Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Human Interest: Pakistan’s Disappearing Cultural Monuments

The 18 May 2012 feature, As Peshawar’s Bookstores Close, Isolation Grows, published by Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, tells about the disappearance of a community’s cultural monuments and the impact. In Peshawar, Pakistan, the Maktaba-e Sarhad bookstore is the third in two years to close its doors. The reason, “‘Those who love reading books have no money, and those with money are busy in other activities,’ owner Haji Rasheed says, with tears in his eyes, amid his once-crowded bookshelves.”

Peshawar is the capital of Khyber-Paktunkhwa and the administrative center for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Because of Peshawar’s strategic location, near the Khyber Pass, the city has historically served as an important trade center and military post. The Khyber Pass has been a particularly important supply route to the NATO forces in Afghanistan and currently a source of U.S. – Pakistan tensions.

The RFE/RL article reports that the closure of the city’s bookstores is as much about Talibanization as it is about the local economy. According to RFE/RL, “Militant groups openly rail against institutions they see as Western-influenced or corrupting Islamic values. Music stores and bookstores are among the favorite targets of their wrath. At the same time, the militants directly undercut bookstores’ sales by offering free alternatives. They distribute jihadist literature outside mosques every Friday. And private TV stations offer round-the-clock religious programming.”

Adeel Zareef, a civil society activist in Peshawar, tells RFE/RL that the war of ideas began during the 1979-89 Soviet-Afghan war and never stopped. (…) A Women’s rights activist, Samar Minallah, recalled visiting one of the closed bookstores, “When I was studying in Peshawar, Saeed Book Bank was full of youngsters. Even those who were not buying books, they would also know about the new books by visiting the shop,” (…) “Adjacent to Saeed Book Bank there was a shop for the repair of musical instruments [now closed]. The old Book Shop was not merely a book shop; it was a symbol of our culture. Our younger generations are being deprived of these cultural roots.”

“The loss of the bookstores not only deprives Peshawar of books. It equally deprives the city’s intellectuals of places to meet and feel strong enough to resist extremists.” Source: RFE/RL

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