November 16, 2023
By Arshad Mohmand
Outside the Peshawar High Court, a group of artists have collected, their faces carrying signs of distress and worry. They have come for the hearing of a case they had filed, where they have requested the Pakistani government to allow them to stay in Pakistan as going back to Afghanistan would only cause them problems.
They are avoiding talking to the media but one of them, Hashmat Umeed, who used to be a professional singer in Afghanistan, told Voicepk that it would be dangerous for musicians to go back there.
“The others who have come are shopkeepers or they are engaged in other businesses – they can do this work there too,” he says. “But people like me have been associated with music for over 25 years. Now they cannot do anything else and music is not allowed in Afghanistan under the Taliban.”
Going back Means Death
This petition has been filed in the Peshawar High Court on behalf of an organization called Hunri Tolna.
Rashid Khan, the head of this organization working for the rights of singers, says that more than 700 singers from Afghanistan have come to Pakistan after fleeing Taliban rule. “If Pakistan forcibly returns these singers, the move will mean death for these artists,” he said. “So while we are here, we are urging the government in Pakistan not to send the musicians back. Many of them are even scared to come to court and do this.”
Khan says that there is no tolerance for art back in Afghanistan while the Taliban are ruling.
“Under Taliban rule, music is thought of as a huge sin,” he says.
Human rights defender Hayat Roghani informs that most of the singers who came from Afghanistan are living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. Most of them have families still in Afghanistan because they had to leave them behind to save their lives.
“They are mistreated and humiliated, and their lives are put in danger, only because of the profession they choose,” says Roghani.
So far nearly 200,000 Afghan refugees have gone back to Afghanistan through Torkham, according to the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Among them, there are 1,000 people who were picked up by the police and sent back to their country.
The musicians’ counsel, Advocate Mumtaz Ahmed who is representing the Afghan musicians in court says that the government of Pakistan has made an agreement with the UNHCR that the refugees who have applied for UNHCR registration cannot be forcibly deported.
“According to a statement released on October 10, none of the Afghan refugees could be forcibly deported,” he says. “Our plea for now is that we are going through the screening process and that they should be allowed to stay here until the UNHCR responds to their registration applications.”
These singers say that after the second hearing of the case, the court has issued orders to the relevant government institutions that the police will not harass these singers until the case is decided. It is said that a list of these singers is being prepared by the government so that the police do not take any action against them in the process of returning.