Dancing girls back in Pakistan's Swat Valley

Islamabad, Feb 17 (IANS) With the departure of the Taliban from Pakistan's Swat Valley, the music has returned and fair-skinned dancing girls are back in business.

A locality in the eastern part of Mingora city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is famous for its dancing girls. But there is no electricity in the area and the narrow alleys are dark.

But its women, once targeted by the Taliban, are back in business and music reverberates till late at night, the Express Tribune reported.

A young boy opens the door to a cramped room of a two-storey house. The room is bare and a tattered sofa lies in a corner. A gas burner dimly lights up the room.

He ushers in two young girls into the room. Attired in black and red dresses, they say they are cousins and introduce themselves as Rani and Muskan.

In late 2008, at the peak of militancy, Muskan and Rani left their homes in Swat Valley for Karachi to escape persecution from the Taliban.

Barely a month after their departure, in January 2009, Taliban militants knocked on a door opposite to their house and dragged out a dancer named Shabana. They took her to Green Chowk - also known as Khooni Chowk - and shot her dead.

Shabana's death created a ripple effect and almost all girls left their homes for safer places.

'We heard the news of Shabana's death in Karachi. I was sad and scared. We too could have met the same fate if we had not left our homes,' Muskan said.

'The situation has improved now and we no longer fear anyone. Swat is our home and we cannot live somewhere else,' said Muskan, who is also a model and appears in Pashto song videos.

Rani said their business has improved and now musical events are arranged with no restriction from the police or religious clerics.

'We learnt dance from our cousin, Laila. After her wedding, we started performing to feed our 18-member family,' Rani said.

'There are at least 20 houses associated with this business at Bunrh and now there is no fear of the Taliban,' her brother Ashfaq said.

'But there is fear. The first door my friends and I had knocked at was Shabana's, and no member of her family came to open the door. They do not want to talk about that incident,' my friend said.

Pervesh Shaheen, a local historian, said there was official patronage to the dancers and they were paid a fixed amount after a function. No one was allowed to throw money while they danced, he said, adding that the girls were not involved in prostitution.