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KP calls for protection for singers and artists
As residents speak out, the government vowed to protect and support performers after years of suppression by the Taliban and other conservative thinkers.
By Javed Aziz Khan
PESHAWAR – Musicians and artists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Music Freedom Day rallied outside the Peshawar Press Club for better protection from extremists in hopes of putting an end to violent attacks from the Taliban and other conservatives.
Years of frustration rooted in the on-going militancy's attempt to stifle artistic and cultural activities motivated the protesters to call for action, waving signs that said: "Music cannot be silenced" and "Music promotes love and peace."
"Singers faced attempts on their lives, kidnappings and harassment during the last many years," said Arshad Hussain, president of the Takhleeq Development Foundation and a Peshawar-based artist and producer. "But still, music boomed in KP and all over Pakistan."
Many female singers and dancers have been killed during the past couple of years, said Mudassar Zaman, a newly emerged Pashtu singer from Peshawar.
The most recent attack on a KP singer occurred when Saima Naz was shot, allegedly by her brother Jawad, in Peshawar last August. Saima was taken to Lady Reading Hospital, where she died a week later. Police arrested her brother.
"I was against my sister's profession," Jawad told investigators, explaining that he had asked Saima and his older sister Gul Rukh on a number of occasions "to quit showbiz."
In another case, thousands of fans were shocked when Pashtu singer Ghazala Javed was fatally shot with her father as they left a beauty salon in Peshawar's Dabgari Bazaar June 18. Her sister, Farhat, who is also a singer, was unharmed.
"We are still feeling insecure since the two accused in the murder of Ghazala are at large," Farhat said last year after appearing in a local court in her sister's murder case. "We have been receiving threats on the telephone."
Ghazala's ex-husband, Jahangir, and two other people have been charged in connection with the singer's murder. Jahangir is on trial in Swat, the late singer's hometown.
The most horrific killing was that of Shabana, a dancer from Swat, who was killed by militants in January 2009 during their 2007-2009 occupation of Swat. After killing her, militants displayed her body in Mingora's Green Chowk – which became known after the murder as Slaughter Chowk – to frighten other singers and dancers into quitting their profession.
"The way Shabana was killed by militants was enough to scare hundreds of other dancers and singers, mostly settled on the popular Banr Street of Mingora," Naheed, a young female dancer from Peshawar, told Central Asia Online. "But others being killed by their families is a new matter of concern for all of us."
Government supports art, artists
The KP government is committed to security for everyone, including singers and artists, KP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told Central Asia Online.
The government has decided to provide security to those singers who are threatened or who ask for protection, he said.
"Apart from taking adequate security measures, the government is giving financial assistance to senior artists who have played a key role in promoting Pashtu music," he said. The government has given financial assistance of Rs. 100,000 (US $1,023) to Rs. 500,000 (US $5,115) to various singers and artists.
Pashtu culture is musically rich and will not die with individual incidents, he said, giving assurance that anybody threatening singers will be brought to justice.
Singers and dancers in Malakand Division are basking in a sense of security after the imposition of security measures all over Swat, police said.
"Everybody in Swat and Malakand Division can perform cultural activities or do whatever he or she wants to do [under the law] without any fear," Malakand Division Deputy Inspector General of Police Akhtar Hayat told Central Asia Online.
Kohat-based musician and poet Khurram Khan noted the change.
"The situation has improved. Not only are dancers and musicians back in Swat, but they are performing freely in Peshawar and other districts of [KP]," he said.
Pashtu music gaining popularity
Braving threats, many dancers and singers – mostly women from Peshawar, Swat and other parts of KP and Afghanistan – are celebrating Pashtu music. Singers from other countries are also trying their luck.
"A Persian singer from Canada – Sitara Nawabi – as well as a Russian and an Indian singer have approached me to help them make music for their Pashtu songs because [Pashtu music] is becoming popular all over the world," said Zaman.
Ismail and Junaid, a new band of local university students, became popular with a single song, "Qarara Rasha," he said.
"From the female band Zaib and Hania to Ismail and Junaid, there are a number of new bands by the educated young lot from Pakistan and Afghanistan that have gained international popularity for singing popular Pashtu poetry with modern instruments," said Khurram.
"The [KP] government has done a great job by not only re-opening Nishtar Hall for cultural events and staging plays on legends like [17th-century poet] Rahman Baba, but also by providing financial support to some of the deserving music legends," Khurram said.