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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 12:49 GMT
Pakistan's musicians face clampdown
Pakistan musicians in NWFP
Musicians have performed at weddings for generations

The sound of music in Pakistan's rugged North-West Frontier Province is being stifled as the Islamist government there flexes its muscles.

As part of a wider move to curb what is described as immorality in society, the police have ordered traditional music houses in the main city of Peshawar to curb their activities.

Map showing Peshawar
They have been told that the sound of music should not be heard on the streets.

As a result, the Dabgiri bazaar, an age-old centre of music in central Peshawar, is largely silent.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government came to power in the province in elections last October.

It has already ordered cinema halls and video shops to pull down their shutters.

Age-old tradition

For hundreds of years, musicians were patronised by princely families - but the tradition has been dying out as more popular forms of entertainment take centre stage.

Poster for Indian film
The Islamists have already targeted cinemas
The Dabgiri bazaar has for generations been famous for its singing tradition, with local musicians performing at weddings and other celebrations to earn a living.

Until a few days ago, the run-down old town square thronged with music lovers in search of a live performance.

But the crumbling windows opening into the streets have now been boarded up.

The police say musicians and singers were "soliciting" business in the street, creating a nuisance.

The decision seems to be aimed at keeping the singers well away from public view as the new religious alliance gets down to the serious business of governance.

Musicians puzzled

The musicians themselves are perplexed and hurt by the governments move.

Musicians' shop
Performers should not be heard on the streets
A local community leader, Mohammed Fida, says nobody has bothered to tell him what prompted the decision.

"We don't know whether this is being done by the police, the religious leaders or somebody else."

Mr Fida says keeping the windows and doors closed will badly affect business. "The customers will just not know that we are performing."

Musician Sarmast Ustad says the community has never wished evil on others. "We never cause anybody any harm."

But he says they will accept the decision, although he complains that it is the less well-off who will suffer.

"We will accept the decision because it comes from our government. But really, they are being unfair to us."

"They are targeting poor musicians like us. But people running the same business in up-market localities are free to do as they please."

The government's decision, disgruntled locals say, indicates that the ruling alliance of six religious parties is quietly and determinedly implementing its Islamic agenda.

Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

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See also:

25 Jan 03 | South Asia
16 Jan 03 | South Asia
30 Nov 02 | South Asia
29 Nov 02 | South Asia
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