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Pashtun Music Bazaars Still Being Targeted

A police official inspects a damaged music shop after a bomb explosion in Charsadda, a town in the Northwest Frontier Province, in 2009.
The Taliban campaign against music in northwest Pakistan and the tribal areas is still in full swing.

Militants bombed or torched more than a dozen music shops late last week in the Swabi district of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province and the city of Miramshah in North Waziristan, according to numerous reports (here, here, and a late-October attack here and the latest here), reportedly after threats to close their "un-Islamic businesses."

The wave of hate and destruction against such local music and popular culture in Khyber Pukhtunkhwah started under a government led by the Mutahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA), an Islamic religious alliance, in 2002, when thousands of musicians and singers were forced to abandon a 200-year-old Dabgari music bazaar.

The cultural clampdown early last decade was so intense that, at one point, burning music CDs and cassettes became a regular Friday festivity at local parks in Peshawar. The Khyber Pukhtunkhwa chief minister at the time
(when it was called the Northwest Frontier Province), Akram Khan Durrani, blamed bazaar closures and cassette bonfires on thriving obscenity.

During the campaign against "obscenity," female images were scrapped from advertising and cinema billboards and posters, the only concert hall in the city of Peshawar was locked down, and dozens of musicians and singers were given just three choices: go into hiding, leave the country, or leave the profession.

Those who chose to stay were chased, kidnapped, or otherwise targeted. Noted singers Gulzar Alam and Sardar Ali Yousafzai were attacked by armed men; Mushraff Bungash was kidnapped; performers were made to appear on television or otherwise publicly withdraw from artistic and musical activities considered "un-Islamic."

The most recent attacks suggest that the Taliban is not lying low in pursuing its self-proclaimed agenda of Talibanizing the Pashtun-dominated tribal areas and Khyber Pukhtunkhwah.

So it is worth asking whether such restrictive attitudes to popular culture and Pashtu music will be allowed to dominate -- on either or both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border -- if the U.S. and Pakistani governments proceed with their stated aim of talking with the Taliban.

-- Majeed Babar