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Singing for peace
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By Shaheen Buneri
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Along the Pakistan-Afghan border – in the grip of war and violence, while the Pashtun culture is under fire from militants, some young Pashto singers use their music to openly challenge religious fundamentalism.
Contrary to the past, when Pashtu poetry was primarily an embodiment of romantic thoughts and feelings, today’s literary and musical pursuits hearken to the themes of war, migration, death and destruction.
The change is noticeable in the new songs by budding singers who lament the negative impacts of the ongoing war and yearn for peace and stability in the region.
The songs have gained popularity on both sides of the Durand Line.
The locals enjoy them not only because they evoke nostalgia for peaceful times in their villages and valleys but also because they provide a vent for oppressed feelings.
“When I composed a song about bomb blasts in Peshawar I had not realized that the people would like it so much. Believe me, I did not think that it would touch the hearts of the Pashtuns so deeply”, said Karan Khan, a young singer from the Swat valley who lives in Peshawar to earn his livelihood.
He maintains that in his song he motivates Pashtuns to shun silence and come forward to restore the past beauty and peaceful atmosphere in Peshawar — the capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the main social and commercial centre of the Pashtuns.
“The song is in great demand in the broadcasts of local radio and TV channels, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan”, Khan said.
Art critics say that, since 2001, the socio-cultural scene in the region has changed. The Taliban destroyed music shops and discouraged musical performances, but that has proved to be a blessing in disguise.
“The aggressive campaign against Pashtun culture inflamed a renewed passion in the artistic and literary circles to fight for their survival. This attitude led to the composition of songs that tells about the past glory of the land and the need for practical work to defeat religious extremism at all levels”, said Usman Ulasyar, Chairman of the Suvastu Arts and Cultural Society.
Bakhtyar Khattak, 30, is a Pashto singer with a master’s degree in business. He works for a Pashto TV station in Peshawar as anchorperson and music director. In 2003, he started his music career by singing romantic songs, but in 2007 he devoted himself to singing for his land and people.
“As a singer I know the importance of my role in creating awareness among the people about the social and political issues that affect their lives. If you remember, the Taliban first attacked music shops and musicians before establishing their authority in Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They did so because they knew Pashtuns loved music and singers were the real opposition to their extremist ideology”, he said.
Khattak said he believes that the newly composed patriotic songs played a more important role in denting the image of the Taliban and exposing their true nature to the Pashtuns than military operations.
Khattak composed a series of songs about Peshawar, the sufferings of the displaced people from Swat and Pakistan tribal areas and a poem inciting Pashtuns to respect their traditions and social values and not to be influenced by the negative propaganda of the religious bigots.
Modern technology helps popularize songs as people share them through mobile phones, computers and on social networks on the Internet.
According to some social scientists, this new trend among Pashtun singers may lead to the re-awakening of national consciousness among the Pashtuns.
“A very powerful message has been communicated through these songs. They appeal to the people at both emotional and intellectual levels and educate them to come out of the sense of despair afflicting their hearts and minds”, said Tariq Ahmad Khan, a Peshawar based development expert currently working on a proposal to create cultural spaces for young Pashtuns in rural areas of NWFP.
“ It is interesting that Pashto singers perform this important duty by their own with no encouragement from the governmental and non-governmental organizations and they must be appreciated for this”, he said.