Religious extremists make him live a life of oblivion

Songs of Haroon Bacha, a Pashtoon singer living-in-exile, have been plagiarized by India’s Bollywood, one of the largest cinemas of the world, and he is the darling of thirty-seven- million Pashtu speaking population living on both sides of the Durand Line which divides Pakistan and Afghanistan. Here in New York he is living a life of virtual non-existence as his only introduction to fame and his legendary status is the microscopic Pashtoon diaspora of both Pakistan and Afghanistan settled in New York.

“I do not belong to this place. My source of inspiration is the land where I belong to and the people I live with. I cannot go there due to threats, ” says Bacha who came here on a tourist visa three-months back after being threatened by the religious zealots in North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan. Bacha left back his wife and two sons- six-year-old Wadan and five-year-old Zalan.

Bacha is among several Pashtoons who have fallen victim to the cultural policing of the Talibans. His songs were termed blasphemous by religious extremists.

” I am far but you are still in my mind I am always thinking about you,” are the lyrics of one of the romantic songs of Bacha which were termed objectionable by Talibans and termed heretic.

In the context of geo-politics, Bacha belongs to one of the most violent areas of the world today where religious extremism is spiraling high. His native province,North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, is the epicenter of America’s war against terror.

It is a lesser known fact that there are more Pashtoons, a community from which majority of Taliban cadre comes from, in Pakistan as compared to Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan there are approx. 12 million Pashtoons, there are approx. 25 million Pashtoons in Pakistan. Pashtoon dominated areas of Pakistan have seen a continuous increase in religious extremism where the symbols of moderation have been specifically attacked or coerced.

After arriving in United States on a tourist visa, Bacha was helped by Pashtoon community living in New York to settle down in Coney Island of Brooklyn area. Bacha has set-up a small studio where he rehearses daily with musical instruments.

One of his journalist friends, Majid Babar terms Bacha as a symbol of centuries-old Pashtoon heritage which faces threat from religious zealots. ” We’ll do whatever to help Bacha so that he continues to sing. His songs are an integral part of our culture,”says Majeed Babar, a Pashtoon and a New York Times correspondent who too had to escape from Peshawar after being threatened for his reporting.

The threats to Bacha and his family have not ceased. His recent interview to New York Times in which he gave details about his story sparked off series of threats by religious extremists as they contacted his family. “Somebody contacted my family and warned that I should not give interviews,” says Bacha who has ever since the publication of the report refused interviews to most of the reporters tracking his story.

The authorities seems to be completely clueless as how to instill a sense of security in people like Bacha who are facing the wrath of religious extremists. Pakistan Senator and Awami National Party leader Haji Adeel whose party is in power in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province blames Al-Quaida for leading the assault against the symbols of Pashtoon culture. “Religious extremists are behind the threats to the singers. They do not know what is Pashtoon culture and neither they have respect for it. The majority of the people of North West Frontier Province voted us as they believed in moderation. It is Al-Quaida which is behind all these acts. Otherwise we can tackle this problem within twenty-four hours.”

This is easier said than done. Absence of writ of the government in many of the areas is the main reason that people like Bacha have to leave home. Such is the high level of insecurity in the area that even the politicians of the ruling party have been attacked though they are under a tight security cover. Awami National Party, the ruling party of North West Frontier Province, is a strong proponent of moderation and it had come to power in the elections for legislative assembly for North West Frontier Province early this year, a result which had surprised many. The landslide verdict in favour of the party failed to bring peace in the area or even tame the extremists.

The present day tragedy in Pashtoon area gets an expression in many of present-day songs of Bacha which has touched the hearts and minds of the people living there.”My land is so beautiful and blessed. I wonder then why it has such bad luck,” are the lyrics of one of his songs which Bacha sang before a small-gathering of Pashtoon diaspora in Coney Island. The lyrics were powerful enough to bring to tears many among the audience.

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