Pakistan: Manifestations of tolerance and acceptance of music and art

4 March 2013

On Music Freedom Day 2013 at a local hotel in Peshawar, music lovers put their voices together to ensure the freedom of artistic and musical expressions. The participants boldly condemned militancy and extremism in all its forms.

Also, at the Peshawar Press Club, a seminar and a protest walk was organised to inform about the importance of music and free expression.


Ahmad Gul performing

By Sher Alam Shinwari

Participants at a gathering regarding the annual Music Freedom Day at a local hotel in Peshawar on Sunday 3 March 2013 put their voices together for providing social and financial security to the artists and singers for promoting tolerance, peace and acceptance of art and culture through musical and artistic expressions, adding that militancy and extremism should be condemned in its all forms and designs.

The Culture Journalists Forum (CJF) and Takhleeq Development Foundation (TDF) arranged a well-organised event where more than 100 senior and young artists, singers and music fans from Chitral, Hazara, Charsadda, Nowshera, Mardan, Dir, Bannu, Kohat, Peshawar and Fata attended the function and shared their views on the overall situation of art and culture in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the restive tribal areas.

Security to the artists’ community
Ihtisham Toru President Culture Journalists Forum pledged that the culture reporters would continue to raise voice of the artists and singers and giving vent to their genuine issues and problems: “We strongly demand an art academy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, provision of foolproof security to the artists’ community and establishment of an endowment fund for the welfare of the artists and singers,” Toru stressed.

Speaking on the occasion, Arshad Hussain, a noted tv artist and president of Takhleeq Development Foundation in Peshawar, said that due to the ongoing militancy, artistic and cultural activities suffered badly while artists and singers faced attempts of murder, kidnapping, persecution, harassment and threats to either quit their profession or face the dire consequences from militants.

Khan Teshil
Folk singer Khan Teshil

“During the last decade two historic music streets, one each in Swat–Banr and Dabgari bazaar in Peshawar where there used to be informal sessions of indigenous music training, have been hit. According to a recent survey conducted by our team, the population of Dabgari bazaar has been reduced from 8,000 to 3,500 men and women. Where they have gone? They must be around, but most of them are not related to art and music any longer because of the threats,” Arshad maintained.

He regretted that the outgoing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government could not give a practical shape to a well-researched cultural policy draft which a panel of artists, musicians, intellectuals and art critics had prepared and which has been pending in the culture department for the last six months.

Alamzeb Mujahid, a popular tv artist who took refuge in Malaysia following his kidnapping by militants three years ago, and the mother of Ghazala Javed from Swat, who was killed in 2012, shared their feelings with the participants on live telephone calls.

“My younger daughter Farhat Javed will not sing because I have already lost my elder daughter to this art. If there is no security who will join and even think of adopting this career which has become such a risky job,” the mother of the slain singer argued.

Rising Pashto music stars
Rising Pashto music stars

Alamzeb Mujahid said that he had been put in a refugee’s camp where he was not allowed to do any work, his children and wife are literally starving.

Artists must raise their voice
Sardar Yousafzai while narrating his woeful tale said, “How can I bring alive that fateful day when militants opened fire on my car carrying my six of friends, one of them, Anwar Gul, later succumbed to injuries. When a singer or an artist is driven by fear of being fired or killed, how can he or she then entertain other people? We have to fight this menace with the force of one voice and no other person but the artists’ community themselves have to raise their voice for their due rights. I will not make any demand from the authorities either because they cannot or will not do it as my country is in deep crisis,” Yousafzai added with a choked voice as tears rolled down his cheeks.

Earlier, some video clips of those artists and singers who had fallen victims to militant’s attacks were shown to the participants.

Speakers and singers
Senior music maestro Ustad Shah Wali, young singers Humayoun Khan and Shahsawar Khan, and Laiqzada Laiq, a writer and Station Director of Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) in Peshawar, also spoke on the occasion.

Later senior folk singers Ahmed Gul, Khan Tehsil, Akbar Hussain and rising stars Sitara Younas, Amjad Shahzad, Shahsawar, Karan Khan and Humayoun Khan performed live.


The following demands, needs, suggestions and recommendations emerged among the participants, musicians, singers, civil society, victims and stake holders during the proceedings which TDF and CJF jointly organised on Music Freedom Day, 3 March 2013, in Peshawar:

(1) Music campaigns on freedom of musical expression, peace, tolerance and cultural harmony should be launched.

(2) Institutional capacity building training should be offered to all music stake holders on freedom of artistic expression as a basic human right.

(3) Government shall immediately establish a cultural policy for the region (a draft policy paper has already been submitted to the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s culture department, prepared by TDF).

(4) Expansion of art & culture organisations and council network in all Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts.

(5) The government and civil society organisations assisted by the international community should launch a door step specific project for preservation and skill transformation, and a culture mapping of dying music streets, communities such as Baanr Swat, Dabgari Gurden, Peshawar and Kailassh Chitral.

(6) Establishment of crisis management cell and emergency shelter homes for artists at risk at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

(7) Endowment fund for artists.

(8) Protection and legal support to artists at risk.

(9) Establishment of a/v studio for the promotion of immature talent.

(10) Production of documentaries, music videos, albums, television dramas, theatre, short films, feature films, and fiction films.

(11) Launching of a community culture FM radio.

(12) Management of promotional events.


Demonstration and meeting for the importance of music and free expression

The event that was held on Music Freedom Day in Peshawar Press club was the first step in the direction of providing coordination, knowledge and awareness to all stakeholders about music censorship and artistic freedom of expression.

A protest walk was organised by Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation in front of Press Club in Peshawar to record the importance of music and free expression.

Speaking on the occasion, Muhammad Rome, the Executive Director of Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation, said that “the famous singer Shabana was brutally killed in Swat by the extremists, and therefore we demand that a Shabana Memorial Cultural Centre should be established in Swat in her memory.”

Amjad Shahzad, the Art Director of Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation elaborated the threats faced by the singers, musicians and artists of the region. He further said that music is innocent in nature. It spreads love and peace.

People from all walks of the society participated with great enthusiasm. After a walk the participants gathered in front of Peshawar Press Club. The forum demanded:

• The protection of singers, musicians and artists must be ensured
• Music should become the part of education syllabus
• Music as a subject must be introduced in Fine Arts departments of all the universities

There is no doubt that music plays a vital role in the evolution of a society. Pashto music in particular is rich in all its forms and varieties. The current crisis has badly affected this industry. Singers, musicians and artists have been targeted and killed. CD-shops were blown up. Professionals were forced to quit their profession. In these circumstances many singers, musicians and artists are finding ways to get refuge in other countries.

The Music Freedom Day provides a sole opportunity to demand the freedom of expression. Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation believes in the importance of music and free expression. Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation takes every possible step to promote culture of the region and all its positive manifestations.


Media coverage

There was a good coverage by the Pakistani and international media about the rally and the events. For instance:




The News – 4 March 2013:
World Music Freedom Day marked in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
PESHAWAR: Participants at a function held Sunday to mark “Freedom of Musical Expression and World Music Freedom Day” put voices together for providing social and financial security to the artistes and singers for promoting tolerance, peace and acceptance of art and culture through musical and artistic expressions. By Nisar Mahmood


VOA Deewa Radio – 3 March 2013:
پیښور کې موسیقۍ د تحفظ د پاره لاریون
Audio file: Peshawar Music Rally (2:45)

Muhammad Rome of Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation had a one hour long interview live on Radio Mashaal with Haroon Bacha regarding the event and the organisation:

Article in Dawn

Dawn – 3 March 2013:
Stifling environment for Pashto music in KP, Fata
PESHAWAR, March 2: In the post-9/11 scenario, we see a dwindling trend of art, heritage and music as militancy has adversely affected every sphere of our life. By Sher Alam Shinwari



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