Hit hard, Peshawar is finding ways to keep its spirit alive
orrow is palpable in the wake of a recent terrorist attack at a mosque located inside the Peshawar police lines setup that left over 100 dead and over 200 injured.
“Duran Shah was my next-door neighbour. He was a brave and dutiful police inspector,” Amin Kundi, a rights activist, tells The News on Sunday. “We used to run into each other every single day,” he reminisced with tears in his eyes.
“On that fateful day, he had a breakfast with his family; then stopped by to say good morning to me. We had a little chat,” said Kundi. “He left for Peshawar Police Lines and never returned.”
Peshawar is in mourning but when the horrific incident happened, the citizens sprang into action and mobilised immediately, keeping alive the spirit of resilience and volunteerism that the city is known for.
Medics of all ranks, students and social activists rushed to the Lady Reading Hospital, the medical facility closest to the bombing site and offered their support.
Dr Ikram Sparlai, a young medic, shared that as soon as his colleagues received news of the mosque bombing, they rushed to the station. “Within minutes, junior, senior and even off-duty medics were at the LRH to provide medical aid to the survivors,” said Sparlai.
“Terror attacks are not unprecedented in the city. But compared to our response to the last spate of militant attacks, this time we [Peshawarites] were quicker to organise and respond. This is an indication of the resilience, resolve and volunteerism that keep this city going,” stated Sparlai.
The doctor said that seeing young college and university students assist in the relief activities was one of the most heartening things he witnessed in the aftermath of the attack.
“Some students were shuffling about impatiently in queues to donate blood. Others were helping shift bodies and offering support to the bereaved families,” remarked Sparlai.
Within two hours of the incident, the volunteers had donated almost 20,000 bags of blood. As more people swarmed to the emergency ward to donate blood, an LRH spokesman had to officially announce that the hospital had enough blood for all the victims and no more donations were required.
“As soon as we heard of the blast and saw the footage on social media, we became active. My students wanted to help out in any way they could. They wanted to donate blood, money and clothes,” Syed Kamal Shah, a senior professor who teaches at the historic Islamia College told The News on Sunday. “So we took a bus full of boarding students to the LRH Emergency right away,” he added.
The military, civil and political leaders boosted the morale of the police force and the residents were determined to shoulder the burden of this tragedy.
The next day, student wings of all political parties arranged a grand peace march on the Peshawar University campus. They carried banners inscribed with slogans against terrorism and militancy. The protestors strongly condemned the heinous attack on the police force inside a place of worship.
Abid Afghan, a student leader, said, “We will not accept militant attacks. We want lasting peace on our soil. We need pens and books, not guns.”
Economic distress coupled with terror incidents in Peshawar brings to one’s mind a popular couplet by Rahman Baba in which he expresses sorrow over the state the city was in in his times.
“Owing to insensitive rulers, Peshawar has become synonymous with fire and grave,” wrote Baba. This verse may still be relevant. It tugs at our hearts from across the barrier of time.
At the same time, it is heartening that the citizens are putting on a brave front in the face of threatening violence. People from all walks of life – literati, scholars, rights activists, political pundits and religious clerics - seem to agree on defeating terrorism through a counter-narrative of peace.
Shafeeq Gigyani, chief of the Poha organisation and patron of Peshawar Circles, said he and his colleagues would continue their social and literary activities including weekly debates and study circles as usual.
“The residents of Peshawar stand united against terrorism in all its manifestations. We will not accept more bloodshed. Peshawarites are determined to defeat terrorism through their narrative of peace and cultural activities,” Gigyani said.
Rashid Khan, president of the Hunari Welfare Society, told The News on Sunday that he had urged the artists’ community to never surrender to the narrative of the militants. “We stand for peace, art and culture, and a pluralistic society,” emphasised Khan.
Around 80 poets gathered in Peshawar under the banner of a not-for-profit organisation called The Candles of Peace and Unity in Khyber where the literati advocated peace, unity, resilience, and interfaith harmony. Zeek Afridi, the chief organiser, said that his organisation wanted to counter militancy by promoting literary activities.
Prof Nasir Ali Syed, the writer and patron of Halqa Arbab-i- Zauq, Peshawar, convened a weekly literary session which was also attended by poets and writers from other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Our organisation will continue spreading the message of peace. Peshawar city will keep up its routine activities including weekly sessions, debates, book launch and poetry recitals,” he announced.
The whole province, including merged tribal districts, has unequivocally rejected militancy, condemned terror attacks and demanded peace from the authorities. From Bannu to Dera Ismail Khan, Waziristan to Dir, Chitral to Swat, and Mardan to Peshawar, people have raised their voices against the brutality of the militants.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. He mostly writes on art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets @Shinwar-9