Ban on stylish beards: Zia’s legacy lives on

Over the decades, attempts at different levels were made to narrowly redefine the identity of different ethnic groups in the country.

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By HAMID HUSSAIN
The legacy of Zia lives on and is being implemented in letter and spirit by his disciples sitting in local governments, district administrations, trader associations and many other spheres of life dictating how women should dress and how men should make their beards.
Has it ever occurred to you that the ban on stylish designs in beards in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa by Swabi district administration, a union of traders of in Katlang tehsil of Mardan district and later by a union of hairdresser in Peshawar has something to do with the Pakistani youth fast adapting modern western values and also the awakening of Pashtun youth asking the state of Pakistan to honor its Constitution.
Yes, there could be possible links between the rise of young people from Pashtun’s heartland against the injustices being meted out to them and the deep state which remains at high alert all the time to counter any narrative propping up against its interests.
Over the decades, attempts at different levels were made to narrowly redefine the identity of different ethnic groups in the country and for this purpose the injection of religion into society, politics and to other spheres of life through different means is continued.
When the effects of Talibanisation began to diminish from society, and lost its appeal to youth, injecting religion and patriotism into society through pop singers, sports celebrities began.
Pop singers of 1990s were persuaded through different channels for inclusion of religious hymns and national songs in their music albums. Celebrities like Junaid Jamsheed, cricketer Saeed Anwar, Inzimam ul Haq were influenced by leaders of the ‘Tableeghi Jamat’ to join their ranks. A mix of stardom and religious piety was introduced to the youth which was fast adapting modern western values.
When the war on terror started, prominent Pashtun singers were kidnapped, threatened, harassed, and made to leave the country so that the Jihadi narrative could not be countered or to shrink space for an alternate narrative.
The recent ban on dance in schools by Punjab School Education Department is yet another case in hand. What else could be the motive of the ban on dance except shrinking space for liberal values?
When the issue of murder of Naqeebullah and hundreds of other people killings in fake encounters by former Malir SSP Rao Anwar and his death squad surfaced, and subsequently protests were held, a crackdown against dissenting voices on social media, rights activists, journalists, and bloggers was initiated.
Operations at different levels were initiated and ban on stylish beards was imposed in several parts of the country. It is part of the strategy because Naqeebullah and most of people protesting against his extra-judicial murder are young, having designed beards, educated, believing in constitutional supremacy and are challenging the authoritarian policies of the state. Usually any strategy to counter an idea or something that bothers the deep state is implemented in a region where it can get desired results and later the effects trickle down to other parts of the country.
Looking at the pattern, first ban was placed on designed beards in Kharan district in Balochistan, then in Punjab’s Dera Ghazi Khan, Katlang tehsil of Mardan, Swabi and recently in Peshawar. It definitely was designed to counter the culture brewing in society, getting popularity among youth especially the clean-shaved, stylish bearded Pashtun youth holding a sense of alienation towards the state and now raising voice for their rights.
The recent news reports of ban by district authorities, trader associations, and local government representatives from several parts of the country on making stylish designs in beards shows the direction of Pakistani society in which it is advancing in and paving way for more hatred, intolerance and extremism.
Earlier, only religious political parties in Pakistan used to make such demands like implementation of their own brand of Sharia, how women should dress, or dictating men specifying length of their beards, and keeping trousers above ankles. Now as the society advances in its accomplishments at religious front, it appears that locally elected representatives, district assistant commissioners and leaders of trade unions can introduce a new version of Islam to assert their authority.
Head of a hairdresser association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sharif Kahloon speaking to media few months back said they have imposed ban on styling un-Islamic beard designs. He said they banned only latest designs and not trimming beards.
Another group of hairdresser in Peshawar claimed unknown people distributed pamphlets in the provincial metropolis last month warning barbers that their shops will be set on fire if they designed beards of the customers in ‘un-Islamic’ fashion.
The hair dressers said the pamphlets were first distributed in Mansehra and then in Balochistan and now the barbers of Peshawar are also facing threats. They said the ‘demands’ of those behind distributing the pamphlets may increase in future and they might also ask them not to wear designer clothes.

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