Pakistan: Musicians and singers live in danger

13 December 2007
A complete ban on all singing and dancing is implemented in Mingora city in northern Pakistan. Music concerts and cultural stage shows have stopped, and the singers and dancers have been thrown out of business, reports M. Ilyas Khan from the Swat region for the BBC News.

In the past few months, the Pakistani army has faced the spread of Islamist militants to new areas, such as Swat – a one-time tourist mecca described as “the Switzerland of Pakistan” about 140 kilometres from the capital Islamabad.

In villages in the Swat valley, militants linked to the Taliban and an anti-government cleric known as Mullah Fazlullah have burned records at police stations and hung signs outside proclaiming “Taliban station”.

The Pakistani army, however, launched an offensive against militants in Swat and on 8 December 2007, and said that after this the militants were “almost finished”, according to Chicago Tribune’s correspondent in Pakistan, Kim Barker.

Singers silenced
In an article on, reporter Ilyas Khan describes the kind of difficulties which the 26-year-old singer Nashreen experiences presently. She is based in Mingora, and she used to work in the so-called ‘music street’ of the city. The article takes its starting point in this particular street.

According to the BBC-reporter, Swat region has been long known for its fair-skinned dancing girls, popular with people who wished to have dancing at a wedding party or any other private party across most of northern Pakistan, and unlike some dancing girls in the Shahi Mohallah area of Lahore, the women in this conservative city have never had a reputation for providing any sexual services. Down the decades, remarks Ilyas Khan, many of the girls from the street have shown themselves to be talented radio singers.

However, in August 2007, musicians and dancers in the Bunrh neighbourhood, where the music street of Mingora is situated, received letters from the Taliban advising them to put an end to their business and give up their professions if they didn’t want their houses blown up. Since 2005 the Taliban have been spreading their influence in Swat, and they are currently holding large swathes of territory just north of Mingora city, the headquarters of Pakistan’s troubled northern district, reported Khan on 6 December 2007.

CD ban
“Dozens of families have shifted to other cities, while many others are stuck here without any means of a living,” said Fazl-e-Maula, the father-in-law of a local dancing girl, Nasreen. Her stage show in Peshawar was banned by maulanas (clerics) four years ago. The ban created a financial problem for her and her family since the men of the house – her husband and father-in-law – knew no other trade except to play musical instruments.

In 2006, the 26-year-old singer and dancer, a mother of two, received almost half a dozen contracts to perform for music video CDs, often recorded on private premises. She tried to supplement the household income by receiving guests at home, until the Taliban in Swat issued their threats in August 2007.

But a violent campaign by militant Taliban has caused the business of selling music videos to decline across large parts of NWFP. Hundreds of music and video outlets were blown up. Others voluntarily closed down or switched to other businesses.

Wants to leave
“I have defied the Taliban’s ban, and sometimes I suspect that they know it. I only hope to get out of here before they blow me up,” Nasreen told BBC’s correspondent.

Having taken the risk of participating in more than 20 CD plays and video dance sessions, despite an explicit ban by the Taliban, it is dangerous for her to remain in Mingora. She has also sung numbers or performed on songs for the official Pakistan Television, PTV, and a Pashto language private tv channel, AVT Khyber. Nashreen aspires to move to Lahore, but she doesn’t have any contacts there.

40 music shops closed in Peshawar area
In Peshawar now, people are afraid to visit music shops. Since a coalition of six Islamist hard-liner parties won election in 2002, concerts and music in public buses have been banned, and the government-run Nishtar Hall, built for concerts and other performances in Peshawar, has been shuttered. This ban on concerts and music in public paved the way for the bombing of music shops, told Shah Jehan, a professor at Peshawar University, to Chicago Tribune’s correspondent in Pakistan, Kim Barker. According to Kim Barker 40 video and music shops in the area of Peshawar have closed over November and December 2007.
Shah Jehan said the reason for attacking entertainers was obvious:

“These musicians, they are the rivals of the mullah,” or Islamic cleric, he said. “Why are they rivals? Because these musicians are stealing the audience of the mullah.”

Muhammad Tahir, a senior superintendent of police in Peshawar, told Kim Barker that basically an erosion of state authority has taken place in the area of Peshawar.

He wrote in his article for Chicago Tribune that “the attacks illustrate how the influence of Islamic radicals has been quietly creeping into more of Pakistan (…). Many worry that the militants have gained a momentum that cannot be stopped simply, even if Musharraf now turns his full attention back to the problem.”

In Peshawar, 3,000 police patrol the city of four million citizens. No one was arrested for one of the most serious attacks, by a suicide bomber who killed the city’s police chief and 15 others last January, let alone the smaller bombs that explode regularly. No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks either.

Music and dancing have long been a tradition with the region’s ethnic Pashtuns, even if women and men never publicly danced together because of religious and cultural restrictions.

The names of some of the people in the article have been changed.




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



BBC News – 6 December 2007:
‘Pakistan dancing girls fear Taleban’

Chicago Tribune – 13 December 2007:

‘Hard-liners are cracking longer whip in Pakistan’

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