PESHAWAR - In Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the US-led war on Iraq has fueled the growth of a thriving music industry, based on rabble-rousing, anti-American audio cassettes, which analysts fear will give a fillip to Islamism.
As during the 1991 U.S. attack on Iraq, and ten years later in Afghanistan, this time too poets in the local Pashto language, are working overtime to arouse anti-Western sentiments among the province's orthodox Pashtoon tribes.
Not that the locals need much incitement. Just to get the measure of the province's already strong anti-American sentiment, two years ago thousands of volunteers went to bordering Afghanistan to fight against U.S. troops alongside the Taliban.
As most people in far flung areas of this Islamist province lack access to sources of entertainment, audio cassettes churned out by a host of local musicians and poets are effortlessly filling the void.
All these songs contain a common thread - they express solidarity with Iraqis and equate America with Satan. As one song goes, "A devil has emerged from his filthy den and has endangered humanity's peace. Alas, there is no one to stop his cruelties."
Clearly, music companies seem to have struck the right chord. For the recently produced cassettes are moving off the shelves faster than companies can replace them. "We sold audio cassettes on Iraq in the thousands," says the owner of Peshawar's Muhammad Wali Music Center, Haji Mubarak Jan.
Jan's company specializes in the production of traditional tribal Pashto music, but the Iraq war, and the 2001 Afghanistan war earlier, spawned a new genre dubbed anti-U.S. music.
The fever has spread to Pashtoons in other cities as well. "My brother owns a music center in Karachi which also sold thousands of such cassettes to Pashtoons working there," says Jan.
Despite a ban imposed in NWFP by the ruling Islamist alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), on playing music in public transport and places, many drivers listen to cassettes about Iraq in their vehicles.
Passengers aren't complaining. "People hate America for its attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, so they like it when we play cassettes containing anti-American sentiments," says Ahmad Gul, a coach driver in Peshawar, the capital of NWFP.
Famous tribal singers weave anti-American songs with traditional Pashto music to vent their emotions. And this time, it's not just America that is their target. Arab leaders too are the target of their ire.
As one lyric goes, "O King Fahd, you allowed the infidels to enter, now they will pollute the Holy Land of the Muslims." The reference clearly is to the Saudis who have allowed thousands of U.S. troops to be stationed in their country.
"These cassettes are in great demand, and now we plan to produce a number of other volumes of such songs," says Jan.
Most of the music produced is revolutionary in spirit, accompanied by loud and energetic songs, which never fail to arouse the people. They are penned in the common man's language, lucid and down to earth.
Part of their appeal lies in the fact that they stress the immediacy of the threat to Muslims. Take a prime example - "Today Baghdad and Karbala are burning, tomorrow you will be deprived of Mecca. O Muslim, why have you let your sword rust?"
Though they have little in common, Saddam Hussain and Osama Bin Laden, are regular favorites among songwriters. So some of these poems contain panegyrics in their honor.
As one songwriter says, "People are not concerned with the political and religious status of these two, they just regard them as heroes of Islam."
In one particular album, displaying Saddam Hussein praying on the cover even as enemy bombers circle menacingly overhead, the lyrics run, "Brave Saddam Hussain is standing before the enemy. He has destroyed a large number of their aircraft."
Of course, in this part of the world one cannot escape a dose of Islamic fundamentalism. Some cassettes are having a good run despite the fact that they contain lyrics unaccompanied by any music.
They have been produced by the local Taliban (students of religious seminaries) who consider music un-Islamic.
Jan says most of the patrons of hate-American cassettes spring from the poor class or tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
One of the biggest markets for these cassettes are Afghan refugees living in camps in NWFP as well as those returning to Afghanistan.
As poet Muhammad Wali, puts it, "People feel emotionally satisfied when they listen to songs condemning the U.S. and U.K. They get inspiration, hope and strength from them. So we have no other option but to represent their feelings in our productions."
The singers arouse people's emotions by announcing, "Flames have engulfed Baghdad, and the sacred soil of Karbala is burning. The soil of holy prophets is being bombed but I can't do anything. I am helpless and brutalized at the hands of the devil."
Pointing towards the real motive of the American attack on Iraq, they say, "President Bush is the oil thief who painted Iraq with blood."
Says singer Hidayat Shah, whose new album hit the market recently, "I write poetry to awaken the Muslims from their deep slumber. During the U.S. attack on Iraq in 1991 we released several albums which encouraged us to produce more this time," he says.
Shah says his object is not pecuniary. "It is not my business. I consider it a jehad and a religious obligation," he maintains.
Shah's zeal is unwavering. "I have sung and written more than 1,000 revolutionary poems since the American invasion of Iraq last time," he claims.
Cassettes filled with hate speeches have also proliferated. Speeches by religious leaders condemning America and its allies are fast gaining popularity. The most popular of these is religious scholar Maulana Muhammad Amir, popularly known as Maulana Bijli Ghar (Cleric Electricity Dept) for his firebrand speeches.
Political analysts say these cassettes cannot be taken lightly. They believe they will impact Pashtoons for a long time to come.
Renowned political analyst and lawyer Barrister Baacha says the emotional nature of the lyrics will make people - especially Afghans - more pro-Taliban and pro-Osama.
"The Afghans consider the attack on Iraq the start of another crusade. They will become prey to pro-Taliban elements, thus blocking the way for reformation of the orthodox Pashtoon society," Baacha comments.
He says the American attack on Afghanistan acted as a catalyst to bring together religious parties to form the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The alliance won the October general elections in the Pashtoon-dominated NWFP and Balochistan provinces.
"Such poetry will certainly help the MMA strengthen its roots in Pashtoon society," he observes.
"Britain's battles with the Pashtoons before 1947 in pre-partition India are still alive in Pashto folk poetry," says Baacha, adding that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would also be remembered for generations.
He predicts, "Just as Ayatullah Khomeini's messages on audio cassettes paved the way for an Islamic revolution in Iran, the revolutionary poems and lyrics being disseminated today would inculcate a revolutionary sentiment among the Pashtoons."
Copyright 2003 OneWorld.net