Pakistan’s celebrated dancing girls are fleeing in fear of their lives as Taliban militants increase their strength in the North-West Frontier Province.
The bullet-riddled body dumped in the centre of Mingora’s Green Square sent two clear messages to people in the Swat Valley’s largest town: “un-Islamic vices” will no longer be tolerated, and the Taliban are effectively in control.
The woman, known only as Shabana, was found slumped on the ground, strewn with banknotes, CDs of her dance performances and photographs.
Local Taliban commander Maulana Shah Dauran broadcast a warning on one of the group’s radio stations: his men had killed her and if any other girls were found performing in the city’s Banr Bazaar they would be killed “one by one”.
The last of the bazaar’s dancing girls, many of whom had trained under Shabana’s wing and lived in her house, were seen loading their belongings on to trucks and fleeing to the relative safety of Karachi and Lahore at the weekend.
The banishment marks a key turning point in the battle for the Swat Valley between Taliban militants and Pakistan’s army. It followed recent orders to close girls’ schools, shut shops selling music and films and stop barbers shaving beards.
This process is also known as cultural genocide.
The dancing girls’ performances had been one of the city’s last “vices”.
More than 1000 girls have fled, though some who remained said Shabana had paid the price for defying the Taliban’s mullahs and that she had ignored warnings to stop the performances and the training of young dancers.