Charsadda, Pakistan: Farmanullah Khan was asleep safe and sound at home when a bomb in the middle of the night ripped through his small music and video store in a northwestern Pakistani town, and destroyed his livelihood.
Khan was warned in a letter, pushed under the shop’s shutters on 23 March, that he had a month to shut his business.
It was signed “Islamic Taliban”. A week after the deadline expired, they struck, bombing his store and two others.
“I did not take this warning seriously because such a thing has never happened in Charsadda,” the dejected Khan said.
Charsadda is the home town of the late Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Pashtun politician revered as the “Frontier Gandhi” for his non-violent opposition to British colonial rule.
These days the little town set among farm land and orchards some 20km northeast of Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), is facing the onslaught of an entirely different political creed.
Militants, whose brand of Islam is cut from the same mould as Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, have targeted Charsadda.
Around 22 music shops have been bombed in recent months in Charsadda, forcing around half of the 100 such shops here to close down.
Similar things have been happening across the province in recent months. Barbers are being threatened against shaving beards, girls are being warned against going to schools without purdah.
The culture spreading out of the ethnic Pashtun tribal lands on the Afghan border, has been dubbed “Talibanization” by the Pakistani media.
Paying the price
The militants want to destabilize President Pervez Musharraf because he abandoned support for the Taliban in 2001, and has since helped the US hunt al-Qaeda and fight the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
Peshawar has borne the brunt, suffering a wave of bomb attacks over the past nine months.
On 28 April, interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, who comes from a nearby village, narrowly survived a suicide attack that killed 28 others at a political party meeting in Charsadda.
Engulfed by a political crisis brought on by the suspension of the Supreme Court chief justice, Musharraf has warned his political allies that they had better support him as his leadership is crucial to turning the Taliban tide.
“The militants must be taken head on,” Musharraf told a meeting of the National Security Council this month.
Critics, however, say Musharraf’s political strategy has produced fertile ground for “Talibanization”, by marginalizing liberal parties like the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party, and allowing Islamist parties led by mullahs to prosper.
A highly conservative region, militancy took root in NWFP after the US and Saudi Arabia funnelled in arms and money for Islamist fighters to wage war on the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“All this is the fallout of our flawed Afghan policy. I had warned the government in the parliament in 1990s against backing the Taliban,” said Senator Asfandyar Wali, the ANP president, and grandson of the venerated Pashtun statesman.
“I had told them it would result in Talibanization of tribal areas and NWFP and it is happening,” said Wali.
Pakistanis have been shocked by the government’s failure to confront the followers of two such clerics at Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in the heart of the capital, Islamabad.
Over the past few months, these followers have kidnapped policemen, persuaded music store owners to shut shop, and threatened to unleash a suicide bombing campaign if the government tries to break up their movement.
Musharraf, giving a lecture to some of the capital’s elite at a private function this month, explained his reluctance to use force at Lal Masjid because more than half of the 4,000 or so religious students in the compound were women.
There are plenty of Pakistanis, however, who believe the Lal Masjid stand-off has been contrived to scare people and build Musharraf’s image as the nation’s protector.