It started with a Lashkar-e-Islam murder
It was March 4, 2012, when militants of Lashkar-e-Islam shot 34-year old Dr Rahmat Afridi dead while he was trying to protect his guests from them. In revenge, his brother opened a library.
The Rahmat Public Library is the first ever such reading room in Khyber Agency.
“There would be no difference between us and them, had we opted for the same weapons they used to kill my brother,” said Afridi. “Education is the best revenge.”
The library is located in Bara Bazaar, which was otherwise known as the birthplace of Lashkar-e-Islam and a hotbed of narcotics, weapons, and smuggled goods.
It took the Pakistan Army seven long years to clear the area of militants. This led to the displacement of approximately 34,054 families, one of Pakistan’s biggest such groups.
Most of the books have been donated by friends and people in Peshawar and other cities. In six years, its membership has grown to 410, and includes mostly students including 22 women.
When the library was opened, Asmatullah, who now runs the Al-Rahmat Trust, visited every school, mosque and hujra along with his friends to tell them about it. “We suffered because of a lack of knowledge and illiteracy,” he said.
According to the librarian, Waris Khan, people mostly take an interest in books on history and conflict in the region as well as poetry. “They like to read Rahman Baba, Hamza Shinwari and Ghani Khan—all of them talk about peace and tolerance.”
The library has 2,400 books, mostly academic ones, of which over 600 have been issued to members. A member can borrow four books at a time for two weeks.
Shopkeepers from around the area come here to read the free newspapers, which are mostly in Urdu. And the library has dedicated Saturday exclusively to women. Given the peaceful environment, students also come to here to prepare for their examinations. One of its walls says ‘Now books will rule’ and indeed perhaps the young men and women don’t need much convincing.