The Music Doesn’t Stop in Peshawar

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On June 18, celebrated Pashto singer Ghazala Javed and her father were murdered in Peshawar.

On June 18, celebrated Pashto singer Ghazala Javed and her father were murdered in Peshawar. Text messages and news alerts from the city's famous Lady Reading Hospital started to spread across Pakistan. Ghazala, for so many Pakhtuns, had been eliminated. The police later indicated that her ex-husband might have been involved as he wanted her to give up her singing career. However, until the investigation is complete, the cause for her death cannot be ascertained.

The story of Ghazala's last years reflects the travails of Pakistan and its province, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), till recently known as the North-West Frontier Province. Her family left Swat in 2007 for Peshawar after the Taliban started gaining power in the valley. In Peshawar, her career witnessed a meteoric rise. She was noted as a rising star with a promising future. During the last three years, the Awami National Party (ANP)-led provincial government has also undertaken a glasnost of sorts by focusing on culture and encouraging the arts industry. But the efforts of Pakistani politicians face a formidable foe in a conservative culture and Taliban militancy. While artists like Ghazala take risks and perform, Taliban militants continue to threaten artists, blow up shrines, CD shops, cinemas and internet cafes. In April 2009, another promising Pashto singer and lyricist, Aiyman Udas was killed on the outskirts of Peshawar. The police suspected her brothers, who were against her musical pursuit, to have perpetrated her death. It remains an unresolved mystery to date.

Pakhtuns are a community steeped in poetry, music, folklore and tradition. The two targets of extremists in KP have been the music industry and the Sufi tradition. Dozens of Sufi shrines have been attacked and for many years, singers, musicians and artists of KP have been harassed or forced to flee the province. A few weeks ago, the under-construction mausoleum of nationalist poet and former ANP president Ajmal Khattak was blown up in his native town of Akora Khattak, some distance from the historic Attock crossing. Militants also blew up Pashto Sufi poet Rehman Baba's shrine on the outskirts of Peshawar, and attacked the shrine of the Pashto "baba-e-ghazal", Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari.

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