“Please tell the people of Karachi that the kabaili people are not wild animals”
At the beginning of the ride, the cab driver asked me for Rs150 for a journey halfway through Peshawar – Saddar to the ends of University Road. Sounds reasonable, I thought to myself. On the way, we struck up a conversation. By the end of the ride, he refused to take a paisa.
“You are from Karachi. That means you are my guest.”
He declared with a smile warm enough to melt stone. When I insisted, the rebuttal brought me to tears.
“Aap ne izzat di; mohabbat di. Pakhtun ko aur kuch nahin chahyay.”
(You gave me love and respect: that is all a Pakhtun needs).
Coming from a city like Karachi where money matters (a lot), I stood by the side of the road a little perplexed immediately after getting out of the cab.
My dazed and confused train of thought was broken by the sound of an unmistakably mechanical crack. The noise repeated itself three times. I looked down to see the taxi driver struggling to engage first gear. When he finally did, the cab’s engine screeched, showing the fan belt needed replacement, while shuddering revs were a clear indicator of the clutch plate’s imminent demise. The gentleman behind the steering wheel clearly needed money to fuel his livelihood, yet he left with nothing.
Without giving it much more thought, I walked into one of Peshawar’s more upscale eateries where I met two friends, both born and bred in the city and my hosts in their own individual respects.
Towards the end of a hearty lunch, I shared some details of my chance encounter with the kindest taxi operator on planet earth. That is when I was told of a code called milmastya (mil-mast-ee-a).
Milmastya is a set of rules which dictates that apart from the best food and accommodation possible, the host must hold him or herself responsible for any harm to their guest – no matter how grievous the injury or devious the guest. It literally stands for code of hospitality.
“This is nothing; wait till you go to you go to Fata.” I was told.
One of the biggest wars of our time ultimately resulted from this very custom, but that is a story best told on another day because today we speak of hospitality.
On the way back from lunch, I was shown the pillars of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s government; the assembly building, the Peshawar High Court and many others. As we drove down the same road, a hand came across my line of vision as I sat on the passenger seat of the car. It signalled to the left.
“And that is where it all happened. That is Army Public School.”
Said one of my hosts.
I kept looking at the structure as it passed, turning head and gaze. Soon, there was a giant lump in my throat as my mind raced to pictures sent by our photographer of strewn chairs, bullet-ridden walls and shoes filled with the blood of children.
It is rare that a person can smile and almost burst into tears at the same time. Yet, I was in that very position because Peshawar showed me that despite all the blood it has shed, it can treat an outsider more graciously than any other city I have had the fortune of setting foot on.
Power, influence and money cannot open as many doors as a guest or visitor in this region. Sadly, outsiders, like the ones who massacred hundreds of schoolchildren at APS, have wreaked the most havoc in the lives of these people.
Yet, Peshawar is just the tip of a massive milmastya iceberg. Forty-eight hours later, I found myself journeying out of the city into FATA’s mighty Khyber Agency.
The term outsider usually has a negative connotation, but not in the tribal belt. Here, the smiles are broader and hugs warmer for any visitor. Between the free tasters of patta tikkas lovingly prepared by Landi Kotal’s most renowned barbeque specialist to giveaways offered by shopkeepers, one was treated like a king. Clearly, Khyber Agency is yet to learn its lesson.
After all, it was foreign influences, allowed into the area as guests, which brought the tribal areas to their knees and drove people out of house and home. The unbridled passion for welcoming all ultimately forced the kabaili laug to spend months under far off tents or open skies, while usurping terrorists lived in the comfort of homes left behind.
With the militants now gone, it is inspirational to see that Riwaj – the tribes people own set of rules – is again the order of the day. Milmastya is back to centre stage at every hujra.
Sadly, the rest of Pakistan still wants to club tribal people with terrorists.
“They are all one in the same.”
A friend from Karachi told me on the phone while I was en-route from Peshawar to Jamrud tehsil. Such a statement could not be further from the truth.
Speaking of the truth, the reality is that the people of the rest of the country could not care less about the fate of FATA; therefore, such gross generalisations. With tears welling up in his eyes, a senior khasadar official standing at Michni gate near the Torkham border asked me a very difficult question.
“When will people from the rest of Pakistan realise that we want peace more than they do. Have they suffered like us?”
I did not have an answer; especially since the man lost friends and family in the war on terror.
After having been at the receiving end of the ultimate hospitality, I asked a tribal malik in Landi Kotal if there was any way that I, as an outsider, could return the favour. He asked me to deliver a simple message.
“Please tell the people of Karachi that the kabaili laug are not wild animals with horns coming out of their heads. Hum bhi insaan hain, aap ki tarhan.”
(We are also humans, just like you).
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