Parachinar, capital of the remote Kurram Agency in FATA (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan), was the coldest town in Pakistan on Tuesday (Feb. 5) with a minimum temperature of minus 9 degrees C.
According to Pakistan’s met office, cold, moisture-laden winds from the northwest had brought rains to the central parts of Pakistan and heavy snowfall to the northern regions of the country in the first week of February.
Temperatures dropped sharply in the affected areas, sending residents indoors to take cover from the bitter cold.
However, more than three hundred Parachinar residents -- undeterred by the biting winds and the chilling temperature -- came out of their houses on Wednesday (Feb. 6) to hold a poetry recital session in the vast expanse of snow covering their town and its surroundings.
As musicians played folk melodies on traditional instruments, poets recited verses in praise of love and local culture.
“The sight of local village girls, swaying like trees as they walk to the stream to fetch water. I would be mad to desire the sights of London instead,” sang Noor Zaman Armaani, to the delight of the crowd.
“Love keeps the world alive and thriving, but my heart blooms with the laughter of my beloved," recited a young poet, Aamir Jan Aamir.
Others talked about peace in the region that has been racked by sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’ite tribes for years.
“Kurram, if efforts are made to sow hatred in your soil, I will disperse them by scattering love through my poetry,” recited Roshan Bangash.
Bordering on the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, Parachinar is the closest point in Pakistan to
Kabul. The Peiwar Kotal Pass, a mountain pass around 20 kms west of Parachinar connects
Afghanistan’s Paktia province to the Kurram agency.
Parachinar, which originated as a summer residence for nomadic tribes who took their livestock to lower altitudes during winter, got its name from a huge ‘Chinar’ (maple) tree under which local tribes used to hold meetings to resolve social issues.
The Parachinar region was part of Afghanistan before the Second Afghan War of 1878-79, but could not be annexed by the British until 1892 due to resistance from local tribes.
The Kurram agency is the only part of Pakistan’s border region that has a significant Shi’ite population.
Shi’ite Muslims are a minority sect of Islam, arising from a dispute over the successor to the Prophet Mohammad 1,400 years ago. Many extreme Sunni Muslims consider them apostates.
The Taliban and al Qaeda’s virulent anti-Shi’ite ideology has meant years of bloody fighting in Kurram which is bordered by Afghanistan on three sides with only a single road - the Thall Parachinar road - linking it with the rest of Pakistan.
In 2007, the Taliban took control of the Thall-Parachinar road and closed it for public transport, thereby laying virtual siege to the region.
The road remained closed for more than four years despite several attempts to restore peace, but each time the peace accord and ceasefire were violated by militants attacking travellers on the road, adding to the misery of the local people.
The road was opened in February 2012 following a government-backed peace accord in October 2011, according to which the warring tribes agreed to open the road and begin rehabilitation of tens of thousands of people displaced by years of unrest.
According to some reports, Taliban were part of the deal.
“We will strive for peace in our region even if we have to walk through fire, or climb the top of a mountain for it because in peace lies our progress and our prosperity;” poet Noor Ghulam Noori told Reuters Television.
“God willing, we will continue to strive for peace. God willing, peace has come here and it will stay,” said tribal elder Qazi Naeem.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), al-Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban movement fighting Western forces in Afghanistan are entrenched in Pakistan’s north-western tribal areas. All have been involved in anti-Shi’ite activities for years.
They continue to have strongholds in the region despite a series of military operations in the last few years.