Peaceful Kandahar

A Kandahar without gunfire, troop presence, killings and Pushtu seems like a dream. Shafath Hussain tours the Kandahar, where tranquility and hospitality awaits every visitor.

Local villagers have gathered in the Sarpanch’s (village head) courtyard. Two alien looking uniformed men with their service rifles slung around their shoulders unconsciously, wander around amongst a few dozen red cheeks. Men and women, old and young all encircling a chair and patiently listening to a man.  A man who is not-so-old yet not-so-young is a politician. Traveling a steep motorable slope on foot, he is wooing voters to gear up for the Panchayat elections.

This politician is campaigning without any fear in his native place – Kandahar. In starling contrast to the provincial capital city of Afghanistan embodied with death horrors and NATO troops; this Kandahar is a peaceful place. A hundred and some more kilometers from the state’s summer capital of Srinagar, Kandahar lies between the Pir Panchal and the line of control in the Lolab. Lolab valley that starts just outside the Kupwara town is one of the nature’s extravagant gifts.

To one corner of the beautiful Lolab, pass the giant iron gates that will be locked before the night falls, past two heavily concentrated check posts, there is no sign of anything unpleasant, any fear on the faces of residents of Kandahar.

For outside, living in Lolab sounds terrifying – awash with both the military and the militants. And in Kandahar, with dense forests and no frequent visits by the patrolling soldiers, the idea of the village being so peaceful seems bizarre.

In the background stands the prominently visible shrine of Khawaja Baba sahib that overlooks the village and most of Lolab. The most distinct feature of the shrine is the adjacent graveyard. The only graveyard of the village is uniquely old fashioned, nothing but a stone or two kept on each grave to avoid the children not to roam on them. Kandahar village in rarest of cases in Kashmir has never buried a blood soaked, bullet ridden body. All the deaths occurring here are by natural causes. In fact this village has not added any number to the huge toll of the killings of the Kashmir.

“We had not even a single militant from our village, all those buried here are ones who suffered a natural death,” says local resident Ashraf Khan. The only bruise this village has so far faced was a crackdown way back. The crackdown ended in half an hour.

“Amidst so much of tension here we have always remained peaceful and untouched by the violence,” says Altaf a graduate who is preparing for the Kashmir Administrative Services (KAS) exam.

“We owe to Allah and the blessings of Baba sahib who always take care of us,” adds his elderly mother in fluent Urdu.

Lolab has been in the news in the last two decades, mostly for violence but Kandahar, a small village in the small valley has remained aloof.

All that does not mean that grief and agony has spared Kandahar. “We had friends and even relatives from other villages whose coffins we have carried, whose graves we have dug. Outwardly we may be happy but deep down the heart everyone has another side of the story too,” says college student Irfan Bashir.

On a veranda outside a house few women are cleaning mushrooms (locally called peziza) collected from the nearby forest and singing along folk songs in Pahari language. Amongst them is one Mehbooba, quiet, lean with a grief laced face. A few months back her policeman husband, Farooq Ahmad, died of kidney failure leaving her with four small daughters with the eldest being 10-year-old.

The name of the village – Kandahar -is not a misnomer but has a legacy of its own. The people of Kandahar trace their origin to the Afghan Kandahar. A Pashtu tribal man named Sarandaaz Khan had come from Kandahar and settled here. As a token of reward he was awarded a Jagir and the village was named Kandahar on his insistence. It is said that Sarandaaz Khan had three children. His two sons Rehmaan Khan and Ayub Khan settled here while one migrated to Pakistan during early 1940s.

With their cousins living on the other side of Line of Control, the families are divided across the horror line. Ninety-year-old Haji Wali Khan has been enough lucky to go there a couple of years back.

Last year local resident Aarif was talking to her cousin married in in Neelam valley of Pakistan administered Kashmir, when she suddenly broke into tears. “It was after two days we learnt that she had fainted and suffered a heart attack,” he said.

Most of the population in this village is the progeny of Sarandaz Khan. Strangely enough the people speak Pahari while their language should have been Pushtu. “Our forefather had Pushtu as mother tongue but due to isolation we adopted Pahari as it was widely spoken here,” says Wali Khan. Eventually we lost touch with the language and our culture too, he sighs.

In a corn field, not bigger than a tennis court, around a dozen boys were playing cricket. Adnan reads in 6th and is waiting for his turn to bat. Inspired by the Shahrukh Khan movie, Veer Zara he wants to become a pilot. An eight class student Zahid wants to do what Shah Faisal has done. He complains about the ground. “Here a lot of land is vacant which with little money can become a good ground but the government doesn’t pay any heed to us,” he complains.

The only government presence in the village is a recently upgraded middle school and a couple of Anganwari (child day-care) centres.

However, the people of this tiny village take their education seriously. Kandhar is relatively well off than the rest of the underprivileged Lolab. “We have fourteen teachers in just twenty-two households,” says Aarif. “Dozens serve in other departments”.

The people here mostly have Khan and Pathan surnames, so they do not qualify for any reserved posts in government services. Nor is the area categorized as backward. “We are all there with our merit,” says Altaf.

“We compromised on everything but not on the education of our children,” adds Ashraf. Ashraf himself has four daughters and the elder two are studying science at a government college.

The girls in the village also go to schools and many women have had a reasonable schooling. The highest official in the village is a woman. She is a headmaster in the education department.

“Our women too are well aware of day to day happenings,” says Aarif says glancing to an elderly woman nick named as “media giant” for she listens to all that news coming from different radio stations.

The government has been, Kandharis say, as indifferent to them as to other villages of Kashmir. There is absence of amenities like basic healthcare and sanitation, they say. The village has an immense potential to develop into a tourist hotspot. With its peace and scenic beauty Kandhar is no less than a heaven on earth.

Though having a common origin and similarities in build and texture, there is a lot of difference between the two Kandhars. Unlike the Afghan one, this Kandhaar though a small village inhabited by few hundred, remains a village of hope. A place to spend a life in.

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