January 10, 2009

SWAT:A civilisation at risk

Source: Dawn, Pakistan

The unique, ancient and historic heritage of Swat is being destroyed in the name of religion

By Khurshid Khan

"Several renowned Buddhist scholars deliver Buddhist Philosophy as well as contemporary sciences in the valley. The Monasteries and schools are densely populated by uncountable students who have travelled here from far off lands. They are provided with accommodation and food," observed Sung Yun, the famous Chinese pilgrim who came to Swat in 519.A.D. He was overwhelmed by the heavenly peace, happiness and agricultural produce of the valley and wrote, "jungle fowls, deer and other wild animals openly roam the streets of the villages". Another traveller, Hiuen Tsiang (630 A.D) wrote about Swat's favourable climate and abundance of forests, flowers and fruit-trees. He spoke of 1400 monasteries on both sides of the River Swat.

The rulers of Swat State were the true heirs of Gandhara civilisation. They transformed Swat into a cradle of peace previously devastated by the Huns and other such barbarians. During the 16th century Swat State Era, an array of schools and hostels were constructed. It seemed that the spirit of Udyana and Gandhara civilisations was reincarnated. Today, this cradle of peace has once again been invaded by "modern" barbaric Huns. Undoubtedly this nation of barbarians is not native but has infiltrated from outside.

Before the establishment of Swat State, the valley was a victim of extreme restlessness, violence and anarchy. The day to day skirmishes and killing had entangled the society of Swat in its venomous tentacles. Famous Pashto saying about Swat was "Swat dakk da fasad" (Swat full of violence). The intelligent central authority of the Miangul Abdul Wadood (1917-1969) put the affairs on the right track and brought prosperity and peace back to the valley.

The inheritors of Gandhara Civilisation spread serenity and harmony in the valley. The name Udyana means garden where fragrant flowers, chirping birds, peace and tranquillity reign supreme. The valley of Swat is replete with historical relics from the banks of River Swat to the peaks of the snowy mountains. Udyana civilisation originated here and spread from Swat to Tibet in China. Several enchanting stupas and relics still embellish the landscapes. Some of these are in perfect condition while the others have been damaged badly. The sublime epitome of Gandharan Art, Swat museum, still boasts the conserved Buddhist relics and beautifully stone carved artefacts in perfect condition. The credit goes to the last Wali of Swat, Miangul Jahanzeb, who generously supported the Italian archaeologist who excavated the ancient historic heritage of Swat and won international status for the valley. These cultural heritages and legacies of Swat are the substantial examples of the civilised people occupying Swat.

America exploited religion against Russia in Afghanistan in securing its vested interests and departed victorious but left behind the fierce Arabian tribal culture in a guise of narrow interpretation of Islam, devastating the centuries-old legacy of Afghanistan and stigmatising the Afghan community all over the world.

The Wahabi influence has penetrated the Frontier, especially this side of the Durand Line. The unique, ancient and historic heritage of Swat is being destroyed in the name of religion. The historic stone-carved statue of seated Buddha in Jan Abad, which was second to Bamyan, was wiped out in this ongoing turbulence. This historic masterpiece of art is irretrievable, destroying the soft image of the valley worldwide.

These extremists are national criminals and the silent witnesses of these crimes are, in a sense, allies. The government has failed to conserve these historic relics because the Establishment has always refused to acknowledge the history that existed before 712 A.D. It has always attempted to impose an alien blanket identity upon the dwellers of the region, giving no room to be proud of their rich history.

The irony is that they talk of 'interfaith harmony' and 'tolerance' and consider tourism as a potential source of revenue but have not yet recognised the significance of cultural diversity in bringing about the same. It is proposed that a status of a "historic valley" should be given to Swat instead of a district. The electronic and print media can also play an important role to do the ground work in this context. The National Assembly should legislate cultural heritage laws to restrain the vandals and treasure hunters.

The valley has all the ingredients of building and maintaining a civilisation. If we do not raise a voice to reclaim and protect all these valuable resources, barbarism will replace civilisation in Swat.

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