The Taliban’s intolerance for music has found an able partner in the Peshawar police that has rounded up where four musicians on charges of over-staying. Civil society leaders fear that the four will be deported to Afghanistan where a worse fate awaits them.
The detention of four Afghan musicians has stirred civil society into action in the city of Peshawar, West Pakistan. On Tuesday, a local court sent the four Afghan musicians to jail as police asked for their judicial remand on charges of overstaying in the city.
The foursome – Nadeem Shah, Saeedullah, Ajmal and Naveedullah were popular faces in the local cultural circuit and spoke openly against the Afghan Taliban after their escape from their country.
They had been detained over the weekend, their family members said.
Lawyers, journalists, academicians, student unions and a large number of people representing civil society staged a protest outside the Peshawar Press Club and also outside the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly against the musicians’ detention. Reports of detention of Afghan musicians sparked outrage over social media too, prompting calls for their immediate release. Protesters carried placards and banners reading slogans against the arrests. Several organisations have called for further protests.
Peshawar University student leader, Rashid Khan said that the musicians fled to Pakistan due to security situation in their country and as the Taliban has come down hard especially on musicians. He said these people were already spending miserable lives.
He feared that they would be deported back to Afghanistan, further imperilling their lives.
He said that Pakistani government should treat them preferentially as they have migrated to save their lives and art.
Civil society leaders fear that the four will be deported to Afghanistan where a worse fate awaits them.
Why just the artists?
Police said that the musicians have been detained for not possessing legitimate travel documents for their stay in Pakistan under the Foreigners Act.
In the meanwhile, police official argued that the musicians have been detained to ensure peace in the border city. They spoke of the possibility of those illegally staying being involved in terrorist incidents.
The police registered complaints and FIRs against about 900 illegals Afghan residents so far this year.
But many have questioned why the four musicians have been singled out, knowing how particularly vulnerable they are. They could be deported or imprisoned for three years.
Tribal groups in Peshawar point out that Pakistan is under international obligations not to send back Afghans refugees who have sought refuge in the country fearing persecution back home in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have banned music within days of returning to power. There have been reports of the militant group executing folk singer Fawad Andarabi belonging to the northern Baghlan province on August 27 last year, less than two weeks after they took over the country’s government.
Elsewhere in the country, musicians were dragged out of their homes and beaten, their instruments smashed and burnt and had their heads tonsured before circulating their pictures.
Music schools like the Afghanistan National Institute of Music had downed shutters after the Taliban took over. This institute gave Afghanistan the country’s first ever all-female orchestra, Zohra, named after a Persian goddess of music. Zohra enthralled audiences across the world.
Even taking over Kabul, the Taliban announced a ban on music over local radio, in turn commanding them to broadcast religious chanting.
Image: Afghanistan National Institute of Music (this image is only for representational purposes).