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Pashtun poet believes the pen is mightier than the sword
Roghani has long advocated peace; now, his writing has taken on a new purpose as Pakistan continues fighting the Taliban
“The Imam has nothing but to instill fear in my heart,
The words of my sweetheart have become shallow and have lost the warmth of her heart,
The leader of the nation has sold his conscience for monetary gains,
The flowers of hope are burnt in the flames of fire,
The river of Swat is stained with human blood,
I have broken both my head and my glass full of wine at the doors of the tavern,
Now I am a lonely being, like Adam from my paradise
I am thrown on the surface of a cruel world—but I don’t know about my sin.”
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- “If there was a paradise on Earth, that was the beautiful valley of Swat. It had heritage, history and traditions based on love and peace”, said Abdurrahman Roghani.
Roghani 58, is an eminent Pashtun poet, writer and social activist who recently returned to his home in Swat valley of northwestern Pakistan, where the conflict between Taliban militants and Pakistan security forces has displaced millions of people since May 2009.
A resident of Matta town (Upper Swat), Roghani has experienced hard times. Roghani has a history of struggle against the forces of hatred, bigotry and extremism.
He is a poet with a rebellious soul and romantic imagination. During his 35-year literary career, he has always advocated that life can be beautified and made worth living by following the purity of nature.
“The world is a beautiful place; it has a beautiful arrangement to satisfy all aesthetic, emotional and psychological demands of a decent human existence. All religions are peace; this is personal greed and vested interests that fan war and violence in every part of the world”, he said. Roghani was the only powerful voice that rose against the Taliban for imposing their will on the people to promote their global jihadist agenda.
“You cannot subdue human souls by force. It is not possible to stop the ever-flowing stream of life forcefully. You can channelize it with craft and wisdom but you cannot stop it by erecting walls in its way”, he said, referring to the acts of militants who banned all artistic expression and bombed hundreds of music shops in the valley.
“(The) human heart can only be dominated by love and affection, not weapons and war”, he said.
The militants singled him out for his romantic verses, his progressive thoughts, and his role as the most popular social figure in the area. In July 2007, the Taliban established their headquarters in Matta and started torturing people who they considered opponents to their religious ideology.
In the Taliban view, Roghani was “the messenger of the devil, a poet who composed bad verses”, encouraged people to send girls to schools and not to be influenced by the Taliban’s preaching.
“Soon it became impossible to stay back at home. I decided to migrate to nearby Miandam valley, but local Taliban sympathizers viewed me with suspicion. Four of my children are at a tender age; they were very confused and terrified over the evolving situation. They could not understand why people were being killed and their houses destroyed”, Roghani explained.
Swabi is about 150 kilometres from Mingora and Roghani recalls that the journey was one of unparalleled suffering for the thousands of children, women and elderly people who were forced to leave their homes by the conflict.
“I threw a last glance at my valley and the deserted homes and took my family to move forward for an unknown destination. On the way, women were weeping, cursing both militants and the military for bringing war to their homes”, he said.
The war and migration made deep impressions on Roghani and brought a major shift in his literary pursuits. Roghani said his verses took on a sad tone after witnessing so much death and destruction.
“I wrote to re-invigorate people’s souls, to motivate them to love life and work together to further beautify it by alleviating suffering and injustices, but now I am concerned with the question of survival”, he said.
“The world has become an insecure place to live. Man breaks his bond with nature, greed dominates our affairs and religion is used to perpetuate war both at the physical and psychological grounds. This sense of despair is now clearly reflected in my poetic works”, he said, drawing a piece of paper from the pocket of his worn-out waistcoat and reciting the newly composed poem at the beginning of this story.
With the military operation in its final phase in Swat and the majority of displaced people back in their homes, Roghani, too, has returned to his home town.
He lives in a two-room rented house with his family. The war has badly shaken the social and economic infrastructure in the valley, and Roghani is struggling to survive and feed his family with the monthly stipend from the government in return for his services as a school teacher and an honorarium from the Pakistan Academy of Letters.
“In total, it makes Rs. 10, 000 with which I try to manage the expenses of my family”, he said.
Roghani is working on a book about the social, cultural, economic and psychological consequences of the conflict. He has published three collections of his poetry.
“The tragedy in our lives is so huge, that I can’t accommodate it in verses. Now I have started writing in prose”, he explains.
Though he seems satisfied with the military action, he thinks victory in the war against terrorism is a long way off.
“If you want to win the war, win the hearts and minds of the people”, he said, adding that promoting culture and arts will play a major role in discouraging fundamentalist religious thought and pave the way for a stable peace in the region.