My relationship with Peshawar has been hatred on first sight. I was 6 years old when I visited the city for the first time and confronted the heat, the pollution and the tense environment that compelled women to cover each inch of their body and stay indoors. It was 1989 and I vowed never to return. I have repeated and broken the same vow every year ever since. Peshawar always finds an excuse to pull me back – funerals, weddings, and escape from the Taliban capturing my city in Northern Afghanistan…
As time passed I adapted to the heat, pollution and the oppressive environment – I even swapped my scarf with a full on hijab that covers everything except my hands and my feet. But as I grew up another dynamic of the city started to bother me that is it’s deceptive and confusing nature.
Peshawar is the city where the Taliban were nurtured and at the same time the city where millions of Afghan refugees found refuge who escaped the Taliban. So the city takes with one hand and gives with the other.
The city is a perfect politician. As a Pakistani region it is officially part of the war on terror and an ally of the West in removal of the Taliban’s regime from Afghanistan but at the same time it is the city where all of the 30 or so newspapers, the local government and the public show overwhelming support for the Taliban, where the death of the Taliban soldiers are mourned, death of humanitarian workers are ignored and death of Afghan national army soldiers are celebrated.
As an Afghan Londoner this frustrates me. I wonder how does the freedom of speech utilised in Peshawar to openly support Taliban ideology and publish their propaganda reconcile with the efforts of maintaining peace and ensuring implementation of human rights in Afghanistan. How does the international community explain the fact that it has allowed the villains of the Afghan history, the Taliban, to become the political heroes of the country’s neighbour Peshawar?
This is not a call for an attack on Peshawar as I’m sure the situation is complex needing a complex response. Coming to think of it, I would not want Peshawar to be destroyed – I admit that there are things that I love in there; the fabrics in Sadr Bazar, the chapli kababs and the lonely Pizza Hut with probably the only female waitress in the city. I just want Peshawar to seriously reflect whether it really supports the Taliban who terrorised their neighbours. Earlier this week when I left Peshawar for Kabul, which has made the right decision about the Taliban, I renewed my vow of not return but I am sure I will. The pull is too strong.