SRINAGAR, May 25: Pakistan’s acclaimed pop band Junoon staged their maiden performance in Srinagar on Sunday, ignoring death threats by militants who opposed the show, and regaling thousands of cheering fans at an open air theatre by the scenic Dal Lake.
The United Jihad Council (UJC) had asked the Pakistan government to stop the band from performing in Srinagar, saying it might send a ‘wrong message’ to Kashmiris.
The concert was part of celebrations marking the inauguration by Indian President Pratibha Patil of the Kashmir Studies Institute at Kashmir University. It has been sponsored by the Indian chapter of the South Asia Foundation in collaboration with the university.
Lead singer and guitarist Salman Ahmed, under death threats from militants, sang from a repertoire of Sufi compositions, including Bulleh Shah.
“Pakistan should not let any of its cultural groups, such as Junoon, to perform in the disputed territory of Kashmir where any national or international activity amounts to open violation of international laws,” UJC chairman Syed Salahuddin said on Thursday.
He said Pakistan’s rulers should stop India from holding any international or regional event in Kashmir. He also called upon Kashmiris to observe a strike on Saturday, the day the Indian president arrived in Srinagar on her maiden visit.
Kashmir’s leader of the religious right, Syed Ali Geelani, had called for a shutdown on Saturday. But the event had caught on with youngsters in the valley who were keen on watching the performance on the lawns of the S. K. International Conference Centre on the banks of the Dal Lake. The band, along with the Canada-based Singhs Group, performed under the aegis of the South Asian Foundation (SAF) founded by Unesco goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh.
Nearly 60 delegates from the Saarc civil society are part of the programme.
An estimated 5,000 Kashmiri students witnessed the performance but, reports said, more than double that number were keen on attending the event.
Former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga enjoyed the Punjabi and Urdu compositions even as she confessed she did not follow the words.
Agencies add: Young women danced and clapped as the band’s lead singer Salman Ahmed sung Sufi songs in the Urdu language.
Ahmed recalled how he had tried to visit Indian Kashmir many times in the past decade, only to be told ‘next time’ by sponsors.
“This is the 10-year-long tryst with destiny that today Junoon is with you,” he said during the show as he stood on a specially-designed stage.
The performance was a rare cultural programme in Indian occupied Kashmir, where such shows have been shelved since the outbreak of a rebellion in 1989.
A few Pakistani singers and musicians visited Kashmir last year, but Sunday’s event was the first one on a large scale.
“It is great to see music healing wounds in Kashmir and propagating friendship between India and Pakistan,” said Mehnaz Ali, a 21-year-old female student.
Prasad Rao of the South Asia Foundation (SAF), who organised the event, said the concert was aimed at encouraging regional cooperation and peace.
Chandrika Kumaratunga who heads her country’s SAF chapter, added: “This is the best way to promote peace.”
“Music is a tremendous healer, and I’m sure events like this will defuse hatred between the two countries,” said Mudasir Ahmed, a law graduate at the University of Kashmir.