Deep In The Mountains, Some Pakistanis Still Dream Of Peace

Pakistan's being battered by a fresh wave of attacks by the Taliban and their associates. Recently militants have killed foreign tourists, a tribal peace committee chief, policemen and soldiers. Many Pakistanis feel anger and frustration over the unrelenting violence in their country. But in the Hindu Kush mountains, people dream of peace.

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It's been a bad day in Pakistan. The Taliban tried to assassinate a high court judge in the city of Karachi. The judge survived but nine others died. Militants also struck near Pakistan's northwest frontier, killing the head of a tribal peace committee and a police officer. All this comes four days after a Taliban offshoot killed 10 foreign tourists in the Himalayas. This surge in violence is causing anger and frustration among Pakistanis, who are tired of years of war.

NPR's Philip Reeves traveled deep into the mountains to meet some people who are dreaming of peace.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Up in the Hindu Kush, beneath a big yellow moon, thousands of people are standing in a field. They're mostly men. The dark silhouettes of mountains loom up all around. Close by, a river races down towards a valley that not-so-long ago was Taliban territory. The crowd clusters around a stage. They're watching a young man doing stand-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: Many of these men are Pashtuns, from lands that border Afghanistan. They have beards, baggy white traditional clothes, and attentive expressions that dissolve into smiles when the punchlines come.

(LAUGHTER)

REEVES: To an outsider, some of these jokes seem long and obscure. Others have a familiar ring.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through Translator) A wife is arguing with her husband. He's waving around their marriage contract and keeps reading it again and again. The wife says, what on the Earth are you looking for in that contract? He replies, the expiry date.

(LAUGHTER)

REEVES: We're on the edge of Kalam, a small town in Swat. For a while, the Taliban roamed freely in much of this part of northwest Pakistan. They even ruled some areas. Then in 2009, Pakistan's army swept in and won back control, but only after a conflict in which many atrocities were committed by both sides. This left a residue of hatred and fear.

Pakistanis often criticize their military, citing corruption and human rights abuses. For this crowd, the Taliban is the enemy. They've come to show support for rule by the state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing in foreign language)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

REEVES: This summer festival is organized by Pakistan's army and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Provincial official Amin Khan says it's about winning hearts and minds.

AMIN KHAN: Because people are afraid to come here, especially the tourists did not come here so that they could see the place. The beauty of this is very famous all over the world.

REEVES: Pakistan's army chief gazes down from a big poster hanging between some pine trees. There are army checkpoints along the road and soldiers in combat gear. The field is encircled by razor wire.

Even so, Noor ul-Haq is worried.

NOOR UL-HAQ: I just told my friend that I don't know whether a bomb blast will occur or not.

REEVES: Are you are still feeling a little uneasy?

UL-HAQ: Yeah, very uneasy.

REEVES: Very uneasy. You're quite nervous about being here right now.

UL-HAQ: Yeah, very nervous. Yes.

REEVES: Ul-Haq is an accountancy student. A few days ago in his home town, Mardan, a suicide-bomber killed nearly 30 people. The crowds come here to try to forget horrors like that by enjoying pleasures the Taliban abhors.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

REEVES: The music turns into dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

REEVES: There are some women and kids around and some people who've traveled far to be here.

Ahsan Baluch came from his home town Dera Bugti in Baluchistan.

AHSAN BALUCH: You know, because of not proper road, we took more than 14 hours to get here.

REEVES: Yet, he's glad he came

BALUCH: Put aside the pressure, the psychological, the troubles, you know, and come here to enjoy the beautiful nature. A man can feel very good and relaxed here.

REEVES: Coming to the mountains hasn't completely removed his fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: We feel always unsafe here.

REEVES: You feel unsafe always but you still come.

BALUCH: We have to face it because we have to change this environment, this whole atmosphere - change. One of the main or one of the pivotal things Pakistan needs is change.

REEVES: Change, says Baluch, requires peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

REEVES: On this night, for once, this crowd's enjoying a taste of peace. The booms echoing around the mountains are not from guns, or missiles fired from drones, but from the festival's fireworks.

Philip Reeves, NPR News.

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