Monday, 6 April 2009

When Beauty Hurts

The troubles in the Swat Valley ring deep. It is a beautiful place, and with it, it's people. My connections to the valley through family and our shared history means that I have many aspirations for the place. I can dream on a grand scale, but for now I pray for a lasting return to normality and a future of peace and prosperity.

My life, as a Yorkshire-born son of migrants from Karachi, means that my contact with Swat has not been extensive. I speak, however, as someone who grew up knowing of my immediate family living in the valley. I also speak Pashto with a distinctly Swati dialect. Swat is a constant part of our family conversations, and this summer the valley draws my wife, our children and myself back. After all, this is who we are.

Swat - سوات - A Princely State

Swat was a wilaayat (princely state) long before Pakistan was carved out of India and is astonishingly breath-taking; an obvious tourist hub and the pride of the Yusufzai Pashtoons. The snow capped mountains, the gorges, the streams, the pine trees, are all reminiscent of those naturally beautiful places untouched by urban decay and pollution. I first went to Swat when I was toddling - I remember nothing of it of course - though had the opportunity to return and explore as an adult.

That was twelve years ago in the summer of 1996, one month before the Taliban took control of Kabul. Swat in 1996, was peaceful, rather under-developed and with even more power outages than places like Peshawar but where traditions - honour, virtue, kinship, Islam and Pashtunwali remained strong.

I knew little of the Taliban then and what I know now, the world knows too. Afghanistan has suffered much and today, Swat has been bleeding too. The disturbances at the present time have led to the killings of hundreds and the displacement of an estimated 800,000 people. Pashtoons, uprooted, seeking refuge from violence, once again. Officially, a peace has been brokered, but at a cost - girls education has been dismantled and the recent footage of the public flogging has left many of us disturbed.

President Obama, has recently referred to the Tribal Areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border regions as the "most dangerous place on Earth."

It is my intention, InshAllah, to travel there this summer. The occasion is a wedding - these moments of joy and optimism are what we need to help us heal. Please pray for us.
Tor_Khan تور خان

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