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Pakistan- cultural terrorism and the rise of Taliban

By Saeed Khan - posted Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Lahore is the undisputed cultural epicentre of Pakistan that has played a historic role in forming the cultural outlook of the modern day sub-continent. Today, Lahore is the centre of “cultural terrorism” and the enemy is local Taliban.

The city of Lahore experienced yet another series of low-intensity explosions on Friday, January 10. The bombings were aimed at theatres located around the Mall Road located at the heart of Lahore city. Condemnations from state and federal leadership followed.

Such bombings by the local extremists have taken place in Lahore in recent times to force video stores to burn their so called “obscene CDs”. After a number of investigations local police chiefs say they know the bombers but no responsible groups have been named to date. The provincial government of Punjab, like its federal counterpart seems to be supporting the convenient myth that the Taliban and their supporters exist only in FATA and the Northern Province.


According to the January 11 editorial of the Daily Times (Lahore), a popular English Newspaper, the great Talibanisation movement in Pakistan is not restricted to the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. The influence of Talibans has spread into the settled areas and threatens to extend into the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, some of the TV reports describing the blasts tended to repeat the reactionary charges of obscenity than condemning these acts of cowardice. People in Lahore say that this misplaced objection has always been there. Some parts of society, based on their religiously conservative beliefs, have always objected to dancing of females in theatre and in display of art.

I love Lahore. As an Urdu poet I have had two books published in Lahore and consider it my second home in Pakistan. I have many friends in Lahore and often stay there during my visits to Pakistan. Unlike Karachi, the other major economic centre in the country, Lahore is a very tolerant and a largely peaceful and moderate city. Lahoris’ love for art and culture has made Lahore the centre for Pakistani film, fashion, music, media, writing and various other art forms.

Despite all its social and cultural significance, Lahore has some other sensitivities too. It is situated right next to a religiously conservative Raiwind city, the house of annual Tableeghi Ijtema (preaching congregation). The congregation at Raiwind is considered the biggest gathering of Muslims after Haj, attended by faithful from more than 200 countries.

It is fair to say that Tableeghis in general are not known for extremist tendencies and their leaders have condemned suicide bombers. However, Raiwind's proximity to Lahore does leave it open to local, regional and international fundamentalists. Such gatherings can also provide Taliban and al-Qaida with opportunities to recruit and influence the disaffected and vulnerable.

Pakistani Talibans have repeatedly claimed to have footholds in major cities in Pakistan. Recently, in the face of renewed Pakistan military offensive in FATA, they have issued several warnings to bring the war to the rest of the country.


The Taliban have a brutal history of punishing what they perceive as un-Islamic social evil. The Pakistani Taliban, who now control most parts of Swat in the North, have been destroying girls’ schools, burning down music CD/DVD shops, and killing anyone who opposes them. They declared Sharia Law in Swat early this month and most girls' schools across the state were ordered to declare holidays by the state government.

The Pakistani Talibans are determined to propagate a violent brand of Sharia Law and have thrived on fear and violence. However, the Taliban issue in FATA and the North and its Afghan and NATO connection requires a separate analysis.

These bombings may not be direct Taliban terrorism but it is definitely being carried out by those who actually favour their violent brand of Islam. The local Taliban sympathisers in Lahore seem to be copying the Taliban of the North and it would be unwise to dismiss the Friday 10 blasts just as extremist acts against culture. They have not inflected any casualities through theatre blasts but where this Taliban-minded bombing campaign against the so-called social evil is headed is anyone's guess.

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About the Author

Saeed Khan is a writer, diversity advocate, a former Deputy Chair of the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW and a former Treasures of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia (FECCA). Twitter @saeedahmedkhan

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