .

    If some one have any doubt ,please refer to read the basic philosopy of maudodists , if its difficult then , just listen to these buggers ,what they want and where they want to drage the nation and country , couse there is a historic reason , Maudodists denied the creation of pakistan so now surruptously will turn it into ruines and a graveyard of zoombies.

  5. mel

    We thank all the amazing people of Charsadda, Mardan and Sawabi (other areas aswell) who were generous and hospitable to all the IDPs. This is what being a real Pathan means, helping others in time of need. Unlike the silly and unfriendly poeple of Sindh. If we look closley they were refugees themselves(ehsanfaramoosh). we shouldn;t have let them come in the 1st place. Long live Pakhtunkhwa.

  6. Bloody Civilian

    If we look closley they were refugees themselves(ehsanfaramoosh)

    sindhi nationalists were as vocal, if not more, in opposing the IDP’s coming to sindh. you’re not suggesting they are refugees too? many in sindh are ethnically baloch, and would have been ‘IDPs’, albeit voluntarily so, when they first arrived in sindh. or is your reference strictly to those made refugees as a result of the Partition of India?

  7. mel

    i said poeple of Sindh but also the ones who came as refugees themselves and also opposed their arrival.
    so listen up guys ……….any tourists from sindh are not welcome to Swat or even to Pukhtunkhwa any more. From now one enjoy your honeymoons in sweltring heat.

  8. PMA

    mel (September 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm):

    Please don’t start a thread of ethnic hatred. We are all Pakistani. If any part of the country bleeds, we all bleed. There is a misconception that only members of one ethnic group live in one given province of Pakistan. The reality is different than the perception. No province of Pakistan is entirely composed of one singular ethnic group and of the ethnic group its name indicates. The age of tribalism is over. I was a bit surprised that Raza Rumi has chosen to use the word Pakhtunkhwa for the Frontier province. We should move away from the ethnic names rather than introducing new ones. I don’t want to start another ethnic debate here so will like to refrain from this subject. To my knowledge all Pakistanis have come to the help of IDP in the recent events of war and earthquake and not just one ethnic group. Yesterday’s Kashmiri or Pashtun is today’s Punjabi or Karachite. Please, let us all rise above our ethnic and provincial mindset. Let us all be Pakistani and help our fellow countrymen in their time of need regardless of the language they speak or part of the country they live. Remember united we stand and divided we fall.

  9. mel

    September 3, 2009 at 6:01 pm
    I do acknowledge that most Pakistanis came to the help of IDPs but it was heart wrenching to hear sindhis or karachiats start protesting against their arrival, at a time of great need. They should have shown support intead they rejected them and didn’t even consider them as pakistani citizen , who has the right to go any where in the country.
    2nd point you mentioned about the name Pukhtunkhwa……..for ur information Punjab, Sindh and Bolichastan are based on thier ethnicity , so why do you mind when the 4th province wants to do the same. Don’t we have the same rights? Or punjab is gonna make all our decisions for us.

  10. PMA

    mel (September 4, 2009 at 4:37 pm):

    Atmosphere of Sindh and Karachi is politically charged up due to the the nasty ethnic politics. The reactions of those areas towards accommodation of IDP must be seen in those lights. That is another reason why all of us must rise above the ethnic and tribal mindset. About naming the provinces. I am of the opinion that we must move away from ethnicity based provinces. Punjab’s population has gone more than hundred million. The province must be divided into three new provinces with each new unit given a new non-ethnic name. We are a nation split apart by the ethnic and sectarian divisions. We must eliminate these diseases that have inflicted our national life. These are my last words on this subject for now. Thanks for listening.

  11. lalded

    Well written ,excellent presentation of human miseries.U have used an apt word IDP. We in India use the word :migrants:for kashmiri hindus who were hounded out of the kashmir valley.LOL. As if they went out on a picnic and decided to stay put.

  12. laladed, you are absolutely right. The Kashmiri Pandits are IDPs in the true sense of the word. The way they were expelled from their own homeland (even if not directly– but out of fear) is shameful and a huge blot on the struggle for Kashmiri freedom. We must remember that Sheikh Abdullah struggled for the spirit of Kashmiriyat– the joint culture of Kashmiris, whether Muslim or Hindu. Unfortunately, by the late-80s, early 90s, the movement had taken on a religious and militant character, and thus these kinds of incidents were very likely to happen.

    As a descendent of muslims from the Kashmir Valley, I wholeheartedly and sincerely apologize to my Pandit brothers and sisters.

  13. RR … did i read it correctly? Did you call the NWFP “Pakhtunkhwa”? … Do you remember that it came out of the Pakhtoonistan demand? it has a flag and an anthem all charted out! … do you know which party the ANP evolved from? … do you know why Ghaffar Khan is called ‘Badshah Khan’? …

  14. Hayyer

    We’ve been through all this in India. If I may be permitted an analogy from this side of the border your approach is Nehruvian, which is a good thing in its own way. But it did not work in India.
    Ethnic and regional identities wont be wished away. There are Sindhis, Punjabis, Kashmiris and there are Pathans, Pakhtuns or Pashtuns.
    The only peoples in India without a regional tag are those of the Hindi heartland and they used to be the most vocal supporters of submerging regional identity into an amorphous deracinated pool of Indian identity.
    NWFP, Settled Areas, FATA are not names but descriptions. If Pakhtunkwa, even half a one, makes the residents happy why not let them have it. The separatist connotations are soon forgotten.

  15. Bloody Civilian


    sometimes nationalism as pernicious and tribal as the tribal ones you preach against can hide behind so-called pakistani, composite nationalism. you’ve acknowledged this by your support for addressing the source of the threat of punjabi majoritarianism. having suffered under four military dictatorships, the tribal, feudel interests and, more pertinently, mentality of the GHQ and associated (but sub-servient) elites also try to exploit the composite nationalism. indeed opportunistic politicians and vested interests equally exploit parochialism and nationalism of the smaller ‘tribes’. yet, a patriot must be able to honestly and (hopefully) correctly identify the victim in each case and stand with them. a mutual acknowledgement and accomodation based on the spirit and (higher) principles of democracy has to precede the emergence of a composite identity. it cannot be shoved down peoples’ throats.

  16. PMA

    Bloody Civilian (September 6, 2009 at 3:48 pm):

    You and I are on the same page. I think. I see ethnic-nationalism and sectarianism a greater danger to the state of Pakistan. Punjab is the largest, richest province of Pakistan. It must be divided into three provinces centered around regional hubs. I suggest:

    1) Rawalpindi Province or Potowar Province containing areas north of River Jhelum, primarily the plateau and Punjab Highlands.

    2) Multan province, the old ‘Suba Multan’ containing Multan and areas south of River Sutlej.

    3) Lahore Province from the balance.

    This will, to a greater degree reduce the imbalance caused by the population size and influence of Punjab. At the same time the Northern Areas now called Gilgit-Baltistan should be given status of a province. PATA & FATA should be dissolved and merged with NWFP which itself must be given a region-based name, but not an ethnic name. There is a great fallacy that NWFP is totally inhabited by the ethnic Pashtuns. My grand father was from Kohat. I have tons of relatives still living in Bannu and Kohat areas. I know what I am talking about. Naming the province Pakhtunkhwa will open up another can of worms and strive between Pashtun and non-Pashtuns of NWFP. I do not wish away ethnicity of individuals even though I know that yesterday’s Kashmiris and Pashtuns are the today’s Punjabis! Ethnicity itself is a moving target. But I am against ethnicity based nationalism including that of Punjab. My vision of Pakistan is a fair and just society with rule of law, one nation under God.

  17. Bloody Civilian


    I agree with all the points you’ve made.

    to change their province’s name is the prerogative of the people. but it is not a majority right like govt policy etc. it needs unanimity/consensus.. and the kind of name you’ve suggested would be a much wiser choice.

    i’m a ‘lahori pashtun’… so, by extension, a punjabi pashtun. i cannot be asked to choose between the two. and both are irrelevant to my being a proud pakistani.

  18. mel

    September 5, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    i totally agree with u, I think u have explained it well.
    why can’t some people tolerate other people’s happiness……….i think they need to get a life.