Singer flees Pakistan northwest, fear of Talibanisation grows

October 16, 2008

Is this what the future holds for Pakistan?

Haroon Bacha, a  Pashtun singer, has fled his home in the Pakistani city of  Peshawar after a year of phone calls, text messages and even personal visits warning him to stop playing, the New York Times reported this week.

Bacha, who has left his wife and children and an extended family behind, has found a safe haven in New York where he is playing at benefit concerts and even weddings, the newspaper said.

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Bacha who sings about peace, tolerance and resistance to war, says he is the latest victim of what some call the relentless Talibanisation of the Pakistani northwest, from the burning of schools for girls to bombing music shops.

“If it continues like this, and these fanatics get power, our social fabric, our institutions – everything will be destroyed,” Bacha told the paper . “I don’t know what these elements want to have in their lives, what their world would be like.”

Some of the Islamists’ vision of what Pakistan, a Muslim nation of 165 million people, should be, is unfolding in the northwest region straddling the border with Afghanistan.

The BBC had a story on the challenges of living in Swat,  once a picturesque alpine valley popular with tourists, and now the frontline of the war between the Pakistan Taliban and the military.

It has a local administrator talking about how the Taliban were checking vehicles and forcing women to wear the veil. He relates the experience of a man whose car was stopped in a village and the women ordered out.  The Taliban slapped one of the women in the face and asked why she didn’t put on the veil.

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Scores of schools have been burnt to the ground and parents are afraid to send their children to the ones that are still open. “We build a school in six months, the Taliban bring it down in six minutes,” Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zahir Tanin said, arguing that the hardliner Islamists had become a threat to the region.

But can Pakistan really be Talibanised?  Can you silence music in a large nation such as this with a long South Asian tradition of singing, dancing running into centuries?

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