Wood grew scarce as the pile of coffins grew.
I sent my oldest son out for more,
but there was no passage on the bombed-out roads.
And if trucks could make it through
they would bring food for the living,
not planks for the dead.
So I economized, cut more carefully
than ever, reworked the extra scraps.
It helped that so many coffins were child-sized.
———- Lisa Suheir Majaj ‘The Coffin-Maker Speaks
With small fortified villages, orchards, dark pine forests and a river flowing through the Kurram Valley, Parachinar has all that it takes to be a paradise on earth.
Today, it appears to be a Paradise Lost. Around sunset this Friday, twin suicide blasts by a militant group occurred in a bazaar in Parachinar resulting in a death toll of around 57. In recent years, Parachinar’s harmony has only deteriorated due to a number of drone attacks in the Kurram tribal region.
Moreover sectarian violence had intensified phenomenally. Dr Ghayur Ayub illustrated in his article, ‘Is Islamabad losing Parachinar to Kabul?’ an example of a local who was asked, “which country was safer to live in; Pakistan or Afghanistan? He replied in an argumentative query, “Just look around and you tell me?” He had lost two sons, when, one night, the Taliban left their beheaded and mutilated bodies at his doorstep.”
Just 242 km away in the south-west direction lies the city of Peshawar, the city that is no stranger to such tragedies. In fact, according to a local press report, the only business that is rising in recent years is that of coffin-making. An article in Central Asia Online by Abdullah Jan states that “Most of the bodies recovered from the blast sites are charred or disfigured. In the more powerful explosions, bodies are blown apart, making burial impossible without coffins.”
While the death toll in Parachinar is just a number to us lucky few who are reading about it on our laptop screens or gazing at horrific images on our television from the sanctuaries of our homes, it is a living reality for the locals there.
What a curious thing fate is! A historian looking back in time at Parachinar would not be able to imagine a scene of turmoil and chaos in the area whereas in the present day, a civilian there would be standing amidst the wreckage mourning a Paradise lost. The certainty that peace would always prevail in a land of carpet-green fields and a quietly flowing river has been shattered and without certainty comes helplessness.
Nassin Nicholas Taleb, author of ‘The Black Swan’ knew only too well what that is like. Having witnessed a similar set of events in his hometown in Lebanon he wrote in his book, “You could see the stars with great clarity. I had been told in high school that planets are in something called equilibrium, so we did not have to worry about the stars hitting us unexpectedly. To me, that eerily resembled the stories we were also told about the ‘unique historical stability’ of Lebanon. The very idea of assumed equilibrium has bothered me. I looked at the constellations in the sky and did not know what to believe.”
With the disturbed equilibrium, chaos must be reigning in Parachinar. As the stars seem to shatter, the coffin makers are left to pick up the pieces. The city is left in shambles as events unfold from two sides of a political spectrum: the breach of sovereignty in the form of drones and the internal conflict in the form of sectarian violence that is dividing our own community.
Even the coffin-makers must be left to weep. How many of them are hard at work now, cutting up the wood and adding the finishing touches, wondering which of their hand-made coffins might be theirs to lie in?