Pakistan: Music and militancy in the frontier (radio report)

25 February 2008

An executive order banning music shops spread shock and fear among 200 shop owners

Reporter: Marvaiz Khan
Duration: 6 minutes 44 seconds
Language: Pashto

This radio report tells about religious militants’ attacks on music centres, and the reactions from the owners of the music business in Swat Valley of North-West Pakistan.

It is a comprehensive report that includes interviews with the government authorities, music centres’ owners and Maulana Fazlullah, the firebrand militant leader who instigated the people to burn their tv sets, tape recorders, computers and CDs because listening to music and doing music business is prohibited in his concept of Islam.

In wake of the intensified attacks on music centres a large number of music centres are closed and the people have switched over to other professions.

Listen to the radio report:   Click to open mp3 file  (in Pashto language)

Militants destroyed the music market in Mingora in Matta area of the Swat Valley. Photo by Marvaiz Khan

Transcription of the radio report


[Traditional Pashtun tune]

Composed by Hamayun


[Voice of Marvaiz Khan]

There was a time when Swat Valley in the north of Pakistan was world-famous for its natural beauty, historical importance and cultural diversity.

Yousafzai tribes of Pashtuns (Afghans) are living in Swat valley. They have a great passion for their music. Every evening after finishing their routine activities, these Pashtuns come together in a Hujra (Pashtuns’ social and cultural club) and enjoy the artistically rich Pashtun music. They sing their folk songs which tell about their unfulfilled desires and aspirations.

When the six-party religious alliance of Mutahida Majlas-e-Amal (MMA) won a landslide victory in the previous general elections in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, they banned Music in public gatherings and closed the doors of Nishtar Hall (The only one cultural centre in Peshawar capital of North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan) for all types of musical and cultural gatherings.

Following the extremist policy, different pro-Taliban militant groups launched attacks on music centres which caused irreparable human and financial loss to the people related to the business. The pro-Taliban groups claimed that playing music is prohibited in Islam and all the music centres must be closed without any delay.

Likewise all the musical and cultural activities come to a stand still in Swat valley. The hardliner pro-Taliban militant leader Maulana Fazlullah, using his illegal FM channel, instigated the people to burn tv sets, computers, music plays, CDs and tape recorders. Reports say that people burnt electronic music devices worth six million Pakistani rupees (approximately 100,000 US dollars) in the area.

After the popularity of Maulana Fazlullah, the district administration of Swat also issued an order to all music centres to stop functioning immediately. Locals say that there are more than 200 music centres in the valley.

In this regard when I asked Syed Muhammad Javid, District Coordination Officer (DCO) in Swat area, he replied that the music centres were promoting obscenity and vulgarity in the area and that the government would never permit this. He elaborated:




Click to see map of the area in
Swat Valley is situated in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan

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Click to read more about music censorship in Pakistan


[Voice clip of Syed Muhammad Javid, DCO Swat]

“We have directed the music centres and video shops not to project vulgar photos, music, movies and CDs. They should not run their business on the basis of vulgarity and immorality. A business which can corrupt our morals will never be permitted. We say that they should continue their shops and avoid vulgar practices. We observe a strict check on such shops and who violates the rules will be arrested and fined.”

The new executive order banning music centres spread waves of shock and fear among the people related to the business. Some of them even closed down their business. Fazli Wahab, proprietor of Capri Music Studio, while reacting to the new executive order, said:


Right-click to download mp3-file

[Voice clip of Fazli Wahab]

“The DCO’s should restore peace. He must arrest people who are involved in suicide attacks and bomb blasts. We are neither terrorists nor miscreants. If he wants to close our shops he will have to show us our crime!”

Iftikhar, president of the Swat CD and Video Centres Association explained that the recent attacks on music centres had caused irreparable human and financial loss to them adding that both militants and government wanted to close the doors of entertainment and musical expression on the youth and wanted them to grow like Taliban. He further said:


Right-click to download mp3-file

[Voice clip of Iftikhar]

“Legally and constitutionally every one is allowed to do business in Pakistan. We are not doing music business out of choice but out of compulsion. We have sold our lands to start this business. If our business is creating any problem for the government it should give us compensation and we will close it all together. The DCO has decided to close our shops, if they do so, doors of courts are open and we will file a legal suit against it…”

Owner of Shalimar Music Centre, Abdul Baqi, said that he was very frightened and scared and trying to start a new business instead of dealing in music CDs and cassettes. He expressed his fear in these words:


Right-click to download mp3-file

[Voice clip of Abdul Baqi]

“Yes, fear is there as we are living in an atmosphere of intimidation. The government should protect us and cooperate with us but the problem is that officials come and further intimidate us…”

In July 2007, Maulana Fazlullah, the hardliner pro-Taliban militant leader, sensitised the people on the prohibition of music in Islam and termed the modern inventions of CD players, computers and tv sets as the sources of evil and westernization.

In one of his broadcast speeches Maulana Fazlullah said that “the United States wanted to deviate our youth from the right path of Islam and Jihad. To discourage the current wave of westernization and vulgarity you should either break or burn your tv sets, computers, and CD-players”, he advised his followers on his illegal FM channel.

When I asked him about his opinion regarding attacks on music centres, he replied:


Right-click to download mp3-file

[Voice clip of Maulana Fazlullah]

“There are three ways to reject a Munkar (Actions/practices prohibited in Islam) either by considering it bad in heart, or speak against it, or discouraging it by hand (force/power). Currently we do not have enough strength to use force against [music], but if someone can do that, then it is permitted in Islam.”(What Maulana is saying here is that he presently has no power (authority) to carry out attacks on music shops. But if any individual or group has ample power to do so, then that would be permitted according to Islam. He is, in other words, saying that music shops should be discouraged, or bombed.)


Pashtuns possess thousands years old social and cultural history. Music is an integral part of their society and shows their liberal approach towards life, but the intensified attacks on music centres, absence of cultural institutions and lack of opportunities confronted by Pashto singers have endangered Pashtun’s cultural and musical heritage.


Right-click to download mp3-file

Maulana Fazlullah

Releated reading on the internet

The Media Line – 4 February 2008:

‘Talibanization of Paradise’

New York Times – 16 February 2008:

‘In Pakistan, Islam Needs Democracy’


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