Taliban Supporters Gain Influence
By AMIR ZIA
MIRALI, Pakistan (AP) - Loudspeakers used to blare songs from the small music shops inside the crowded bazaar of this town in Pakistan's remote northwestern border region.
The shops are shuttered. Also gone are the television antennas that sprouted from the rooftops of the mud and brick houses of Mirali, 20 miles east of the Afghan border.
Emboldened by the success of the Taliban religious militia next door in Afghanistan, men espousing the same restrictive brand of Islam have formed their own Taliban movement and started to impose their rules.
Known as Tehrik-e-Taliban, the movement has the same goals as the Taliban in Afghanistan. It wants to eradicate music, TV, videos - virtually all forms of light entertainment. It seeks to ban women taking jobs and to limit girls' schooling to the study of the Koran and only up to age 8.
Taliban supporters also impose religious observance, requiring all men to pray in the mosque five times a day, grow beards and wear turbans.
While the movement wants to see such rules for all of Pakistan, it is concentrating on the rugged region that borders Afghanistan and is largely run by tribal elders. Like the Afghan Taliban, the people of Pakistan's tribal belt are predominantly ethnic Pathans and follow similar tribal traditions.
Critics contend the religious interpretations by Afghanistan's Taliban rulers are more a reflection of tribal traditions than of the teachings of Islam. They say Islam extols the value of education for both men and women and has no objection to music or movies.
The critics are especially bothered by the forcible imposition of Taliban ways on everyone under the militia's rule.
``The use of force is against Islam's spirit. We should win people by love and reasoning,'' said Qibla Ayaz, an Islamic studies professor at Pakistan's Peshawar University.
Pakistan's tribal region, however, is increasingly embracing the Taliban version of Islam.
In April, more than 2,000 armed Taliban followers went on a rampage in Mirali, smashing TV sets and burning hundreds of audio and video tapes.
``All men keep weapons here, but the Taliban outnumbered shopkeepers,'' said Mohammed Turrab, who repairs tape recorders. ``All music and video shops have stayed closed.''
Zar Gul, a tribal elder who supports the Taliban, said the campaign against television and music was ``just a beginning toward the goal of Islamic law's enforcement.''
``Television and music are evil,'' Gul said. ``They should have no place in a Muslim society because they promote obscenity and corruption.''
Over the past year, Taliban leaders have formed a parallel administration in some parts of Pakistan's tribal region, said Shaharyar Bangash, an official of a foreign-financed aid group, the National Research and Development Foundation.
He said the Taliban are winning supporters because national governments have ignored the impoverished and backward region. Less than 6 percent of the area's people can read and write, compared with the national average of 45 percent. Each acre of agricultural land must support nearly seven people, three times the national average.
Mushtaq Jadoon, a senior government official, dismissed suggestions a parallel Taliban administration has sprung up.
``In parts of the tribal area, people decided voluntarily to curb social evils,'' he said. ``But we have asked clerics to approach us with complaints of obscenity, drugs or liquor instead of taking a direct action, and they say they will.''
Not everyone in the tribal belt supports the Taliban.
``It makes no sense that things that are allowed elsewhere in the country are considered a crime here,'' said Mohammed Sadiq, a truck driver in Mirali.
He said some people have taken to surreptitiously watching television at night, sneaking out in the darkness to erect a TV antenna and taking it down before daylight.
``But we're afraid,'' Sadiq added.
In the tribal town of Zargari, 80 miles south of Peshawar, Taliban supporters are in firm control. Residents have been ordered to smash their TV sets or sell them to people elsewhere.
Ajab Khan Orakzai, principal of Zargari's religious school, said harsh punishments are necessary.
``You can check wayward people only through a stick,'' he said. ``Islamic punishments, like chopping hands and feet of criminals as is done in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, are the best way to clean the society.''
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