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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 July, 2003, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Pakistan's political pop stars
Pakistani rock group Junoon - once banned by the government from appearing on television, and later even from entering the country - can now boast President Pervez Musharraf as a fan.

Junoon
Junoon are now UN ambassadors on HIV/Aids
But although General Musharraf attended their latest tour, the band have insisted they remain as committed to their often-controversial political message as ever and have not become part of the country's establishment.

Junoon are famed for publicly raising views on issues that many in Pakistan would rather be kept quiet, such as HIV/Aids, the Kashmir dispute, and corruption. They dismissed General Musharraf's attendance at their gig as little more than a stunt.

"The establishment has joined us," guitarist Salman Ahmed told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.

"What it says is pop culture drives politics, so strongly, anywhere in the world right now," vocalist Ali Azmat added.

Aids mission

Junoon are the biggest-selling group in all Asia and have a massive fan base among the young in the subcontinent.

Their high-profile status led, two years ago, to them becoming goodwill ambassadors for the UN on the issue of HIV/Aids.

Ahmed, who attended medical college before joining the band, said that Junoon's high-profile status conferred special duties on the band.

"People don't want to talk about safe sex - they don't want to talk about sex to begin with," he said.

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Pop culture drives politics, so strongly, anywhere in the world right now
Ali Azmat
"It's something uncool enough for me to do to be honest and say: 'Look, you have to take responsibility. You can't be in denial, you can't be looking the other way.'

"Each day 25,000 people get infected by HIV/Aids in India alone. In Pakistan we don't even know the figures."

Ahmed added that he felt the youth of the region were being suppressed by the older generation, which he said lacked direction.

"It's really interesting on the subcontinent as far as youth is concerned because 50% of the people are aged under 25. They're really open to being in the mainstream of society, to be modern yet hold on to their traditions," he said.

"But the generation to which Musharraf himself belongs to, I think let down this country. They didn't know where to steer it."

Mantle

Junoon have constantly been a thorn in the side of Pakistan's ruling authorities.

In the early 1990s a law was passed - aimed directly at the band - banning "jeans and jackets" from appearing on television.

General Musharraf
General Musharraf attended Junoon's last tour
"A lot of it had to do with politics because we are very outspoken, and we criticised government corruption through a video for a song called Accountability," Azmat explained.

"[Former prime minister] Nawaz Sharif found that too hard to swallow, so he banned us."

Ahmed added that Junoon's effect had scared the authorities into taking action against them - first establishing them as the voice of Pakistan's suppressed youth, a mantle they have held ever since.

"The reason for it was that before it happened there wasn't really a youth culture, and all of a sudden in the early 1990s there's a platform appearing," he said.

"It's a youth platform and people say whatever the hell they want to say, and it shakes the status quo.

"They don't like that, so they said 'these guys are changing things around, let's watch out for them'."


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