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01 mars 2009

Rescuing Pakistan from the Taliban

In its 60-plus turbulent years as an independent country, Pakistan has been held together by its music, poetry, films, literature and sports. Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, but culture -- not religion -- is the glue that binds people in this critical U.S.-allied country.

But now the Taliban are grafting an alien form of Islam onto Pakistan, with dire consequences for Pakistanis, the region and possibly the world. Earlier this month the Pakistani government and army made a deal with the Taliban and gave them control of the Swat valley. The government ceded this region near the Afghan border after countless suicide attacks resulted in the loss of many military and civilian lives.

President Asif Ali Zardari's ill-conceived appeasement will only embolden the Taliban and may squelch more of Pakistan's voices of peace just when Pakistanis and the world need to hear them most.

In Swat and elsewhere in the North-West Frontier Province, arts and culture are under attack, as are women's rights. The city of Swat used to be a haven for arts, music and tourism. There is now eerie silence. The Taliban have shut down girls' schools, imposed sharia law and destroyed music shops. Cinemas are being locked down. The fanatics' idea is simple: to asphyxiate Pakistan's rich and vibrant culture and replace it with their own.

President Obama has promised to listen to the Muslim world. The president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan and Afghanistan envoy Richard Holbrooke can start by listening to Pakistani artists who embody peace, modernity and cross-cultural dialogue.

For the past 20 years Pakistani music and pop culture has built a national and global following. The late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the iconic Qawwali singer, collaborated with Peter Gabriel and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Pakistani rock bands and singers like Junoon, Strings, Jal and Atif Aslam have been huge draws in India, America and Europe. Last year Pakistani director Shoaib Mansoor's movie In the Name of God was a box office hit in both Pakistan and India. The film portrays the difficulties of being a liberal Muslim in Pakistan after 9/11 -- something that's just getting harder. (...) read more here

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