PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Zaryali is among the hundreds of Afghan musicians who have fled to neighboring Pakistan since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Soon after seizing power in August, the Taliban outlawed music and footage emerged of its fighters publicly beating and humiliating musicians and burning their instruments.
The incidents have confirmed the worst fears of Afghan artists, who have said the Taliban is treating musicians with the same disdain it had shown during its first stint in power in the 1990s when it banned music as “un-Islamic.”
But even in Pakistan, Afghan musicians say they are not safe. Authorities have cracked down on undocumented Afghan migrants and refugees and deported them back to Afghanistan. Pakistan, which already hosts over 1 million Afghans, has been keen to avoid another major influx of refugees.
Police in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recently arrested four Afghan musicians for living illegally in the country. The arrests in the provincial capital, Peshawar, triggered protests by Pakistani musicians and activists who urged authorities not to deport them over fears for their safety.
“The Afghan artists who have arrived here live in fear and great misery,” Zaryali told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal.
The singer says many Afghan musicians in Peshawar, located near the Afghan border, are afraid to go outside and remain largely confined to their temporary accommodations.
“Some of them have expired passports while others have expired visas,” said Zaryali. “They cannot perform or find any work. They live in fear of being deported back to a country where they cannot live safely because their lives are in danger.”
Linked ‘Though Language, Religion’
Even as authorities have cracked down on undocumented Afghans, some Pakistani musicians and activists have stage rallies in support of Afghan musicians.
One of them is Rashid Khan, a Pakistani singer who heads Hunari Tolona, a local NGO. “Music is the only passion and livelihood for these people, and they cannot live without it,” Khan told RFE/RL.
On June 2, dozens of Afghan and Pakistani artists and activists held a protest in front of the provincial assembly building in Peshawar. The protesters called for authorities to stop arresting and deporting at-risk Afghan musicians.
Days earlier, on May 30, protesters had held another rally, which came two days after police arrested four Afghan musicians. A court in Peshawar is expected to make a ruling over their deportations in the coming days.
Khan says his organization has offered monetary help to the Afghan musicians and helped them to apply for residency permits. He has also held meetings with local officials to raise awareness about the issue.
“We were told that Afghans are our brothers and linked to us through religion and language, so they will be looked after in every possible way,” he said.
“But instead, our Afghan colleagues were arrested for violating the Foreigners Act,” he added, referring to a Pakistani law that empowers authorities to deport foreigners lacking proper documentation.
Hayat Roghani, the head of Mafkoora, a local NGO in Peshawar, told Radio Mashaal that at least 216 Afghan musicians have arrived in Pakistan since the Taliban takeover.
Afghan musicians who fled to Pakistan say attaining a visa is a protracted and expensive process. They say a Pakistani visa can cost up to $600, a huge sum for many Afghans.
Many of the Afghan musicians are Pashtuns, who make up most of the population in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“We told the court that they have fled persecution and might face threats to their lives if they are forced to return there,” Khan added. “Imagine if Europeans would force Ukrainian refugees to return to their country.”
More than 3 million Afghans fled to Pakistan following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. There was another wave in the 1990s when Afghanistan descended into civil war and the Taliban seized power.
After the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, some Afghan refugees in Pakistan returned home, although an estimated 1.3 million documented refugees and hundreds of thousands of undocumented refugees remained.
Over the years, many Afghan refugees have accused authorities of harassment and beatings, arbitrary detentions, and evictions from their homes. Even documented Afghan refugees say they have been coerced into leaving the country.
Pakistan, which is not a signatory to international conventions on the rights of refugees, braced for a major influx of Afghans after the Taliban regained power last year. But authorities managed to avert another refugee wave by imposing tighter border controls and requiring Afghans to apply for visas.
More than an estimated 100,000 Afghans, mostly educated professionals, have arrived in Pakistan since the Taliban captured control of Kabul on August 15.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) has recorded the return of some 34,000 Afghan refugees from Pakistan to Afghanistan so far this year.
“We have arrived in this country to look for asylum out of desperation,” Hafta Gul, an Afghan singer in Peshawar, told BBC Pashto. “We have nowhere else to go.”