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Taliban Fights Missing Trousers

Both men and women in the north-west of Pakistan traditionally wear the loose shalwar-kameez rather than tight-fitting trousers. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

PESHAWAR, Aug 9 2013 (IPS) - A new Taliban fashion directive to men has created surprise and drawn opposition. Orders to men to wear the loose traditional dress rather than trousers have been challenged on the grounds that men in the northwest of Pakistan do not wear trousers in the first place.

The Taliban have long demanded strict Islamic dress for women. Now they are targeting men – dubiously.

“The men in tribal regions are appropriately dressed,” Ahmed Jamal, a resident of South Waziristan Agency in northwest Pakistan, tells IPS. “Unlike other parts of the country where people wear pants and shirts, those here wear shalwar-kameez.” The traditional shalwar-kameez is a tunic over a loose covering down to the ankles.

The outlawed Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issued its ‘order’ Jul. 13, for men to wear loose, rather than tight, outfits. A day earlier, the Taliban had asked women to do the same – even though women invariably dress in an all-encompassing burqa and veil from head to toe.

The TTP warned shopkeepers against selling any garments the Taliban do not approve. It threatened to close down such outlets. As a first step the Taliban warned shopkeepers of a 50-dollar fine and closure of business for a month.

But worse has already come. Mustafa Shah, a shopkeeper in Waziristan, says there have been instances already of the Taliban burning cloth seized from businessmen.

“TTP men came on Jul. 22 and took away raw cloth from some shops and burnt it. We looked on but could not say a word because of fear of TTP reprisals,” he says. “Such instructions are bound to affect businesses because people now avoid markets.”

Shah says the orders have hit both residents and traders. “We have not heard of such directives in any Muslim country, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where the strictest Islamic laws are in place.”

People have already suffered a great deal at the hands of the Taliban, he says. “More than half of the FATA’s [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] five million population have been displaced due to the presence of Taliban and the military operations, which have brought our business to a standstill.”

Jamal, a mechanic in Wana, headquarters of South Waziristan, says the directive is only aimed at keeping the TTP in the news. “The majority of the Pashtun population living in the seven districts of FATA wears appropriate and decent dress.”

The pamphlet issued by the TTP says that wearing thin and revealing clothes is un-Islamic because such clothes do not cover the body properly, and are also against Pashtun culture.

Muhammad Sarwar, a lecturer at the Islamia College University in Peshawar, sees the order as a tool to frighten people and for the Taliban to impose their own brand of Islam.

“It is a glaring indication of how the Taliban are pursuing their agenda. They want to make their presence felt by issuing such irrelevant instructions.”

It is the right of people to wear what they want, he says. “The TTP had no right to ask the people to do this, and they are in any case not a part of the government. These directives are illegal, immoral and have no worth. They have enraged residents.”

FATA is located on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where the Taliban took refuge when they were evicted from Kabul by the U.S.-led forces towards the end of 2001.

“FATA people offered them sanctuary and treated them as guests, but they started attacking Pakistani forces, buildings and schools,” Afaq Ali Khan, a resident of Waziristan, tells IPS.

The TTP have lashed and stoned women for alleged adultery, and killed poor people on charge of spying, he says. “TTP punishes people without giving them a chance to defend themselves against the charges.”

Such acts have already made the Taliban unpopular. The latest instructions to men to not wear tight clothing will further alienate people, he says.

Such derogatory and unethical instructions are misplaced, says Khan. “Had these orders been issued in Karachi, Islamabad or Peshawar, they might have made sense.”

Maulana Naeem Gul, a Peshawar-based prayer leader, tells IPS that he was deeply saddened by the new instructions because these were designed to bring Islam to notoriety.

“Taliban are bereft of Islamic teachings. Their efforts to enforce Islam through violent means will not find any taker. To subdue the people through coercion is against Islam.”

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