Music making comeback in Afghanistan

Updated 27 January 2013
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Music making comeback in Afghanistan

Music that Afghans were made to stay away from or risk being targeted by the Taleban militants are once again ringing loud. That trepidation no longer exists as strongly as it once was.
This privilege, which was very much at the core of Afghanistan’s heritage, remained shut out for years. Nobody dared to think of listening to music when it was banned by the Taleban regime in the 1990s.
Its strong comeback is a testament to Afghan people’s readiness to change the status quo of their country.
Credit for this turnaround, even when the scenario still seems incongruous and far from perfect, goes to the 50-year-old trained musicologist Ahmad Naser Sarmast — the only Afghan who came forward despite numerous challenges standing in his way to save Afghanistan’s crippling musical legacy. He let every Afghan experience it through the only one of its kind music center known as Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), a part of the Ministry of Education.
Sarmast already had a plan drawn up to help his countrymen. But the stakes involved were too big to let go as violence was still a major concern. Nevertheless, these incidents couldn’t shake up his steely determination.
He was fully convinced that the bloodstained soil of Afghanistan would one day be wrapped up in colors of a new musical era.
“I am an optimist,” Sarmast told Arab News. “I didn’t face any hurdles in the establishment of this school because I had full support of my people behind me.”
Like his late father Ustad Sarmast — a composer, conductor and musician — he carved out a career for himself in music.
“My home was full of music and moments. We often had musical gatherings organized, so I was surrounded by different types of music from an early age,” Sarmast said.
But the bloody civil war of 1992 forced him to flee the country, taking him to Russia from where he finished his MA in musicology and ethnomusicology. In 1994, he gained asylum in Australia. Then, he was admitted to Monash University, one of Australia’s best institutions from where he received his Ph.D. in music in 2005.
Living away from home for almost 15 years, he realized he should return to his country. And he did in 2008 so that Afghanistan’s future doesn’t go down the same battered path ever again.
“Each of us should come forward when it comes to contributing to social and humanitarian work. And I felt compelled to go back not only because it was my civil responsibility but also my vision and commitment to bring back the musical rights of Afghan children,” he said. “Its other purpose was to be playing a crucial role in bridging the gap between countries in the region as well as create a platform for inter-cultural dialogue through music.”
However, he flits between Kabul and Melbourne where his wife and two children still live. Two years later, he laid the stone of this first-ever music school amid the high expectation that it will open doors to a new world for Afghan children.
“I was heart-broken by what I saw through the faces of children. They were looking for ways to escape. I knew it was music that could heal their hearts and souls,” Ahmad said.
“No civil society can exist or for that matter imagine living without music even for a second,” he said. “I believe music can turn anything into positive because it has a tremendous healing power. Afghans have been through lots of terrible and mind-numbing circumstances.” It’s not just this. Today, the school is emerging as a role model for Afghanistan to make the most of in the best way possible and emulate it in its day-to-day affairs.
Afghan-born vocalist and flautist Mashal Arman, who teaches at the academy, is proud that her country is entering a new phase. “Their eyes say everything. Their thirst for music is highly insatiable keeping in mind what these little souls have had to go through,” she said. “It’s also a great role model to showcase Afghanistan’s changing face to the outside world.”
The massive funding from the World Bank, foreign ministries of Denmark and Finland, the US, India, Germany and Britain is allowing Sarmast to run this music school in an effective way. “We are getting a large assortment of musical instruments from manufacturers. They can’t be found anywhere else, “he says.
Shabeer, 22, is from Kabul and he plays oboe. “Music is part of our culture which died in the last wars. I want to show my country that music is not a bad thing and I want to show to the world that Afghans don’t want war. We want peace. I chose this instrument because I heard it played once and loved the sound. When I hear it, it touches my emotions and I love it,” he said.
n Exclusive to Arab News


PM Khan launches scathing attack on Trump after his “tirade”

Updated 4 min 8 sec ago
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PM Khan launches scathing attack on Trump after his “tirade”

  • Says US needs to stop making Pakistan a “scapegoat” for its failures
  • Insists Islamabad spent $123bn in war on terror compared to $20bn aid provided by Washington

ISLAMABAD: A day after US President Donald Trump claimed that Pakistan does not do “a damn thing” for Washington, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday took to Twitter to set the record straight by telling him to quit using Islamabad as a “scapegoat” in his “tirade” against the country.
In a four-point tweet, Khan explained why Trump’s comments were unjustified, reasoning that “No Pakistani was involved in 9/11 but Pakistan decided to participate in the US war on terror” nevertheless.
He added that while Pakistan suffered 75,000 casualties in the war and incurred losses of more than  $123 billion to the economy, the aid provided by the US was “a minuscule $20 billion”.
Elaborating on the catastrophic effect that the war on terror had on Pakistan’s tribal region and on the lives of its ordinary citizens, he said: “Our tribal areas were devastated and millions of people uprooted from their homes. The war drastically impacted the lives of ordinary Pakistanis.”
In his concluding remarks PM Khan said that instead of making “Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures, the US should do a serious assessment of why, despite 1,40,000 NATO troops plus 250,000 Afghan troops and reportedly $1 trillion spent on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban today are stronger than before.”
He ended his statement by asking Trump is he could “name another ally that gave such sacrifices”.
In an interview with Fox News aired on November 18, Trump justified the cancelation of $300 million in military aid to Pakistan by saying that “We’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them $1.3 billion a year — which we don’t give them any more, by the way, I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us.”
Talking about slain Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who was found hiding in Pakistan, a short distance away from the country’s prestigious military academy, Trump added that “everybody in Pakistan knew he was there”.
Federal Minister for Human Rights, Dr. Shireen Mazari, issued a statement on Monday terming “Trump’s tirade against Pakistan” a lesson for all those Pakistani leaders “who kept appeasing the US especially after 9/11!”
She added that the “loss of Pakistani lives in the US war on terror, the free space for Raymond Davis and other operatives, the illegal killings by drone attacks — the list is endless…once again history shows appeasement does not work”.
“Whether China or Iran, the US policies of containment and isolation do not coincide with Pakistan’s strategic interests,” she said.
Former Senate Chairman, Raza Rabbani, termed Trump’s remarks “contrary to the facts” and reminded the US president that his “language regarding a sovereign state was aggressive”.
“He should be careful; Pakistan is not a state or colony of the US,” Rabbani said, further reminding Trump that “the US killed Pakistanis in unauthorized drone attacks, the US-sponsored terrorism in Kabul, and a drug industry was created on the Pak-Afghan border for the financial assistance of the US”.
“The Pakistani nation is paying the price of political and economic instability due to its alliance with the US,” he said.
Former Foreign Minister, Khawaja Asif, also took to Twitter to rebuff the US president’s remarks saying, “We continue to pay in blood for what we did for the USA.”
The already strained relations between the United States and Pakistan took another dip in January this year when Trump suspended security assistance to Islamabad over the alleged presence of Afghan militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal belt — a claim rejected by Islamabad.