Parachinar: Heaven turned to hell

Published: July 5, 2011

Parachinar is a heaven turned into hell with terrorists and para-military forces on the rampage

On a beautiful overcast evening, while I was travelling from Islamabad to the historic city of Taxila I began to reminisce about my childhood in Parachinar in the 1990s – a place where fairies came down from heaven , a valley of tall, lush trees filled with sweet smelling flowers and delicious fruit.

Children sang songs of liberty without knowing that this vale of roses would be stained with the blood of their neighbours and we would be receiving mutilated bodies of our beloveds.  Who knew that the ferocious Taliban would attack us from all sides just because we wouldn’t agree with their ideology of killing innocent people and setting their homes on fire.

Paradise on earth

I grew up in the 1990s when Parachinar was an earthly paradise. Though sectarian clashes did occur occasionally, the curse of suicide bombings and merciless slaughtering of humans had not spread.

Only small guns were used when Shia-Sunni clashes did take place but never had it occurred to us that our minor tiffs would be exploited by vested interests and our valley would become a picture of ruin and devastation.

Ours was an innocent age.

As students of a government school, we had to wear grey militia shalwar-kameez as uniforms and a black cap with a triangular red spot on its front.

We had no knowledge about the world beyond our valley and no clue that other parts of the country were very different from ours.

We were not aware then that we did not come under the law and constitution of Pakistan and that we were not being facilitated like other children from the rest of the country. We never realized that only we wore rubber shoes and cheap militia fabric school uniform. We did not know that being children of FATA we were perhaps the only ones to sit on mats (taats) made out of jute in our schools.

We sat in dim light in which we could hardly read our books. Telephone and other ‘modern’ facilities were totally unknown. Only a few families owned a television and we eagerly visited their homes, not to watch programmes but just to see what a TV looked like.

The announcement, “Yeh BBC London hai…..” still echoes in my ears.

What is most astonishing is that at nightfall we thought the whole world was deprived of light but now I know that we, the children of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), were the only ones living in the stone ages.

The only source of light for studying late at night were domestic lamps called diya, made out of empty syrup bottles containing furnace oil and lighted by a cotton thread dipped in it.

The smoke from these lamps would turn our cheeks black and our nostrils would fill with carbon. Those were the days when we rote-learned our lessons. I can still recall from memory the many stories I learnt by heart, among them, “Ali Baba and Forty Thieves” and “The Lazy Boy”.

Right after school with books in hands our normal routine was to take sheep and cows to nearby hills for grazing in the meadows and riding donkeys.

Many times, we fractured our arms from donkey racing.

Leaving the cattle grazing freely in the meadows, we would form groups and go on a fruit stealing spree to different orchards or pick corn cobs (sittas) from nearby fields. We would bring loads of apricots, plums, cherries, nuts and other fruits of the season to the meadows and savour our booty seated near rippling streams.

If we saw the village elders or the farmers watching us steal fruits, we ran as fast as our legs could carry us, fearing that we were being followed which almost never happened.

Life was easy and simple then. We had few expectations and high ambitions.

Our schools were well-disciplined though lacking facilities, with hardworking teachers though less educated and less trained.

As we did not have sweepers in our school, we took turns in groups of three to clean the classroom. The group whose responsibility it was, had to come early to school, sweep the floor and dust whatever little furniture there was.

It was in the 1990s when Benazir Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, visited Parachinar. She opened the first degree college for women now named Benazir Shaheed Degree College, launched a re-broadcasting TV station so we could be informed about the rest of the world, laid the foundation for an airport and paved roads to facilitate communication. It was first time in the history of the valley that women there were being empowered through education. The opening of Degree College later proved a milestone in educating the girls of the area.

Paradise to hell

Today, though we have entered the 21st century, life in Parachinar is worse than before and despite availability of modern amenities, there is no peace.

Even today the children are tending sheep, goats and cows after school or watering their fields. Even today they study without electricity under improvised lamps the only difference being that most of the school buildings are now lying in ruins thanks to the terrorists.

Even today the children of Parachinar do not know that the world around them is different from theirs where there is light, where children sit at desks in schools and are not subject to corporal punishment.

They bow their heads at the word “Pakistan” when it appears in the morning assembly’s anthem but are deprived of their basic rights and facilities.

Even today they are second class citizens and do not come under the Constitution of Pakistan. Even today, an ordinary officer of grade 18 called Political Agent can imprison a tribesman without any investigation and prosecution for 16 years, is a demigod of the area.

Under the black law FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulations) enacted with the help of turn-coat elders of the area, the political agent of an agency can set the property of any tribesman on fire, can destroy his home and business.

Parachinar was once a heaven on earth but it is now burning in the hell of terrorism where children have stopped singing songs of peace and liberty and the people fear for their lives.


R.A. Toori

A citizen of what he considers the most ingnored area of the country, the tribal areas and an expert on Fata

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Abid Shah

    Riaz Toori, What we call a freedom is really a myth. The slogen PAKISTAN KA MATLAB KIA LA ILLAHA ILALLAH have different interpretation for Kurram and Tooris. Before freedom we had neutral ruler so our forefathers were living with peace of mind. The rulers were our defenders and guaranters. Now our historic enemy is ruler, and can’t expect justice. We are insecure in our homes, roads and fields. We had our first school in 1880 and later properly established in 1892. We got first high school in FATA and that was in 1901 called Minto High School. Our college has date on its wall and that is 1956. The other tribal agencies got schools after so called freedom in 1947. Our talent is not compareable with other tribes, but look at statestics in Superior services,DMG and others. How many are from our part of Kurram and compare it with illetrate wazirista.What is the reason? I am sure you will agree that QALAM DOSHMAN K HAT MEN HEY. The situation which we are facing is totally due to bias rulers. They look with begoted eyes towards every Toori. Why the peoples Government is not in position to do justice with city of Z.A Bhutto, because they are encircled with begoted intellegence agencies. I remember repeated visits of Z.A Bhutto and he spoke loudly, PARACHINAR MERS SHEHR HEY.Now peoples governor is reluctant to visit Parachinar.Our fore fathers were facing such situation in last decades of 19th century when they were under Afghan crual rule, so they revolted against rulers and invited British forces to secure their dignity ,integrity, and sovereignty.. Now our ruler is helpless in front of our enemy and unable to defend us. I warn that NATO is on our western boarder,and we have the right to repeat history. Recommend

  • Indian

    Nice Article, Hope you guys do prosper one dayRecommend

  • http://none Bangash

    Strategic depth has indeed served Pakistan well.Recommend

  • Samir

    The brave Turis have been abandoned by Pakistan’s “strategic depth” as the ISI could care less about them. Good luck to your community and people. Recommend

  • Billu

    A very moving piece. And FATA should be declared a province. Recommend

  • faraz

    It’s unbelievable that the sick minds, which run the country, actively support sectarian groups that are wreaking havoc inside the countryRecommend

  • Sadie

    Very interesting and very well written. Recommend

  • Talib

    Very nice article… the killing of saleem shahzad and threats to all journalists who dare to cover the story of this forgotten troubled land has a deep meanings inside it…. the innocent people are being victims and govt, army taking no action against this lawlessness ……….Recommend

  • Malay

    “Ours was an innocent age”

    Just that one line. Brought me to tears. Great piece.
    God bless you.Recommend

  • http://hotmail sarah_raza

    the victims r all shia muslims in parachanar……extremist Taliban brutality tortured nd killed innocent ppl May Allah protect all the ppl in Parachinar,,, the govt has totally failed as well as army 2 take any action. Recommend

  • Sidra

    Kudos to Mr. Toori for producing sweet memoirs of his past in such beautiful lines. I could not abstain me praising him. Heaven turned into hell, put me in such a pain, indescribable. How long the people of heaven will burn in hell of terrorism. Who is the massiha, that will rush for their rescue? how long they will continue hanging between life and death. I admire the beautiful attempt of Mr. Toori to draw attention of authorities in a beautiful way. Recommend

  • Asad Munir

    Riaz very nicely written.I spent one of the best times of my life in Parachinar,in 1979.Though i spent most of the time in a trench, dug on a hight of about 8000 Ft,,Shadal Sar,but would visit all parts of Parachinar.The most loving people i came across, irrespective of their sects.I have experienced the same childhood in another part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,sitting on a taat in a school.But that was long time ago.I think Bhutto was the one,who really worked for development of the Tribal areas,starting in 1973.Parachinar had electricity in 1979,but may not have been extended to the villages. I have been writing on the situation in Kurram in different Newspapers.Lets hope with the operation in Central Kurram the situation improves,specially the opening of the Road.Wish you and the people of Kurram all the bestRecommend

  • http://India Feroz

    Friend, the wheels of Justice may be slow on your people but will shine for sure. Courage, belief and the righteousness of the path will help the people to overcome every obstacle. History has shown that violence cannot solve any problem and only cowards indulge in it. I believe that civil disobedience and non violent protest can bring even the mightiest Empire to its knees. Remember only from the ranks of the ordinary emerges the extra ordinary.Recommend

  • Faisal

    Injustice meted out to people in Parachinar is so unfortunate. Apart from being Tribals, the Parachinaris have the sin of being a minority as well, a dangerous thing to be in Pakistan. It is so ironic that the president is also a Shia but he can’t understand the difficulties that this tribal community is facing. Recommend

  • Turi

    excellent piece…flash back memories of beautiful valley brings tears in my eyes but on other side my heart is bleeding..all I can say “Heaven turned to hell”. Recommend

  • Kashan Abbas

    To preserve the integrity of our beloved country, Parachinar’s crisis is to be handled very quickly. We should not turn another area of our country into full of violence and disappointment by ignoring what;s going on.
    I hope the recently started operation by Pak Army would pave way for peace in the heaven on earth again. The writer has scholarly highlighted the issue ans its solution.Recommend

  • Ahsan Abbas

    Its a tragedy for Pakistan that the satanic force name “Taliban” who backed by India, USA and Israel are bent on destroying Pakistan are regarded as our “Strategic Asset” by one of our so powerful secret agency

    For 4 years, they are not allowing the Media to describe the extent of attrocities being done to the people of Parachinar

    Brave writers like Mr RA Toori should come forward and write more and more on this issue particularlyRecommend

  • KolachiMom

    All praying that the children may one day, sing again.Recommend