KP promotes peace, security through cultural revival

By Muhammad Shakil

Pakistanis attend a peace mushaira (poetic gathering) March 14 in Peshawar as part of KP's Revival of Indigenous Cultural Heritage (RICH) project. [Muhammad Shakil]

Pakistanis attend a peace mushaira (poetic gathering) March 14 in Peshawar as part of KP's Revival of Indigenous Cultural Heritage (RICH) project. [Muhammad Shakil]

PESHAWAR -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) authorities are celebrating the nationwide marginalisation of militancy with the three-month-long Revival of Indigenous Cultural Heritage (RICH) project.

Although militants remain active in Pakistan, recent security gains have made the country -- and KP specifically -- much safer than in years past.

RICH, launched March 14, is meant to promote peace and instil a sense of security among KP residents by re-introducing cultural events that fell by the wayside during the worst years of militancy.

The events are the work of the KP Directorate of Culture and the Swabi-based non-governmental organisation Samaji Behbood Rabita Council, which fights for human rights.

Reviving Pashtun culture

The KP government is planning a broad variety of events to revive Pashtun traditions that suffered from the militants' determination to eradicate everything that came before them.

During the years of their greatest sway in KP, militants assassinated tribal elders and musicians, among other acts meant to devastate the culture.

"Our purpose is to revive Pashtun culture," RICH Project Director Arshad Hussain told Pakistan Forward. "Extremism not only damaged our social edifice but also its foundations of tolerance, peace and love."

RICH is meant to "project the true face of Pashtuns, who have been tagged worldwide as violent extremists", he said.

Cultural outreach can promote harmony and tolerance and undo that damage, he said.

Authorities are also compiling a list of artists and artisans who can help revive the damaged culture, he added.

Reaching the young, poor

Youth aged 15 to 25 comprise 65% of the KP population, Hussain said, adding that to reach that cohort with a pro-peace message, the planners intend to hold 1,600 events in all 26 districts of KP.

To reach militancy-weary KP residents, the events include interactive dramas, public discussions and traditional games, as well as exhibitions to promote business development, he said.

The creation of new businesses and jobs "will prevent people from falling into the trap of radicals who offer monetary benefits", he said.

In addition, RICH is aware of the need to concentrate on members of lower socio-economic strata, said Roohul Amin, president of the Samaji Behbood Rabita Council.

Hardships and desperation make people more susceptible to "lures and distractions", he told Pakistan Forward.

Defeating radicalism, extremism

The organisers of RICH plan to hold poetry readings that will highlight the importance of peace, mutual co-existence and brotherhood, Amin said.

"We aim to revive jirga [consultation meetings] and hujra [male social gatherings], core components of Pashtun culture that our forefathers used to solve disputes," he said. "We can use these platforms again to bring about peace."

A revival of Pashtun cultural institutions is essential for "permanent peace", he said.

"Discussions will help reduce negative tendencies among the people and give them a line of action to fight extremism peacefully," he said, describing Pashtun people as "tolerant and peace loving but wrongly portrayed".

That said, it will take more than RICH programmes alone -- namely, a commitment by all KP residents regardless of their differences -- to curb extremism and restore Pashtun culture and peace, he said.

The written word matters in eliminating violence, said Akbar Hoti, a poet and a RICH specialist in languages and culture.

"We want to use Pashtu literature and our culture to promote peace and harmony," he told Pakistan Forward.

However, to achieve the goal, each and every member of KP society will have to feel his or her responsibility in defeating radicalism, he said.

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