Militants ban music in latest push to Talibanize Pakistani frontier

Islamic militants are confiscating music cassettes from public buses and ordering shops to only sell CDs promoting jihad in the latest push to Talibanize a lawless Pakistani frontier region, residents said Tuesday.

The campaign was launched on Sunday in North Waziristan, a tribal region where the government reached a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants last fall, an intelligence official confirmed on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his job.

Bands of armed militants have visited shops selling music cassettes and CDs in the main town of Miran Shah, warning owners to only sell "jihadi" cassettes - featuring sermons by clerics or songs without musical accompaniment that praise holy war and those who fight it.

"They came to us and said 'do not sell music and song cassettes and CDs,"' shop owner Omar Jan said. "They warned us to close our shops or they would punish us."

A 30-year-old vendor in Razmak Ada bazaar, who requested anonymity because he feared retaliation from militants, said he would abide by the warning and only sell jihadi material.

"There is fear among the people," he said.

On Monday, about 30 armed militants stopped public transport vehicles at a traffic intersection in Miran Shah, confiscating music tapes from drivers, residents said.

The actions underlined how militants have expanded their influence since the September peace deal in North Waziristan, which ended months of bloody fighting between pro-Taliban tribesmen and Pakistani security forces, although not cross-border attacks by militants targeting U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

The campaign against music is reminiscent of the hard-line rule of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan that banned music, movies, TV and nearly all other forms of entertainment as part of their strict interpretation of Islamic laws or Shariah.

Despite the government's promotion of moderate Islam, there has been a growing "Talibanization" of Pakistan itself, particularly in the conservative northwest where hard-line views garner most support among the region's ethnic Pashtun majority.

Last week, two bombs in a market in the Charsadda district destroyed several music shops _ the latest in a series of such attacks in the frontier region. In the nearby Bajur tribal region, barbers have been warned not to shave beards.

In an editorial Tuesday, The News daily called on the government to take action against "fanatics" trying to force a "flawed and pernicious interpretation of religion on everybody else."

"Or else we should not complain as the nation continues to slide into the Dark Ages," it said.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova