North-west Pakistan: Jihadi hymns replace music



North-west Pakistan:
Jihadi hymns replace music

The rapidly growing influence of the Taliban in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province has left the areas’ singers and musicians with few choices: Either quit singing or face the wrath of different Taliban groups.

By Shaheen Buneri – reporting for Freemuse from Peshawar

In this newspaper advertisement published by Aziz-ur-Rahman, a local harmonium player in Swat Valley, he publicly announces that he has stopped playing harmonium because it is forbidden according to Islam and that he has now switched over to working in the business sector. The public is requested not to contact him for any musical gathering and not to compel him to play harmonium.

These kind of advertisements are a result of Taliban threats to different musicians and singers in Swat Valley to switch over to other businesses or face their wrath for ‘committing the sin of playing music’.

            Aziz-ur-Rahman’s ad

The strict Wahabi cult of Islam that Pakistani Taliban want to enforce in Pakistan tribal areas and settled districts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has no place for musical expressions. Instead Jihadi hymns and CDs showing ‘Taliban justice’ are flooding the markets in different parts of North West Pakistan.

Every Taliban group has its own production house with production staff who hire or motivate youth with sweet throats to sing Jihadi hymns and then release the albums in thousands of copies. On the one hand these Jihadi hymns incite youth to wage Jihad against ‘infidels’, and bring more and more recruits to Taliban folds, on the other it earns sufficient revenues for the Jihadi organisations.

Sign of Afghan music store

“One CD of Jihadi hymns is sold in 25-50 rupees. People from rural areas take much interest in listening to these Jihadi songs,” Akbar Khan Afiridi, 28, who deals in Jihadi cassettes in Karkhano Market of Peshawar city told Freemuse. He maintained that almost all music records in his shop were replaced by Jihadi cassettes.

“If they [the Taliban] bomb us for doing music business and the government is not able to provide us protection, then I have no choice but to sell Jihadi products. After all I have to earn bread for my family,” Afiridi explained.

Media reports have confirmed that Taliban threats are forcing a large number of musicians and singers to migrate to other places. Those who could not afford relocation to other cities publicly announced that they had quit the ‘un-Islamic business’ of singing and now onward would strictly abide by the rules of Islamic Shariah law.

Like harmonium player Aziz-ur-Rahman, several of the singers even have published advertisements in local newspapers showing their repentence for singing in the past, in order to prove themselves as pious Muslims and to avoid attacks on their lives and property.

Haroon Bacha performing. Photo by Sher Alam Shinwari

“This is a major shift in Pashtuns’ cultural behaviour. People are switching over to Jihadi hymns from their sweet folk songs and musical beats. Taliban fear has dominated minds. This is very dangerous phenomenon because this will develop aggression, intolerance and violence in our coming generations,” argues Usman Ulasyar, president of Swat Arts and Cultural Society.

Following the foot steps of their predecessors in Afghanistan, Pakistani Taliban launched their movement for the enforcement of Shariah with attacks on music shops and banning music in public places. Hundreds of music shops were bombed and destroyed in Swat, Charsada, Mardan, Peshawar, Dir, Kohat and adjoining tribal areas.

The second phase of Taliban campaign against music and all forms of entertainment is marked with threatening text messages and telephone calls to a number of popular singers.


Asylum in the United States
Haroon Bacha, a renowned Pashto singer, had to take asylum in the United States when local militants theatened him with serious consequences for singing. Haroon Bacha is not only a very creative singer and innovator in the field of Pashto music he also possess an M.Phil Degree in Social Work from the University of Peshawar.

“The raging conflicts in my region coupled with Taliban hostility to music and all forms of liberal expressions forced me to leave my homeland and take asylum in the United States”, Haroon stated in an email message to Freemuse.

Moved his family and quit music
Gulzar Alam, another popular Pashtun singer had to shift his family to Quetta in Balochistan and then worked as a taxi driver in Karachi, when the religious government of Mutahida Majlas-e-Amal (MMA) imposed ban on music in public in 2002.

Gulzar Alam recounts that during MMA government he was harrassed, tortured and arrested by police and supporters of the government attacked his office in Dabgari Bazar of Peshawar city.

When Awami National Party (ANP) took power in NWFP in February 2008 general elections, Gulzar returned to his home in Peshawar. But this time again he has to confront a more serious threats not from the government but from different Taliban groups operative in the tribal areas and the Frontier province.

As the attacks on music shops were in full swing he could not gather strength to persue his music career, this time he tried his fortune in real estate business, but that too proved a total failure. Gulzar has to face very hard times.

Militants opened fire
In November 2008. Gulzar Alam escaped an attempt on his life. He told reporters in Peshawar that he was returning home after having dropped his children at their school gate on Warsak Road when two unidentified militants opened fire on him.

Gulzar Alam demanded of the government, non-governmental organisations and human rights bodies to provide protection to him and his family members. “I am not feeling safe here,” he told Freemuse.

The intensified campaign against music, girls education and the prevailing sense of insecurity in Peshawar and its surrounding districts has not spared even hundreds of those Afghan singers and musicians who fled their country 1980s and took refuge in Pakistan. The famous music building on the university road is now presenting a deserted look.

Musicians flee to Afghanistan
“Yes, we fled Kabul for Peshawar, but now the situation here is more discouraging. Our business is on the decline and we feel more insecure in Peshawar than Kabul,” said Shir Agha, an Afghan Rabab player who lived in Peshawar for 20 years but now plans to travel back to Afghanistan.


Dancer killed

The Pakistani newspaper News International reported that recently a cleric proudly announced on radio that Taliban had killed a female dancer, Shabana, in Mingora. At 8 pm every night, Maulana Shah Dauran — a deputy of the local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah — begins his daily broadcasts by reciting the holy Quran with translation and interpretation in Pashto. For the next two to two-and-a-half hours, he speaks on a variety of topics, making announcements about Swat Taliban Shura decisions, providing information about the day’s events and militants’ attacks, and issuing threats to all those violating Taliban decrees.

Click to read more about Haroon Bacha
Haroon Bacha

Click on photo to read more about his case

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Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘Taliban’ + ‘Swat’

The News International – 5 January 2008:

‘Taliban rule the roost in Swat through FM radio’

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