Taliban face the music in
Pakistan By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR - Not so long ago, Gul Pana's
pursuit of a career as a professional singer in
Khyber Pakthunkhwa province would have invited
certain death at the hands of the Taliban.
But times have changed in Pakistan, and
Gul is glad that the present provincial government
has picked up enough courage to stand up to the
Taliban's terrorism and promote music and other
"I enjoy music and,
at the same time, I am able to earn money for my
family through singing," the pretty young diva
tells IPS. "The people cannot be kept away from
listening to songs."
were unthinkable in Khyber Pakthunkhwa as long as
the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) or United
Council of Action - an alliance of
religio-political parties - ruled the province
from 2002 to 2008 with
backing from the Taliban militia.
the MMA lost elections held in 2008 to the
left-wing, socialist Awami National Party (ANP),
bombing attacks by the Taliban on CD shops,
cinemas and schools in Khyber Pakthunkhwa and the
adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas
(FATA) increased briefly.
On the night of
January 2, 2009, the Taliban brutally executed
Shabana, a popular female dancer in Swat and
strung up her body from an electric pole. That
year, local singer Ghani Dad was killed in Swat
while he was returning home from a music session.
But the tide began changing against the
Taliban after the Pakistan army launched
operations against militancy in the region in 2009
and the United States military stepped up drone
strikes targeting top Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders
holed up in Pakistan's northwest.
opened the 600-seat Nishtar Hall for cultural
activities and want to defeat terrorism through
music and art," Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Khyber
Pakthunkhwa's culture minister, tells IPS.
Hussain wants to reverse the policies of
the former MMA government which banned musical
concerts and other cultural events, considering
them to be un-Islamic.
Hussain says the
revival of music and cultural activities was also
part of the government's campaign to send across
the message that the Pashtuns are a liberal people
and opposed to terrorism.
of Khyber Pakthunkhwa's 21 million people are
Pashtuns, an ethnic group that straddles the
Pakistan-Afghan border and provides the main
support base for the Taliban.
Hall, which remained closed for six consecutive
years, now regularly hosts events where
enthusiasts enjoy music, drama and other
activities," Hussain said, indicating the most
visible sign of the government's determination.
Reviving cultural programs across the
province has been welcomed by the
entertainment-starved Pashtuns, known to be
traditionally fond of music, art and dance.
"We came to watch our favorite singers and
dancers. The night was fun-filled and we enjoyed
ourselves," said Zawar Ali, a resident of Mardan,
one of the 25 districts of Khyber Pakthunkhwa.
Ali, who attended the musical night at the
Nishtar Hall along with 10 of his friends, said he
was thankful to the ANP-led government for defying
the Taliban, who have now taken to attacking
mosques and funerals.
On March 11, a
suicide bomber attacked a funeral ceremony in
Badhber village, on the outskirts of Peshawar,
killing 15 mourners and narrowly missing his
target, ANP politician Khush Dil Khan.
Pakistan began to be directly affected by
terrorism after the ouster of Taliban rule in
Afghanistan by the US towards the end of 2001, as
part of the war-on-terror following the 9/11
attacks in New York and Washington.
their government was toppled in Kabul, the
Taliban's leadership crossed over the porous
border into Pakistan and concentrated in the FATA
from where they began targeting government
installations, schools and music and CD shops.
"The Taliban destroyed 600 music and CD
shops in Khyber Pakthunkhwa over the past five
years. They also forced several singers to leave
the province," said Sher Dil Khan, president of
the province's CD Shops Association.
a new government ruling Khyber Pakthunkhwa,
attacks on CD shops have stopped," Khan said.
"During Taliban days, the majority of the
singers, dancers and other people related to
showbiz left the province," said Gulzar Alam, a
crooner, who fled to Karachi himself. Gulzar and
other singers are now signed up for back-to-back
The government has even
started construction for an art academy where
talented youths will be provided training in
singing, dancing and playing musical instruments.
"About 100 youths have expressed
willingness to undergo training in different
genres and we are going to start training programs
very soon," said Khyber Pakthunkhwa's director for
culture, Pervaiz Khan Sabatkhel.
province has been traditionally rich in music and
art. "People organized musical events to celebrate
their weddings and other festive occasions. They
cannot be forced to stop listening to music or
watching dramas. It has always been a part of
their lives," Sabatkhel said.
Hussain says his government is providing security
to the CD shops and singers so they can carry on
their business fearlessly.
"We have broken
the command and control system of the Taliban and
they cannot come back. We hope that art and
culture activities will increase in the days to
come," he said.