A few weeks ago, The New York Times was thoughtful enough to do a little feature in a video blog titled 'Tuning out the Taliban'. From the title it seemed like this was a motivational video made by the NY T crew to help young Pakistanis tune out the misinformation those darned Taliban were feeding us. Perhaps this video would start a revivalist undercurrent where the youth of the country would suddenly start rejecting Taliban propaganda. Maybe, an increasing number of young Pakistanis, once enlightened by this NYT video, would break the shackles of Taliban oppression, and speak out once and for all.

But, wow was I wrong! Upon playing the video I realised that this was no motivating instructional video made for Pakistani youths wanting to fight against the Taliban as soon as Ali Azmat appeared on screen talking about how he's in tune with the voice of the nation. It was all down-hill from there, as it became more evident that the video was a rip on Pakistani pop musicians refusing to criticise the Taliban. By the end of the video, laced with nonchalant comments from the mainstream music scene, only a cloud of gloom and despair was left behind to further dampen my silly youthful enthusiasm.

The plot became crystal clear: none of these musicians would criticise the Taliban, allowing the militia to grow unabated. Once strong enough, they were obviously going to acquire Pakistan's loose nukes, and since the musicians probably wouldn't even think of complaining about their plans of world domination, we'd probably be caught in the middle of a classic end-of-the-world scenario. And these godless musicians would be willing to sit back and watch the show without so much as to raise an eyebrow of disapproval. I was ready to slit my wrist and die a silent death listening to some of the love songs these musicians used to sing before getting all ‘politicised.’

It was all too strange a predicament to be handled by my mind, which was already battling severe clinical depression. The Taliban clearly didn't like music, and would more than readily slay any musician even daring to delve into these satanic arts. But the musicians, they seemed so humble and meek, so supportive of the Taliban, submissive almost like a classic Bollywood wife married to a raging alcoholic. How could they!? Those musicians, are they in bed with the Taliban? Have they finally double-crossed their soft drink and cellphone sponsorships and sold out to the militants? How could they betray us like this!?!

Fueled by the anger, I found questions kept piling up in my head. I began hearing voices, strange Talibanised accents mispronouncing standard words and using bad grammar. It was too much for my brain to handle. This NYT blog had shown me the cruel dilemmas of our fatalistic existence. I had seen too much – there was no way to go back to my happy-go-lucky state of mind. The web of intrigue, woven complete with musicians and Taliban wreaking havoc seemed ubiquitous. I decided to make one final resolve: I would try and reason my way out of this conundrum. I would try to seek answers to this monstrous quagmire before it ate me alive.

I needed answers from musicians whom I was familiar with, so they could explain things to me in a less brutal way than The New York Times. Completely disheartened with the Pakistani music establishment, I decided to look to my Pakistani-American musician friends to shed some light on the situation. So I called up The Kominas in Boston, Massachusetts, and asked them for some answers, and some hope.

But it turns out, after watching the mind-imploding NYT video blog, their own Muslim Punk personalities self-detonated. After listening to Ali Azmat's comment about either ‘staying true to the times’ or ‘taking a hike,’ they became more critical of their own situation as musicians in America. It suddenly occurred to them that their singing about far-flung apocalyptic doomsday scenarios was simply not in tune with the wider problems faced by the society they were in. How could they be singing about terrorism, and lashing out against radicalism, when heart attacks are the No. 1 killer of Americans!

Far from helping my situation, the plight of The Kominas only further aggravated my predicament. But one thing was for sure, if I wanted any answers, I'd get them not from some American, but from right here, within the confines of our very own Taliban-infested borders. It was obvious I wouldn't get any answers from the mainstream musicians who would probably stay mum on the issue in this post-NYT world. I'd have to get the inside scoop from ‘undrground bands’ like co-Ven, mentioned in the latter half of the NYT video.

On the way to his jam/training session, I caught up with guitarist Zeeshan Mansoor of Malang Party, a highly covert operation, but more or less ground-level music project, to ask him what he thought about the Taliban menace and how he feels it infects the music scene. He said that the Taliban were just underexposed to music and love, and certainly couldn't tell good music from bad music. ‘They need to be exposed to music at concerts, but it would be dangerous to expose them to music that is too good because they might explode...’ He added that if the Noorie brothers and Ali Azmat liked the Taliban that much maybe they could do a Taliban- sponsored show where they blow themselves up for publicity.

Probably at the very mention of an explosion, we got stopped at a military check-post where the security officials wanted to investigate the guitar case and amplifier in the back. I wondered if the military was onto this musician's sub-insurgency. ‘Are you a musician?’ the guard asked Zeeshan. When he replied in the affirmative, the guard went on to ask him how he could be playing music in these times, to which Zeeshan replied, ‘So, what should I go out and blow bombs instead?’ (You heard him, he said he could be out blowing bombs instead...) ‘No, no, I was just joking, I'm actually a big fan of music, it's a great thing you're doing,’ jested the guard as he let us go.

The plot seemed to be thickening, it seemed the military had caught on to the fact that there was a resistance within these fascist musicians. Indeed, it appeared as if the security forces were supporting the moderate musicians, or was this guard just humoring us? Was the military supporting the Taliban? I asked Foaad Nizam, who is a self-styled music critic and gives guitar lessons to Blackwater employees in his spare time, if there was such a differentiation in the ranks of musicians. ‘Well, you see just like there are 'Good Taliban', and 'Bad Taliban', similarly you have good musicians and bad musicians,’ said Foaad, adding to the utter complexity of the situation at hand. ‘It appears that this whole situation is a conspiracy by the 'Bad Taliban' to prevent good music from being played, because you see there's a lot of bad music still being played. It appears that this security situation is only stifling good music in a strategic manner,’ added Foaad.

Increasingly, it became evident that the situation wasn't as simple as previously thought, and more importantly that there was still hope. Still, in order to get to the bottom of this I needed some more insights. Upon watching the NYT video again, and in danger of utter personality meltdown, I noticed that all the musicians seemed to pounce onto the issues that were raised by the reporter. If you notice how Ali Azmat and Ali Noor immediately jump up and lash out against ‘The West’ in favour of the harmless Taliban it seems to suggest that they're taking bait, almost as if lured into a trap.

The conspiracy theory cogs in my Pakistani brain started churning: Could it be that the NYT reporter was simply trying to get these musicians to criticise the United States so he could get a controversial take on a run-of-the-mill story? I found myself wondering. Is The New York Times just trying to get what they want to hear out of moronic Pakistani musicians? Is this part of a greater conspiracy to numb our minds with Pakistani music and Taliban stories in the western media? Is this all just a diversion from the real issue of the assault on Tiger Woods?

Then all of a sudden, towards the end of the video I noticed Hamza Jafri – the lead man of co-Ven, who is very vocal, loud, and ostentatious in the music video clips of 'Ready to Die' – remaining suspiciously silent throughout the interview clip. I would have expected him to be causing more of a ruckus. Something had to be up – maybe he knew something I didn't.

I caught up with Jafri at an undisclosed location where he turned up dressed in military fatigues. When I asked Hamza about his take on the whole issue he provided a very insightful comment that seemed to explain the whole controversy in the simplest terms. The comment will be included in this blog in the following format to sum things up:

‘[censored] [censored] [censored], Taliban [censored], [censored] Pakistan, [censored], [...] [censored] [censored] Reema and Shaan.’

Lahore-based Asif Akhtar is interested in critical social discourse as well as the expressive facets of reactive art and is one of the schizophrenic narrators of a graphic novel. He blogs at http://e-scape-artist.blogspot.com/ and tweets at http://twitter.com/e_scape_artist.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



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