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Culture

Music returns to Pakistan's restive Swat valley

Musicians who fled Pakistan's Swat valley plagued by the Taliban insurgency are returning to their homes as the Pakistani army now controls the area. Swat musicians speak to DW about their lives under the Taliban.

Taliban militants forbade musicians from performing in Swat, a former stronghold of the militant group located in the northwestern Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the Afghan border. Prior to the military operation against the Islamist militants in 2009 - which forced the Taliban to flee the area - the Islamists would publicly set fire to television sets, CD and cassette players, and audio cassettes and harass local musicians who had been performing in the area for decades. Subsequently, most of the musicians and shop owners selling musical instruments, audio and video cassettes had to run for their lives.

Malala Yousafzai at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust on 19 October 2012
(Photo: EPA/UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS BIRMINGHAM NHS FOUNDATION TRUST +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)

The attack on 14-year-old Malala was condemned around the world

Now that the Taliban no longer control the area, musical performances in Swat have slowly but gradually started to make a comeback.

Resilience

"The situation in Swat is much better now and we have resumed our musical activities," a musician in Swat told DW on condition of anonymity. He said that like others, he also left his hometown after the Taliban took over the area.

But Swat residents still fear the Taliban, who continue to carry out random attacks on civilians and military personnel even after retreating from the area. In October 2012, the Taliban shot and injured a 14-year-old Pakistani blogger and activist Malala Yousafzai in Swat. The Taliban said they attacked Yousafzai because she had been promoting "secularism" in Swat.

But some brave musicians and singers are undaunted by the Taliban threat.

Palwasha, a young singer in Swat, is confident that one day she will make it big in the Pakistani music industry. Her music teacher Shabana lost her life in a militant attack but that did not deter Palwasha.

"Shabana used to guide me in music. Before her death, singing was just a hobby for me but now it has become a passion. Now I want to learn and help others learn, too," Palwasha told DW in an interview in Swat.

Pashtun musicians

Afghanistan and Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas have a long musical tradition

Omar Yunus, a veteran musician in Swat, told DW that he had been able to perform freely in Swat before the Taliban took over. "When we started our musical career, things were still good in our town, but they slowly started to deteriorate," Yunus said, adding that he was happy that things were now getting back to normal.

State protection

But many Swat artists are not as courageous as Palwasha and Yunus. Many have already left for other countries in the Middle East, Europe or for the US. Those who could not migrate have taken up other professions.

Swat musicians and other performing artists demand that the Pakistani government protect them from the Taliban and other militant groups who still harass them. Experts say it will take a lot of time for Swat to be completely normal again.

DW.DE