Thursday 5 March 2009

Barbarians strike at the Pashtuns' great poet

The damaged mausoleum of Abdurrahman Baba (Pashtun Post)

I arrived in Peshawar last night much quicker than I expected. This frontier city is now only a two-hour drive from Islambad along the new motorway. Instead of the chaos and confusion of the Grand Trunk (GT) Road, the journey was almost serene as the road cut through green fields and orchards and crossed river after river. Peshawar was once considered an Afghan city, until the Sikhs won it in battle and then the British defeated the Sikhs. Thus was it inherited by Pakistan.
But at its heart Peshawar is still Afghan to the core. Its huge expansion in the last 30 years, fuelled by the millions of Afghan refugees for whom it became home during the war against the Soviets, has done nothing to lessen this feeling. Women wearing the Afghan burka can be seen everywhere and whole districts are populated by those Afghans who never returned home.
More particularly, Peshawar is a Pashtun city, sitting in the heart of the North West Frontier Province and close by the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
And it is increasingly a Taliban city. Although they have no electoral support, theTaliban have the muscle and the influence to dominate the city. Since I arrived I have heard many accounts of Pashto language poets and singers giving up their profession for their own safety. Some have left for foreign countries and even - ironically - for Afghanistan, where they feel less constrained than here, where the Wahhabi influence is strong and growing.
One consequence of all this is that few visitors come here any more. Last night I went to the Khan Klub for dinner. This magnificent and famous five-storey haveli or guesthouse in the old part of the city, boasts five-star rooms decorated with wonderful local carpets, "classical eastern music" and "full service eastern and western fare restaurant".
In fact, when we arrived, there were no guests. We were the first foreigners to enter the building since February 2008. Despite this, our hosts produced a wonderful meal, served to us by candlelight.
This morning, the reality of the alien intolerance introduced by the Arabs of al-Qaeda into Pashtun culture was brought home in the usual way - by an explosion. There have been many explosions in this city, but few were as poignant as this one. No-one was killed, but every Pushtun was hurt by this bomb.
The target was the mausoleum of Abdurrahman Baba, the greatest of the Pashtun Sufi poets. The outer wall of his mausoleum in the Hazarkhwani area of the city was completely destroyed. According to an article in the Pashtun Post a group of unidentified militants used remote control bombs to destroy the four pillars of the building.
No matter which misguided people carried out this bombing, it was aimed at destroying Pashtun culture - the poems of Khushal Khan Khattak and Rahman Baba and later followers such as Ameer Hamza Shinwari and the journalist Mahmud Tarzi.
None was more important to Pashtun culture than Rahman Baba. He was born in 1632 just to the south of Peshawar and was a great Sufi poet in the tradition of Rumi. His wonderful poems teach the need for toleration, peace and spirituality. What could justify an attack on his mortal remains?
Four years ago Robert Sampson and Momin Khan Jaja published the 900-page
The Poetry of Rahman Baba - Poet of the Pashtuns, the poet's complete works. You can find out more about the book here. In fact, I urge you to buy a copy, just to show the bastards who did this today that the pen of a great man is mightier than the sword.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Pashtuns are the real victims of the vicious strain of Wahhabi Islam that was introduced into this region during the anti-Soviet jihad and which is now in the ascendancy. It is not their choice, but one that is being imposed on them by outsiders. Their culture is being strangled by gunmen and killers who care nothing for the great traditions of a proud people.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey Nick - great entry. I'm reading Baba now actually. Has the mausoleum been repaired do you know?