In Pakistan, Taliban tearing apart a culture
Pashtun residents say militants have imposed extremist views on the population, displacing centuries-old traditions.
Pashtun literature used to be full of romance and praise for the beauty of nature. Now it reflects the death and explosions that have filled the lives of Pakistanis.Skip to next paragraph
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The literary trend is the lesser-known victim of the "Talibanization" in Pakistan's northwest. Militants imposed their ultraconservative brand of Islam in and around the Swat Valley until the military ousted them this summer, and they continue to hold sway throughout the tribal regions.
Residents in these areas say their reign is robbing this predominantly Pashtun area of its centuries-old culture and tearing the social fabric, from poetry to dancing to community centers. Even in Swat, where residents displaced by the fighting are making their way home, many entertainers have not come back for fear the Taliban might.
"This is an attempt to Arabize the Pashtun society by attacking their culture and their highly revered institutions," says Said Alam Mehsud, a leader of the Aman Tehreek, a peace movement recently launched in Peshawar.
The Pashtuns, an ethnic group concentrated in northwestern Pakistan and southern and eastern Afghanistan, live by a revered code of conduct called Pashtunwali. Society has traditionally centered around community centers called hujras, where assemblies of elders and community leaders called jirgas are an important part of the culture.
But the militant brand of Islam brought by the Taliban has displaced the hujra and instead placed the mosque at the center of society, says Raj Wali Shah Khattak, former director of the Pashto Academy at the University of Peshawar. That has reduced the role of the jirga, leaving space for clergy to bring the Pashtun culture under a strict interpretation of religion, says Dr. Khattak, who is not related to the reporter.
It has also deterred people from coming forward to organize lashkars (armies of tribal volunteers) against the militants. More than 200 tribal elders have been killed in North and South Waziristan alone since 2004, while many others have fallen victim to the militant attacks in Swat and other districts of northwest Pakistan. Community centers and mosques, often used to organize lashkars, have been targeted by suicide bombers in the past two years.