Young music stars defy mullahs in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

The BBC reported a glimmer of hope Jan. 27 from Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, where Taliban-inspired movements have won local political control over the semi-autonomous Tribal Areas. Two local kids, Tariq Hussain Bacha and Zeeshan Khan (respectively 12 and 11), have formed a musical duo and are defying the ruling mullahs’ ban by performing in public. They initially played secret gigs in back rooms, but since their album Joora Guloona ("two flowers" in the Pashtun language) has become a success they have become bolder. Stocked at first by a few shops in Peshawar’s famous Choor Bazar (Thieves Bazaar), copies started flying off the shelves and soon there were orders from the US, Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan.

Says Tariq: "I am not fearful of mullahs or clergymen. I only fear my God. I love singing songs that glorify the Pashtun nation." The album has now sold over 10,000 copies. Zeeshan, who is partially paralyzed by polio, plays the harmonium in the traditional style he learned from his father. The duo had just started performing publicly when the November 2002 elections brought ultra-conservative Islamist parties to power in the province, exploiting widespread anger at the US invasion of Afghanistan. They immediately closed local music venues in the name of protecting public morality–and they particularly hated the romantic and poetic Pashtun folk music sung by Tariq and Zeeshan. But the irrepressible popularity of the duo’s CD has forced the mullahs to loosen up a little. The two boys still live modest lives despite their success. Zeeshan’s father told BBC: "I am waiting for the day when someone comes and says they will take Zeeshan to the best hospital in the world to treat his legs, so he can walk again."

See also WW4 REPORT #91, and our last post on Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, and the rise of Islamism in the country.