'No more music in this town'
Six years after the Taliban was removed from Kabul, Talibanisation is reviving -- in Pakistan, writes Graham Usher in Lakki Marwat
During its rule in Afghanistan the Taliban banned music and the employment and education of women. Such practices were "un-Islamic", said its leaders. Others called their prohibitive and primitive interpretation of Islam "Talibanisation". The Taliban regime was ousted in November 2001, when US-led forces invaded Kabul in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks. But Talibanisation persists -- not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan.
Its bases are the remote tribal areas piled up against Pakistan's mountainous border with Afghanistan. Last week one of these areas, South Waziristan, saw ferocious battles between local tribesmen and Uzbek Islamic militants allied to Al-Qaeda. Over 100 have been killed. Taliban leaders, who enjoy good relations with both tribesmen and Al-Qaeda, tried to mediate a ceasefire. For them the priority is the insurgency in Afghanistan, not power struggles in Waziristan.
But war and peacemaking are not their only roles. For the last six months Afghan and Pakistani Taliban have established Sharia courts, police forces, tax collectors and public offices in the tribal areas, "a parallel administration with all the functions of a state," says Ismail Khan, a Pakistani journalist. Ominously this "state" is starting to seep into settled areas like Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and its capital, Peshawar.
Lakki Marwat is a dusty market town in the NWFP. Two months ago religious students or Taliban began "vice" patrols. One of their first edicts was to ban music.
Zai-ul-uddin is a singer from Lakki Marwat. He used to perform at weddings with a full band of flute, drum and harmonium. No longer. "I didn't receive any notice. I was simply told -- no more music in this town. I complied," he says guiltily. "I don't want to land in trouble."
Zai-ul-uddin says 13 musicians have left Lakki Marwat in recent weeks to ply their art in places where music is not banned. "But it's not the same," he says. In a rare performance he sings a Pashu lamentation about a man disappointed in love. But the doors and windows of his cell-like room are shuttered tight. As he says, he doesn't want any trouble.
Neither does Inan-ullah-Khan. After three years in England, he returned to Lakki Marwat in 2005 to set up a clinic and maternity hospital. Both moves have rendered him suspect in the eyes of the Taliban. "They say I'm a British spy and that Britain is an ally of America and America is the enemy of Islam," he says. "They've threatened to destroy the hospital."
They have also threatened his female staff. "I had a woman doctor who came from outside. But the Taliban got to her, and she won't come now. This is a problem. In a place like this, there are certain things only woman doctors can do."
Lakki Marwat is not a small town. But the police are "powerless" against the Taliban, says Inan. In February, two music stores were firebombed for selling "immoral" Western music. The local police chief called a meeting of the town's music-store owners. His advice? "Stop selling the music," says an owner. A visit to his store shows it is being observed. There are no music CDs anywhere, only stacks of Islamic cassettes. "I still sell music," he says, with a wink. "But under the counter, like hashish."
Who are the Taliban? Rahim-ullah-Yousefzai is a journalist in NWFP and an authority on the movement. He says your average Talib is "a young, poor, madrassa student. He is very religious and very frustrated. He is convinced the US is the enemy of Islam and that Pakistan's President Musharraf is Washington's lackey. He cites the occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine as evidence of this hostility. But if you were to ask me what has radicalised him, I would say Palestine. His supreme hero is Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He would say, 'Mullah Omar sacrificed his rule, family and colleagues by defying the US and refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden'."
But, says Yousefzai, the Taliban is not simply bands of disaffected seminary students. "It is a hierarchy" whose local cadres in Lakka Marwat have links to the leadership in the tribal areas, which, in turn, is answerable to Afghan leaders like Mullah Omar. Does this mean the Afghan leaders are behind the Talibanisation campaign in Pakistan? "No", says Yousefzai. "But neither are they unhappy about it."
Mullah Mohamed Ibrahim is a local Talib. He was born in Lakka Marwat but schooled at a madrassa in Waziristan. He is young, with long, black flowing hair and beard, and a mantle thrown around his shoulders. He has promised us an interview with a local Taliban commander so we can get "their side of the story". We drive through a landscape of palm trees, camel carts and women gleaning in wheat fields. We arrive outside Mohamed's madrassa in a village called Jara Bazi Khel. The commander is not at home. Perhaps he thinks we are spies.
As the prospect of an interview with him recedes, others join us. Some are seminary students dressed in white gowns and caps. Some are boys and girls with grimy clothes and unwashed faces. All are beautiful. Their faces light up when we say Al-Salaam Alaikum. What do they think of Talibanisation? A few are non-committal. One boy says it's good if the Taliban "bans bad things like drugs and music and theft". But another, with his first growth of beard, speaks against a murmur of approval. "We have not been infected by the disease of becoming Taliban," he says.
Unchecked by police and state the disease will spread. On 18 March Bashir Hussein's music store in Peshawar was firebombed by a group calling themselves the mujahadeen but assumed to be the Taliban. It was the first time a music store had been hit in this sprawling, ancient city, known, among many other things, for its music. "It won't be the last," says Bashir.