While the areas along the Pak-Afghan border are in the grip of war and violence, and the socio-cultural heritage of the Pashtuns is subjected to a ruthless onslaught from different militant groups, the young and educated Pashto singers show guts to openly challenge the rising tide of terrorism and religious fundamentalism in their musical expressions.
Contrary to the past when Pashto poetry was primarily an embodiment of pure romantic thoughts and feelings, the present day literary and musical pursuits are on the way back to the world of harsh realities- war, migration, death and destruction.
The change is noticeable in the new songs sung by the budding singers where they lament the negative impacts of the ongoing war and yearn for peace and stability in the region.
These songs have got immense popularity on both sides of the Durand Line and the locals enjoy it with heightened seriousness as these songs not only satisfy their nostalgia for the peaceful time they spent in their villages and valleys but also give a vent to their oppressed feelings.
"When I composed a song about bomb blasts in Peshawar I had not realized that the people will like it so much. Believe me I did not think that it will touch the hearts of the Pashtuns so deeply", says Karan Khan, a young singer from Swat valley who currently resides in Peshawar to earn his livelihood.
He maintains that in his song he motivates Pashtuns to shun silence and come forward to restore the past beauty and peaceful atmosphere in Peshawar- the capital of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and the main social and commercial centre of the Pashtuns. "The song is in greatest demand in the broadcasts of local Radio and TV channels both in Pakistan and Afghanistan", Khan proudly said.
Art critics are of the opinion that since 2001 the socio-cultural scene in the region is rapidly changing. Taliban destroyed music shops and discourage musical performances but that proved a blessing in disguise. "The aggressive campaign against Pashtun culture inflamed a renewed passion in the artistic and literary circles to fight for their survival. This attitude led to the composition of songs that tells about the past glory of the land and the need for practical work to defeat religious extremism at all levels", argues Usman Ulasyar, Chairman of the Suvastu Arts and Cultural Society adding that today's singer is more concerned with peace and stability in the region than the "sea deep eyes and crimson ref lips of the goddess of beauty".
Bakhtyar Khattak, 30, is a famous Pashto singer with master degree in Business Administration and he currently works for a Pashto TV channel in Peshawar as anchorperson and music director. In 2003 he started his music career by singing romantic songs, but in 2007 he completely devoted himself to sing for his land and people.
"As a singer I know the importance of my role in creating awareness among the people about the social and political issues that affecting their lives. If you remember Taliban first attacks music shops and musicians before establishing their authority in Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They did so because they knew Pashtuns loved music and singers were the real opposition to their extremist ideology", he explained.
Khattak believes that the newly composed patriotic songs played a more important role in denting the image of Taliban and exposing their real faces to the Pashtuns than the heavily funded military operations and much touted anti-terror strategies adopted by the governments of both Pakistan and the United States.
Khattak composed a series of songs about Peshawar, the sufferings of the displaced people from Swat and Pakistan tribal areas and a poem inciting Pashtuns to respect their own traditions and social values and not to be influenced by the negative propaganda of the religious bigots.
The modern technology is instrumental in popularizing these songs as people share them with each other through their mobile sets, computers and social networks on the internet. Mobitunes of these songs are also in great demand in Peshawar, Quetta, Swat, Mardan and other urban centers of the area populated by the Pashtuns.
"I am away from my home but the sweet feeling of the love of my land is alive in my heart. I don't trust the leadership of the country as they have sold their conscience but I have a strong belief in the Pashto peace songs because it gives me hope and strengthen my belief in my own cultural and social systems. Most often my friends share with me new songs from my land via Facebook and it kept me connected to my people and their aspirations", says Javid Muhammad who is studying in the UK and recently returned to his home in Peshawar.
Recently a music video won great fame among the Pashtuns. The video shows a Pashto singer Hashmat Sahar on the stage with other musicians performing live for a select gathering of Pashtuns residing in UAE. The song is written by Fazli Subhan Abid who himself works as a driver in Dubai. The songs take the listeners on a journey of the Pashtun land naming famous cities and areas on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border and create a distressing picture of the land engulfed in the flames of war and violence. The song becomes more poignant when it tells about the sufferings of the displaced people from Swat and Waziristan due to the ill thought policies of Pakistan establishment. The song is still continues that tears of helplessness roll down on the faces of the People present on the occasion.
"Before this song no one recognized me as a singer. But now I am a popular name, and I am regularly invited to musical shows in Kabul, Peshawar and Quetta as people like to listen this song from me", says Hashmat Sahar who is now working on his new album with some more patriotic songs.
According to some social scientists this new trend among Pashtun singers may lead to the re-awakening of national consciousness among the Pashtuns. "A very powerful message has been communicated through these songs. They appeal the people at both emotional and intellectual levels and educate them to come out of the sense of despair afflicting their hearts and minds. The is interesting that Pashto singers perform this important duty by their own with no encouragement from the governmental and non-governmental organizations and they must be appreciated for this", opines Tariq Ahmad Khan, a Peshawar based development expert currently working on a proposal to create cultural spaces for young Pashtuns in rural areas of North Western Pakistan.
The poems created by modern day Pashtun poets are global in their appeal and it covers all the powerful groups from local militants to national and international powers who are involved in an aggressive campaign to pursue their own ideological or economic goals without considering the fact that their war is bringing huge economic, social, psychological and emotional losses for the local population.
Following is the English Transcription of a peace song sung by Irfan Khan, another young Pashtun singer. The song is an appeal to global powers to use their strength for making the world a beautiful place to live in and not to impose war on other nations to perpetuate their grip on power. The poem is written by Akbar Sial, a representative poet from Malakand where a recent military operation displaced about 3 million Pashtuns from their homes.
The leaders of the world,
The possessors of the atomic power,
We all share this world,
Don't bring violence to it,
Why break the silence in it?
Please don't break the silence in it
Just for your own greed and lust,
Don't punish innocent lives,
Children, mothers and wives,
Don't give slavery to our liberal thoughts,
Withdrawing new dream and hopes,
Why are you snatching pen from our hands?
Destroying our lands
Don't pollute our colorful and beautiful world,
While filling cradles of beautiful and innocent children,
With your explosives
This beautiful and stylish world of ours,
Needs not to be stained by your filth,
Needs not to be stained by your filth
Those who spray flames of fire on our flowers,
Don't allow such planes on our land,
The land is full of human values and modernism,
Don't take this civilized world back to the Stone Age,
The possessors of Atomic power,
Don't strike at your own feet,
Don't bring violence to our village,
Please don't break silence in it.