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Swatis treat guests to musical show
Dance-and-music show convey the return of peace
By Hasan Khan
SWAT -- It was more than just a musical party.
“Today the people in Swat announce their victory against the forces of oppression”, said Ziauddin Yusufzai, who organized one of many song and dance performances held amid the Jashn-e-Swat: Amn Mela celebrations June 29-July 18.
The show, held at the British-era White Palace Hotel in Murghuzar, commemorated Swat’s victory over Islamic militants, and proved that peace now reigns supreme in the tourists’ valley. Swat residents and local traders organised the festivities, with the help of the army and local government, to attract tourists.
“The people of Swat celebrate their victory in the company of those who helped them when they left their homes to let the military fight the beasts”, Yusufzai said.
It was a treat meant to honour those who shared their homes and hearts with the people of Swat when they had hit rock bottom, forced to flee their enchanting valley.
Even the shyest audience members could not resist joining in the celebration’s dancing. Attendees gave a prolonged ovation to local favourite Sardar Yusufzai as he began singing his song, accompanied by the high-pitched sounds of a tabla (known as a dup’ray in Pashtun).
The commingling of people and nature in the scenic Murghuzar Valley under the spell of beloved, mostly nationalistic tunes followed a long period of death and darkness ordained by militants whose idea of Islam forbade music and dancing.
The open-air musical night seemed unbelievable to many who remembered the ubiquity of death during the insurgents’ reign of terror.
“It is unbelievable that the people in Swat have — so easily and so early — forgotten the massacre and butchery of the Fazllullah-led gang of criminals”, said Sheikh Najeeb Ahmed.
Najeeb, who owns and runs Islamabad’s FM 99 radio station, received a special invitation to the party in recognition of his station’s contribution in broadcasting the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
A large number of families and individuals from nearby districts who accommodated Swati IDPs without charge during the military operation against militants a year earlier were in attendance.
“It (the night show) reminds me of the good old days when we used to visit Swat in summer”, said Himayatullah Mayyar, Mardan district mayor.
Mayyar was the special guest at the night representing the people of Mardan — a district that hosted the largest number of IDPs over an extended period.
The presence of men and women in the audience demonstrates the resiliency of those fighting back against the militancy, Mayyar said.
“The number of people participating in Jashn-e-Swat celebrations shows that peace is back in the valley”, Mayyar told Central Asia Online. “Today Swat is back the way it was”.
“Those who destroyed the peace of the valley and dreamed of imposing their rule are nowhere here today”, said Shamim Shahid, a Peshawar-based senior journalist.
Shamim — hailing from the neighbouring militant-hit Buner — remained defiant throughout the entire insurgent reign, denouncing militants for months in the face of death threats.
“I am so happy to see people singing and dancing in the open (air)”, he said as he sat in the front row after dancing throughout an entire song performed by local folk singer Wara Khan.
Nationalists in the audience took interest in the more secular melodies of Amjad Shezad — another local vocalist.
Amjad also moved the audience with his personal story, describing how his two-year-old son used to imitate him when he rehearsed in happier, pre-militant times.
“Now my son has stopped mimicking me when I rehearse”, said Amjad in a choked voice. His son grew frightened of the artillery and gunfire that had become the accompaniment of daily life, he said.
The spectacular part of the night was the late-night mass dance called the a’thnr.
Almost all joined in dancing the a’thnr when Bakhtyar Khattak started singing the familiar lyrics.
The a’thnr is the Pashtun national dance and an essential component of any Pashtun musical show.