D.I.Khan: Shaukat Wazir, a Pashto folk singer from the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, gives voice to a child’s longing for school and learning with his lyrics: “Father give me an environment where I can learn, father take me to school.”

Wazir had to abandon his passion for poetry and music after the Taliban’s dominance in South Waziristan.

Wazir, from the Wana district of South Waziristan, started singing and writing poetry in 2006.

Due to the influence of terrorism and the Taliban’s dominance over the region, his art was subdued and could not flourish. Since military operations drove the Taliban away, Wazir has taken up his passion for music and poetry once again.

“I have recorded 34 audio songs in Pashto so far. Most of them are very popular,” he told Truth Tracker.

Wazir writes Pashto poetry alongside his musical endeavours. Two of his books of poems have already been published.

“We teach the importance of love and peace and invite those who hate to love. Parents instil these values in tribal children, and the community adopts those children whose parents died in wars, in order to discourage inequality and hate-mongering,” he said.

Cultural activities have faced severe restrictions in South Waziristan and other tribal areas for the past 15 years. These sanctions had an adverse effect on the musical and poetic fraternities. Most people who were associated with this profession were forced to leave their art and look for a different means of livelihood. Some migrated and settled elsewhere in Pakistan.

According to the Art Freedom Institution, a drum beater was shot and killed in Swabi in April 2015.

In March and June 2014, the local Pashto singer Wazir Khan was kidnapped by terrorists thrice and released each time on the condition that he would not sing. In Peshawar, Pashto singer Gul Naz was killed by unidentified gunmen who barged into her house.

According to a report by Art Freedom Institute in 2016, local authorities banned all events that had dance and music due to a terrorist threat in a suburban village of Peshawar, bordering Khyber Agency.

From 2000 to 2011, 14 people were killed, 15 injured and 121 were abducted in the tribal areas of Pakistan and KPK due to their association with music and cultural activities, according to the Pakistan Press Foundation

During the same period, 580 CD shops and music centres were destroyed while 13 musicians and singers from different areas were threatened.

According to the Free Music Institution, over a dozen CD shops were bombed in Swabi and Miranshah in November 2011, while Pashto singer Ghazala Javed and her father were shot dead by unknown assailants in Peshawar in June 2012.

Wazir begged several people for help in recording his songs because he did not have access to a studio.

“Due to the government’s negligence and poor security conditions, I had contemplated leaving this profession several times. But the love of the people and their overwhelming response stopped me,” he told Truth Tracker.

“I would to travel all the way to Peshawar to record a song, and then would wait for a month. We managed to form two small poetry organizations, through self-funding, which hold small events for the entertainment of tribesmen.”

Young people in the tribal areas who have lived through the violence of militancy are suffering depression, local resident Irfan Mahmand believes.

“Our culture is not violent but the society and government have ruined our image. In fact, we are a music and culture-loving nation. But a perpetual feeling of fear looms over us. Our cultural dance is an integral part of marriages and religious festivals like Eid,” Mahmand told Truth Tracker.

Sailab Mehsud, a tribal writer, said the circumstances endured by artists in the tribal areas were tragic.

“No attention is being paid to the frequency of war and bomb attacks which have affected tribal society,” he told Truth Tracker.

“While poets and artists are free to express themselves in other parts of the country, freedom of expression is non-existent here. The Academy of Letters should pay attention to this.”

He accused KP authorities of turning a blind eye to the plight of the poor and tribal poets and singers.

Sohail Mehsud, another tribal youth, believes local people should help and encourage new singers.

“It is necessary to establish an academy for young singers. Some people continue to stigmatize singing, and that barrier can be removed by providing such facilities,” Mehsud told Truth Tracker.

A poem or a gazal has the potential to bring about a revolution, Wazir believes.

“Peace is not possible without education, and it is peace that helps preserve the essence of a culture.”

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