BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Events: Newsnight
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Could Taleban ideology cross into Pakistan? 2/11/01

Friday afternoon in Quetta, and down by the rail track that leads to the Afghanistan border, heavily armed police are preparing for an angry demonstration against the escalation of the US bombing campaign, and the latest reports of civilian casualties. This is the capital of the fiercely independent Pakistani province of Baluchistan, a region of rocky mountains and arid, dusty plains. The Baluch people have not always enjoyed easy relations with the Pashtun, the powerful neighbouring tribe that stretch from Afghanistan to Pakistan's north-west frontier. But the US bombing campaign has brought a change. There's increased support here for the previously unpopular and predominantly Pashtun Taliban. And, as is now expected at the end of Friday prayers, crowds turn out in their thousands at this stadium to protest at the war. There may be fury at the bombings and sympathy for the Afghan people, but there's been a decidedly uneasy relationship between Baluchistan and its neighbour over the border. Afghans are blamed for wrecking the local economy by taking jobs and running smuggling rackets. And there's talk of Talibanisation, as extremist teachings on women or culture spread across the border. People and ideas move with ease across the porous mountain border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And the extremist views of the Taliban are echoed in Pakistan in some of the madrassas, the religious schools, and the mosques. In an office decorated with pictures of firearms, we met Molana Abdul Haque Baloch, the local leader of a religious party bitterly opposed to President Musharraf, and a supporter of the Taliban. He'd make changes if he came to power.

(Jamat-e-Islami Party)
The Taliban have their own rules and tribal traditions, which they have already implemented regarding women. There's no programme as such for banning women's education, either in Islam or in Pakistan. But the liberalism and unrestricted culture of today's Pakistan must be reformed, and we will reform it.

Such sentiments worry those who fled here to escape the Taliban and their policies of banning female education, and keeping women out of sight. Yalda Royan would never have learned English or got a job if she hadn't left a day before the Taliban took over her town. So, sometimes you are scared of the religious groups in Pakistan?

Yes, when they are making noise in the city and disturbing everything, we worry about what will happen next. But when they are quiet, we're also quiet.

So when there are demonstrations by the religious groups, that worries you?

Yes, the strikes that they continue.

If you go out on the streets when they're having these demonstrations and strikes, is that dangerous for you?

Of course. They are people who do not know how to treat a woman, how to respect a woman. They can do anything with a woman on the streets or in the city.

Others are worried that cultural Talibanisation is creeping over the border. Further north in the border town of Peshawar, there's a house packed with exiled Afghan musicians. They operate from a series of offices, where some 20 bands vie for work playing at the parties and weddings of Afghan refugees. The songs are wildly cheerful, but this is a nervous community. Non-religious music is banned by the Taliban. Those caught playing or even listening are punished, and the instruments smashed. Even here in Pakistan, they told me, their windows are broken when there are demonstrations, and their instruments have been damaged by religious scholars. But they didn't even dare say that on the record. The Taliban have also banned popular music and the playing of instruments. Is that something that should be introduced here in Quetta as well?

Any differences between ourselves and the Taliban are only cultural. As far as music is concerned, there are certain restrictions and limits on music in Islam. If the Taliban has done anything, it is to implement the will and rules of religion and of their culture. Will we ban music in Quetta? We will reform it, yes.

And there are other concerns, that Afghanistan is wrecking the border economy. Quetta is the main transit point for the Afghan city of Kandahar just over the border, and it's awash with cut-price goods officially for sale in Afghanistan. They pass through Pakistan duty-free, and are then smuggled back over the border, with the Taliban allegedly taking a cut. There are other complaints on the number of Pashtun who have moved in here. Over two million refugees fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan over the past two decades, a quarter of them to Baluchistan. The Government have now officially closed the border. Baluchistan nationalists complain that the locals have suffered because of these refugees.

(Balochistan National Movement)
Our people, before 1979, they had no knowledge about Kalashnikov. The Kalashnikov culture, the heroin culture, road robbery, killing, massacring and firing. And, you know, the Baluchs have their own culture, which is very different from Pashtun culture. So, when they came inside Baluchistan and got set up there, so our cultural values are affected. And our people, as I explained to you, are very much afraid that our majority may now be diluted.

Even in normal times Pakistan is a highly politicised country, and the events in Afghanistan are closely monitored on radio and TV, with programmes like Pakistan's News Night. The bombing campaigning has led to a shift in attitudes. It's hard to find anyone who supports it. And there are some perhaps unexpected viewpoints. Even those concerned at the growing influence of the Taliban are joining the anti-war consensus. Rahila Durrani is a lawyer in Quetta specialising in women's rights. She argues that, for now, the issue is not the wrongs of the Taliban, but the bombing campaign. The Taliban, of course, have been very strongly criticised for their treatment of women and the banning of female education. Does that not concern women in Pakistan?

(Women's Rights Lawyer)
At first it did, very much, and they think that it's not right. Everybody who studies Islam and studies the Koran, they know that it's not good. It's not according to Islam. But now, in this situation, they think that now this is not an issue. This is not the problem we are facing now. This is very far from this issue of war.

Along this mountainous border region, there's been a reversal of attitudes. The Taliban were unpopular among many Baluchis and Pakistani liberals, who shared the concern of those refugees who argue that their extremist ideas were spreading across the border. But if the bombing was supposed to add to the isolation of the Taliban, it has done the opposite in Quetta.

Links to more Newsnight stories