Finding hope in the Swat
Valley By Farkhanda Wazir,
For many, hope for Pakistan's
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province died with Shabana. It
was 2009 when the young dancer made headlines
around the world after she was brutally slain by
the Taliban in Mingora, the capital of Swat
Months later, the province's
once-idyllic Swat Valley was the target of a
massive military operation launched by the
Pakistani military with the aim of rooting out
insurgents. Then came the devastating floods of
2010, which wiped out entire villages and deprived
already impoverished farmers of their livelihoods.
The confluence of events left many locals
with no option but to flee, and an estimated 2
million people did just that.
impossible today to ignore the lasting legacy of destruction
and violence. Swat Valley
is still rebuilding from the floods and military
operation. Green Square, where Shabana met her
end, is now known among locals as "bloody square."
And many of the singers, dancing girls, and other
artisans for which the region was known have never
But even if they have to do it
from afar, many devotees are intent on restoring
the province's reputation as a cultural center.
thrives Fashion designer Parkha Khan, 22,
is one of them. Through her fashion house, Dew
Drops Couture, she has made it a point to nurture
domestic talents that otherwise might be doomed to
She says her experiences
growing up amid daily violence in Karachi, the
southern Pakistani port city where her boutique is
located, fueled her desire to use the catwalk to
showcase the softer side of Pakistan.
line includes some of Pakistan's most famous
designers, but it also promotes the work of
traditional artisans, including embroiderers from
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
people in Peshawar, in particular, have very good
fashion sense and that a number of women from the
city send her embroideries.
reluctant to invest in Peshawar at all, because I
do get my embroideries done there; women send me
their cultural clothing, Pashtun clothing that I
have showcased in my fashion show," she says.
Describing it as an "honor" to work with
such artisans, Parkha says she merely provides
them "a platform where they can come forward and
exhibit their talent." The response from clients,
she adds, is "overwhelming."
militants, such as these standing guard at
Charbagh, a Taliban stronghold near Mingora in
Swat, are still a presence in the area.
Naseem Akhtar, from Swat's Faiz Abad,
makes traditional embroideries for shawls and
Akhtar tells RFE/RL's
Radio Mashaal that the activities of militants in
the region badly affected her work. She describes
life under the control of the Taliban, which
banned many activities and prevented women from
going out in public without the accompaniment of
male family members, as the worst thing.
Nevertheless, she remained, and is now
receiving training from Lasoona ("Hands"), a
nongovernmental organization established in 1997
that is working to find markets for local
embroidery in keeping with its efforts to promote
eco-friendly development in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Akhtar, who quit school after
the sixth grade to care for her sick father, has
mastered not only Swati embroidery, but Multani
and Kashmiri as well. She can earn from $11 to $50
for every shawl she embroiders.
want to build a work center of my own and I want
to prove to be like a son for my father," Naseem
says. "That's my aim."
Switzerland' in song Efforts to stitch back
the pieces of life in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province
go far beyond embroidery. Famous for its
musicians, dancers, and natural beauty that earned
it the moniker of "Switzerland of Asia," there are
many who are singing the region's praises.
Hamayun Khan, a singer from Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa who is popular among young people, was
recently invited on the Pakistani music-television
series "Coke Studio."
He took the
opportunity to perform Lar Sha Pekhwar Ta,
whose lyrics draw on the more beautiful aspects of
life in his home region:
"Go to Peshawar and bring a black
shirt for me; bring three or four fresh
flowers for me"
"Where my beloved (Laila)
steps in; there at water bank; the yellow
flowers turn more fresh"
"You will hurt
someone; so don't wear a red shawl"
"My beloved Laila is beautiful among all
girls; the yellow flowers on her black shirt;
seem like stars."
Khan tells RFE/RL he
is trying to build a softer image of his home and
country through his songs. He singled out those
who attack symbols of peace among Pashtuns - such
as beloved Sufi poet Rehman Baba, whose shrine was
destroyed by the Taliban in 2009, and poet and
politician Ajmal Khattak, whose shrine was blown
up in May 2012 - for criticism.
attacks have a negative effect on society But it
should not discourage us from moving ahead," Khan
Fond of music from childhood,
Humayun has big plans - to have a production house
and to found a hospital. In his view, only through
good works can the message of peace be sent from
his homeland to the world.