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Ghazala Javed's Murder Further Erodes Trust In Government

Murdered Pashto singer Ghazala Javed
Murdered Pashto singer Ghazala Javed
The murder of prominent Pashto singer Ghazala Javed in Peshawar on June 18 is another warning for lovers of art and music and conveys the message that the government, which is supposed to ensure the safety and security of peaceful and law-abiding citizens, is helpless in the face of the lawbreakers, regardless of whether they are militants or gangs of killers, kidnappers, and bandits.

Ghazala, 24, was on her way to a musical show from a beauty parlor in Peshawar’s Dabgari Garden area when gunmen on motorcycles shot her dead along with her father.

Ironically, Dabgari Garden was a safe haven for singers, dancers, musicians, and artists, who had previously lived peacefully in the district side by side with others for many years.

That all ended when Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of five religious parties, came to power in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region as a result of the 2002 general elections.

The MMA government not only stopped singers, dancers, and musicians from performing at the popular Nishtar Hall, but also forced artists and their families living in the congested Dabgari Garden locality to either leave the area or stop practicing the profession they had pursued for decades in order to become "more pious."

At the same time, religious squads, mostly consisting of angry young men, attacked shops and hurled threats at others for displaying female mannequins. They sent threatening letters warning shopkeepers that their clothes dummies were spreading obscenity in society.

But that was only the beginning.

Taliban Barbarity

The most serious display of Taliban barbarity in Swat Valley occurred in the years 2007-2009, when militants banned the watching of television and stopped people from holding live music events, even in their own homes on occasions such as weddings.

They also forced musicians in Swat Valley's famous Banr Street to stop their activities or leave the area.

During this period, like scores of other performance artists' families, Ghazala Javed decided to move to the safety of bigger cities such as Peshawar, Lahore, and Karachi.

While Ghazala was able to get some respite after leaving Swat Valley and could continue her singing in Peshawar and other cities, some other artists were not so lucky.

One of these was the female dancer Shabana.

She was dragged out of her house in the narrow and dark Banr Bazaar and was shot dead at the notorious Green Square, which had been called "Bloody Square" by the locals because the Taliban used to carry out executions of policemen, political workers, government employees, and locals who opposed their views.

This was a period when several male singers joined the Tableeghi missionary group for their own safety while others stopped singing and opted to stay at home.

Prominent among them was Pashto singer Gulzar Alam, who decided to grow a beard and drive a taxi in the streets of Pakistan’s megacity, Karachi, to earn a living for his family.

I still remember the singer Gulrez Tabassum with tears in his eyes as he announced that he was giving up singing during a crowded press conference at the Peshawar Press Club in 2008.

Comedian Alamzeb Mujahid, the heartthrob of young Pashtuns, bade farewell to his flourishing career after he was kidnapped and kept in captivity for several days by the militant outfit Lashkar-e-Islam.

Mujahid subsequently left Pakistan and currently lives in Malaysia. He has not gone back to his previous profession.

A Ray Of Hope

However, many saw a ray of hope after the 2008 general elections, when the alliance of ruling religious parties was defeated and the secular Awami National Party came to power.

Since then, several encouraging steps have been taken, including financial grants for singers and musicians, the organization of cultural shows, and the reopening of Nishtar Hall for stage productions.

Musical events were also revived as was the promotion of music, art, and culture even on school levels.

However, security for artists and musicians is still a nightmare.

It is not clear who killed Ghazal Javed.

In their initial reports, police blamed her ex-husband, whom she married only six months ago and then divorced because he objected to her singing.

Even if we believe the police version of the story, it is the foremost responsibility of the provincial government to provide security for all citizens, particularly female singers.

Earlier, budding singer Aiman Udhas was killed in a similar way when her brother knocked at her door one morning in Peshawar and shot her several times as soon as she opened the gate to see who was outside.

Soon after her killing, police and government officials were seen on television promising foolproof security for artists and vowing to bring Udhas's killers to justice. So far, however, nothing has been done.

Ghazala was confident that she was living in the comparative safety of Peshawar and under a government promoting art and culture, which promised tolerance for all, unlike the province's previous rulers.

However, her trust in the government was misplaced as she was killed in the heart of Peshawar and the killers managed to escape despite police blockades about every 500 meters.

The question now is whether the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will come out with another promise to ensure the safety of artists and singers and bring the perpetrators of violence to justice?

I don't believe this will happen. I doubt whether artists, particularly female singers and dancers, have any faith in this either.

-- Daud Khattak