Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Dispatches - Pakistan's Taliban generation

I'll never forget the time my father came back from Pakistan, having spent some time in Sawat in the Northwest Frontier Province. It was the only time I saw him genuinely excited by anything, face lit up with genuine pleasure. He swore that next time, we would go.

For some reason, we couldn't manage Sawat, so we ended up going to Kaghan instead. I had no problems with the switch. As I stood there, looking out at the Himalayas, breathing the air, I felt something I have rarely felt before or since - home. For a moment, this endlessly wandering pilgrim was at rest. It was worth the sun poisoning Rabia and I suffered that night.

And the people, blessed Lady. Beautiful, vibrant, friendly. I loved the kids who clustered round us asking us who we were, talking to us, laughing. The girls wore heavy shawls over their clothes to keep off the cold; the boys ran about without coats.

The first morning, I uncurled myself from under the razai (the most GORGEOUS, THICK, WARM, USUALLY SATINY-VELVETY duvets you will EVER find), washed up, and walked outside into the most glorious sunshine, to find my uncle getting shaved with a straight razor - the first time I'd ever seen it, and I was mesmerised.

The trip was magical - the natural beauty, the people, a heartstopping horse ride to Sahful Malook (pic below) - and the last night was full of magical, hysterical laughter as my mother's youngest brother kept us all gasping for breath - he's always been the family card.

Those are my NWFP memories.

Saiful Malook, gorgeous glacial lake in the Kaghan Valley.


So, to see it last night, savaged, scared, broken, oppressed by Taliban rule I didn't know existed in Pakistan, made my heart break. The emptiness, the pain, the breaking of the people's spirit vied with the stupidity spewing out of boys' mouths - "Al Qaeda did this, so I'm going to join the Taliban" - to make me alternately cry and scream.

The injuries, the deaths, the Taliban member who made me post a violent status yesterday after he called children 'tools to achieve the will of God', the brainwashed boy who said that 'God wants women to stay home, so what the hell are they doing out and about?' left me in horrified shock and rage.

One lad offered a moment of gallows humour when asked, "Do you want to be a suicide bomber?"
He replied, "I'd love to be, if I can get permission from my father."

The girls made me cry. The one who wanted to stay where she was and become a doctor, but will have to go back to her Taliban controlled village. The two girls who could have been my daughters who stood in a ruined school, whilst one said, "Education is a ray of light, I want some of that light."

The other...the other said she'd have to start wearing the burqa her father bought her. When asked whether she liked it, she said, "No. I trip on it all the time." Listen to hearts break everywhere.

Her brave father was the one man who made any sense on the programme; the rest sounded like Borg clones.

But what made my blood run cold was the young boy's voice singing a song at the beginning and end for which I had no need of the subtitles:

"If you try to find me after I have died/you won't find my body whole/you will only find little pieces/and if God approves/He will put the body back together again"

Pakistan, my Pakistan, what will become of you?

I'm not sure I dare hope.

3 comments:

Ariel said...

Oh my God. I haven't the first idea what to say about that; I'm too horrified. I had no idea the Taliban was in Pakistan.

Ari.xx

Anonymous said...

The documentary draws attention to some important facts about Pakistan. However at a few places, it succumbs to the temptation to sound somewhat sensational. One example stand out:

Travelling through Swat valley, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy claims that women in Swat never wore a burqa earlier. "Now the few women we could find on the streets were fully covered in burqa."

Sharmeen never qualified her statement to say that what two periods of time or locations in Swat are being compared to claim a radical change in the outfit Pashtun women in the Frontier province wear outdoors.

I wonder whether the situation is really so grave or it is portrayed so for an added dramatic effect.

One expects that if the condition was so grim, anthropologists and sociologists would be pouring over one another to study the trends and the factors contributing to that.

How come, Despatches could not find such experts to back their assertions with some genuine fieldwork that goes beyond what is seen on the surface?

Irim said...

Anonymous -

Children whose parents are dead, towns razed, schools for girls razed, policemen with their heads cut off and signs reading "Anyone who moves this body will suffer the same fate"...mortar fire in the background?

sensationalised? Added for effect?

I think not.

What, people disappearing or having their heads cut off and put on display aren't bad enough for you? Listening to a Taliban say that children are simply tools to achieve the will of God not bad enough for you? Images of limbs blown off not bad enough for you? Listening to a teenage boy go on about how women shouldn't leave the house and how that should be taken care of not enough for you?

Not enough evidence for you, is it?

This isn't an academic essay, it's a picture into what life is like NOW.

And as for the burqa wearing, I CAN TELL YOU, HAVING SPENT A GOOD PART OF MY LIFE GOING BACK EVERY 2-3 YEARS, THAT IT HAS CHANGED. AS CAN COUSINS OF MINE WHO LIVE THERE.

No one here needs an academic study wondering whether they mean 1990 or 1790. Because FRANKLY, if you were to compare how women in the West cover themselves now to how they covered themselves in 1790, it WOULD BE MEANINGLESS, BECAUSE THE CULTURE HAS CHANGED SO MUCH.

It's obvious we're talking about change over the last 20 years or so.

One expects that if the condition was so grim, anthropologists and sociologists would be pouring over one another to study the trends and the factors contributing to that.

FFS, it's a WAR ZONE. WHAT ANTHROPOLOGISTS AND SOCIOLOGISTS ARE GOING TO BE POURING IN TO STUDY THERE???? ARE PEOPLE DOING FIELDWORK IN IRAQ RIGHT NOW?

Use some common sense. I'm not sure whether you're a Westerner who hasn't got a clue about Islamic culture and how repressive it is - and just how sociopathic the Taliban are - or whether you are some kind of Muslim male trying to apologise for their behaviour, but either way, you go ahead and keep your ivory tower/apologist head in the sand.

We're talking about people suffering, not a DPhil thesis.

That's what journalism is ABOUT - bringing the plight of the people here and now to your attention so you can do something about it, rather than sitting in your comfortable little privileged life musing about anthropological studies whilst a brutal regime carries on.