Youths In Peshawar Try To Plot Future, Amid Terrorist Attacks In Peshawar, the heart of Pakistan's turbulent northwest, violence has become a shaping force in the lives of young people. As NPR's team completes its series of stories on life along South Asia's Grand Trunk Road, a look at how the city's 20-somethings see their future.
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Peshawar's Youths Plan Their Future Amid Violence

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Peshawar's Youths Plan Their Future Amid Violence

Peshawar's Youths Plan Their Future Amid Violence

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Throughout our 1,500-mile journey along the Grand Trunk Road, we've been moving from east to west. We've moved across India into Pakistan and all the time, we've been moving closer to a conflict zone. It's the tribal region along the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan's army fights insurgents there, as American drones fly overhead. That region's cultural and economic center is the city of Peshawar, and that's where NPR's Julie McCarthy is heading this morning.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Our journey along the Grand Trunk Road that began under a banyan tree in the Indian city of Kolkata, is ending in the northwest corner of Pakistan. Life slows here. Bucolic fields that have been tilled for centuries unfold before us. We cross the wide Indus River that's inspired Sufi poets and civilizations now past.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSE GALLOPING)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCARTHY: (Singing in foreign language)

MCCARTHY: The continuum of time you feel along the length of Pakistan's Grand Trunk Road is especially palpable here, where Alexander's army once marched. We now pass historic, stately forts and modern military bases. Conflict has shaped life here.

MCCARTHY: The mural is out of date. The province was just renamed Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC, BIRD CHIRPING)

MCCARTHY: We head, instead, to the University of Peshawar, an agreeing respite from all the violence - a cricket pitch.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MCCARTHY: Twenty-three-year-old Qassim Kahn sits on the grass, watching. He tells us: You are not only reaching the end of your journey. You're now in another dimension: mayhem. Kahn recounts the time he was playing soccer at a city stadium when a suicide bomber walked in.

MCCARTHY: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: Twenty-four year old Sundas Dost Mohammed(ph) is an alumna of the University of Peshawar and now teaches primary school. She tells us the accumulated attacks over the past year have desensitized the children.

MCCARTHY: They have changed. At first, they used to get alarmed, but now they - it doesn't matter to them. They watch news channels all the time, and they get, oh, is it a bomb blast again? Well, how many people died? And it's kind of normal to them now.

MCCARTHY: Qassim, who saw that suicide bombing, feels robbed of his youth.

MCCARTHY: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: Waqar Ali, 27, is a medical doctor earning his master's in public health. Ali says terrorism has profoundly altered life here.

D: We used to discuss many funny things and many productive things but now, 90 percent of the time, we discuss terrorism. We discuss bombing. We discuss what's the future of our children, what's the future of our family. We are less secure over here. So definitely, it has changed our life, for sure.

MCCARTHY: Twenty-one-year-old Annan Saeed, who is studying economics, doesn't see things getting better.

MCCARTHY: You might see it in Islamabad or Lahore, but Peshawar, basically, it's not. It's not getting better at all.

MCCARTHY: And what does that mean for your daily life?

MCCARTHY: Totally ruined, actually, because, I mean...

MCCARTHY: Totally ruined?

MCCARTHY: Totally ruined, because you're fearful about your life the whole time. You're going out, you - so you're not so sure whether you're going to come back home or not. Nobody in Peshawar nowadays is quite sure that - whether this is the last goodbye you might be saying to your parents.

MCCARTHY: Students stick closer to home, watch more movies, and text like mad to stay in touch.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCARTHY: And some rebel against the claustrophobic atmosphere the way young kids the world over rebel: with music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCARTHY: (Singing in foreign language)

MCCARTHY: Mohammad Ameer Khan taught himself to play guitar over the Internet and by mimicking what he saw on MTV. Khan's band blends Western music with traditional Pashtun songs, something of a taboo.

MCCARTHY: I remember people saying, oh, Pashtun music and rock. Oh, my God. Are you sure you're going to be taking that risk? I was like, yeah, why not?

MCCARTHY: Rock is one thing. Rap is another.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCARTHY: (Rapping) I'm going to take you places, it's so great seeing all the familiar faces.

MCCARTHY: How many people understand what you're saying?

MCCARTHY: I don't think so, none.

MCCARTHY: Yeah.

MCCARTHY: Zero.

MCCARTHY: Yeah, So you're OK here?

MCCARTHY: Oh, yeah. I'm definitely fine.

MCCARTHY: Twenty-year-old Fatima Khan shakes her head, impatient with the pessimism of some of her fellow students.

MCCARTHY: No, I'm not depressed about the situation over here, because I'm ready to face it. Good pictures are developed in dark. Similarly, I'm optimistic about one day, I'm going to get my prosperous country back.

MCCARTHY: In this classroom in a war-torn city, our journey comes full circle. The optimism we found in so many young people in India can also be found here. Twenty-two-year-old Jawad Zeb says the conflict has only strengthened his generation, which will one day run the country.

MCCARTHY: As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are still carrying on our fight, and we are optimistic about that. We are still positive about it, and we know that we can come out of it as a strong nation.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Peshawar.

INSKEEP: We've collected all of our reports, along with maps and photos of the Grand Trunk Road, at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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