Not all jirgas make decisions, some have post-militancy poems
On a lonely highway that takes you from Dera Ismail Khan to Karak is a place called Paharkhel where men used to gather to read their verse out aloud. It is a wide open space where these street poets would spar, or inspire each other with linguistic pyrotechnics.
But then, six years ago, the Lakki Marwat Adabi Jirga or tolana stopped holding these maidani programmes—because the bodies started appearing.
“Every evening people used to come here and enjoy themselves but they started to find bodies dumped here,” says Liaquat Marwat, a local NGO worker. He is referring to the years between 2008 and roughly 2015, when militancy overran the area. The bodies were thrown into a canal that was covered by tall grass and reeds. “It’s the main junction of the highway leading to Peshawar and Islamabad, so there isn’t any better place to dump bodies than this one in the entire district,” he adds.
Lakki Marwat’s spectacular misfortune was being the second most impoverished part of southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, poorer perhaps after Tank. It is an expansive district with an inversely proportionate population. Those who managed to get an education got out. Many moved to the nearby Dera Ismail Khan, others to Karachi. Those who couldn’t get too far became busboys at highway hotels.
“The ones who couldn’t find jobs tried religion and after 9/11 switched to militancy which was a lucrative business,” explains Professor Dr Siraj, an educationist and researcher on human resources.
You’d come out for an evening walk to this spot and not know if you’d make it home.
“There was so much fear in the air that we couldn’t conduct poetry sessions in the villages because of bomb blasts and suicide bombings,” says Anwar Khan, a Begukhel tribesman, who is the president of the Lakki Marwat Literary Jirga.
When the threats and fatwas started to pour in, the poets went “underground”. “They published their work instead of orating it at public forums,” Anwar Khan explains. This way they managed to keep the tradition alive but safe.
But now better days have returned. Only recently they held a poetry session which about 160 men attended. In fact, now their poetry has much more inspiration: the people who threatened it. Anwar Khan recites:
If it’s a stigma from our tribe, we don’t need it.
If it’s the son of Sham and Ham we don’t need it.
You turned the Army school into the battle of Karbala.
If this is your religion, we don’t need it.
Anwar, we don’t befriend such people.
Those who recite Allah’s name
but keep Ram in their hearts
We don’t need them.
Note: The headline of the piece is taken from a 1989 film about a boarding school’s students who get into trouble for forming a clandestine underground society to read poetry