For nearly a decade, nobody dared play live music at weddings or parties in much of the northwest region bordering Afghanistan, for fear of raids by the area’s Islamist government or violent reprisals by armed militants. Many local musicians and singers fled and relocated in large cities such as Karachi.
Things loosened up after the liberal Pakistan Justice Movement won political power in the region four years ago and the army drove out the most hard-line insurgent groups. Musicians drifted back to their workshops and the traditional sounds of stringed rebabs and drums poured from wedding halls.
But an alarming incident several weeks ago at a lively village wedding in the Khyber tribal area suggested that the threat of violent moral sanction from Islamist vigilantes had suddenly returned.
Hundreds of guests had gathered for an evening of entertainment Sept. 4 when a stranger burst in and said they must suspend the performance or it would be halted by force, reportedly on orders from a local seminary leader.
“We were happy and the boys were dancing, but we didn’t want any trouble so we stopped everything,” said Nawaz Khan, an uncle of the bridegroom.