Afghan Musicians Flee Kabul, Fearing for Their Lives and Dire Future for Art Under Taliban Rule


As the Taliban tighten its grip on power in Afghanistan, patrons of the popular Afghan music in Pakistan are shutting their offices with artistes in Kabul being forced to flee into hiding, resulting in cancellation of music programmes and huge losses for the industry. The Taliban swept across the country last month, seizing control of almost all key towns and cities in the backdrop of withdrawal of the US forces that began on May 1. On August 15, the capital city of Kabul fell to the insurgents.

The Taliban claimed victory over opposition forces in the last holdout province of Panjshir on September 6, completing their takeover of Afghanistan three weeks after capturing Kabul. Since then, music artistes have taken their instruments home, or crammed them into store rooms, waiting to see if the group will again ban music as they did 20 years ago.

Fearing for their lives, some artistes and singers have started arriving in Pakistan. Pasun Munawar, an Afghan singer, said: Taliban will not leave us if we quit our profession. All music programmes have been cancelled after the Taliban took control of Kabul.

Another singer Ajmal said he changed his attire and arrived in Peshawar after the fall of Kabul. We have no enmity with the Taliban. We consider them as our brothers, but are insecure under their rule because they do not like our work, he said.

People who love Afghan music and are associated with it in Peshawar, including singers and music composers, have shut their offices due to the fast-changing situation in Afghanistan. It has upended business and resulted in losses running in millions of rupees. Shahjehan, a Pakistani artist, recalled that they were given full respect whenever they visited Afghanistan for music programmes.

“Afghan people like music a lot. We welcome Afghan artistes and singers on our soil who have come here due to fear or threat to their lives in Afghanistan,” he said. Gulab Afridi, who plays Rabab, an Afghan stringed instrument, said the ban on music events in Afghanistan will adversely affect the Pakistani artistes as well.

Ashraf Gulzar, an Afghan singer, said the Taliban have banned all music programmes in Kabul which is a matter of concern for the people associated with the music industry. The scheduled music events arranged with Pakistani artists in Kabul, Jalalabad, and other big cities of Afghanistan have been cancelled and as such the Afghan musical companies have gone bankrupt.

In most of the cases, advance payment was made to the organisers of the events in Afghanistan. The Afghan music offices at Board Bazar, Hayatabad and Jehangirabad have been closed. Similarly, dozens of artistes who are struck in parts of Afghanistan are trying to leave the country for Pakistan and other foreign countries.

Afghanistan’s new rulers have formed an all-male, all-Taliban government, but the messages their commanders are sending out regarding music are mixed. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said that music in public is forbidden by Islam, but suggested the group might shy away from heavy-handed bans like those of the past.

We’re hoping that we can persuade people not to do such things, instead of pressuring them, Mujahid told The New York Times last month. Days after the statement from the Taliban spokesman, Afghan folk singer Fawad Andarabi was dragged from his home and allegedly killed by the Taliban in Baghlan province, some 100 kilometres north of Kabul.

Afghanistan’s former Minister of Interior Massoud Andarabi, who is also from the district for which the family is named, spoke publicly about his death. “Taliban’s brutality continues in Andarab. Today they brutally killed folkloric singer, Fawad Andarabi who simply was bringing joy to this valley and its people. As he sang here “our beautiful valley … land of our forefathers …” will not submit to Taliban’s brutality,” he had tweeted.

The killing had raised concerns about a return to the harsh form of rule the Taliban imposed when it was last in control of Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001. During that time, the Taliban banned most forms of music as un-Islamic.

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