In Pakistan, combating Taliban extremism through music | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 08.04.2016
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In Pakistan, combating Taliban extremism through music

With the army now controlling many tribal areas of Pakistan that had been plagued by the Taliban, musicians who'd fled are returning to their homes. The government is helping them get back on their feet.

Taliban militants had forbidden musicians from performing in the areas under their control, most of which were located along the border with Afghanistan, in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Before a military operation sent the Taliban fleeing from some areas, the extremists would publicly set fire to TV sets, CD players and audiocassettes and harass local musicians who had been performing in the region for decades. Subsequently, most of the musicians and shop owners selling musical instruments and audio- and videocassettes had to run for their lives.

Now that the Taliban no longer control many of these areas, the musical performances in the region have gradually started to make a comeback.

Musical show in Peshawar

Many Pashtun people believe in a moderate version of Islam

Cultural revival

The provincial government has launched an initiative to promote cultural activities. The aim is to counter extremism through musical shows and also to financially support the ethnic Pashtun musicians who had suffered due to protracted violence in their cities and towns.

"We want to promote the Pashtun culture, which is not based on violence," Abdul Basit, the provincial director for cultural affairs, told DW. "We are organizing musical programs in many parts of the province - in districts, towns and villages."

Basit said locals had enthusiastically participated in these shows, ignoring security threats.

"Another aspect of our campaign deals with the financial support for the musicians," Basit said. "So far, we have reached out to over 500 hundred performers with financial aid."

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Tourism Ministry is collaborating with the Culture Ministry for the "Revival of Cultural Heritage" campaign. Domestic and foreign tourists have stopped coming to the northwestern areas, which are famous for their beautiful mountainous terrain and mighty rivers. Tourism officials say they hope to attract visitors again and eventually generate income for locals. They believe that cultural activities can lure the needed tourists.


"The security situation in the province is much better now, and we have resumed our musical activities," a musician in Swat told DW on condition of anonymity. As many others had, he left his hometown after the Taliban took over the area.

But some artists still fear the Taliban, who, even after retreating, continue to carry out random attacks on civilians and military personnel in the area.

Renowned Pashto singer Gulzar Alam told DW that he was not daunted by the Taliban's threat. "We must revive the Pashtun culture by promoting talented singers and actors," Alam said. "We need to invest in young musicians. I appreciate the government's efforts in this regard."

Palwasha, a young singer in Swat, is confident that one day she will make it big in the Pakistani music industry. Her music teacher Shabana had lost her life in a militant attack, but that did not deter the girl.

Pashto singer

Female singers are back on stages

"Shabana used to guide me in music," Palwasha said. "Before her death, singing was just a hobby for me, but now it has become a passion. Now I want to learn and help others learn, too."

State protection

Many provincial artists are not as courageous as Palwasha and have already left for the Middle East, Europe or the United States. Those who could not migrate have taken up other professions.

The remaining musicians and other performing artists demand that Pakistan's government protect them from the Taliban and other militant groups who still harass them.

Despite the government's efforts, many believe that will still take some time for the northwestern region to be completely safe again.