October 18th, 2021
By Arshad Mohmand
For Mirwais Nabi, born in a family of musicians in Kabul, music was in his blood. He grew up playing with musical instruments under the watchful eye of his elders and learnt to play that way. Becoming Afghanistan’s pop sensation had always been his dream, but these dreams were shattered soon after the Taliban took over the country on August 15.
Despite Taliban promises not to attack any private spaces, Nabi’s office where all his equipment was kept, was attacked and vandalised. “I was sleeping in my house when I got a call from a security guard of my office and he told me that some people have barged into my office and vandalised my musical instruments. I didn’t know whether they were the Taliban or some other miscreants,” he said.
But on seeing his broken musical instruments, Nabi felt a part of his soul had also been damaged. It was then that he decided to leave the country.
“Given the Taliban’s previous regime in Afghanistan two decades ago, I knew that there would be no space for music and musicians in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. So, I decided to leave my country to save my life and family,” Nabi added.
But the journey to Pakistan was not easy. Midway, during the journey, Nabi lost his elder sister to a heart attack.
“We came here by compulsion, not by choice and our journey to Pakistan has been full of misery,” he says. “The fare of rented vehicles has gone up – we reached Kandahar from Kabul by paying three times more fare than normal days. We spent a night in Kandahar on the road. My sister was a heart patient and she had a fatal heart attack in Chaman,” he lamented.
Nabi is now settled in Pakistan but he does not intend to stay here forever. In fact, he wants to leave as soon as it is possible, because of the country’s fragile economic conditions.
“The music scene in Pakistan is not very encouraging,” he says. “People don’t have good thoughts about musicians here as well. I want to move to a third country where I can restart a regular life and give proper attention to my music career,” he says.
Nabi is heartbroken over the international community’s indifference towards the musicians from war-torn Afghanistan since after August 15.
“No one from the international community has tried to rescue Afghan musicians as they have journalists and interpreters, and this was really shocking for me as it has always been the musicians who have suffered the most at the hands of the Taliban,” says Nabi, whose only source of livelihood has been his music.
He says music runs through the blood of Afghans but the Taliban can’t stand it.
The Plight of musicians
Mirwais Nabi is not the only musician who has had to leave his life and homeland behind because of their art. According to a recent report by an international article merely a week back over 100 artists and teachers employed at one of the most prestigious music schools in Afghanistan have had to flee their country out of fear of persecution at the hands of the Taliban. These musicians had been trying to get to safety for about one hundred days. Those who remained behind because of their passion for music now face an uncertain future under the new Islamist regime.
Other musicians particularly from the country’s northeast tell of similar tales as Mirwais Nabi. Reportedly, after taking over Afghanistan’s bigger cities like Jalalabad and Kabul the first action which most of the local Taliban carried out was attacking offices of known local musicians and setting fire to their instruments publicly. This created a sense of fear amongst the local musician community who fled the country in droves immediately after the takeover.
After taking over the country in 1996 the Taliban placed a blanket ban on forms of music. Prompted by this history most of the artists and musicians who have stayed behind in Afghanistan have innovatively started turning to ‘music-less’ songs. While some have abandoned music all together.