May 23, 2008 / 6:40 AM / 9 years ago

Top Pakistani band to rock for peace in Kashmir

<p>Pakistani pop band 'Junoon' performs at the MTV-Indian music awards in Bombay late December 12, 2003.Roy Madhur</p>

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Strife-torn Indian Kashmir is set to rock to the beat of music, not bombs, this weekend as the renowned Pakistani band Junoon performs for the region's biggest musical event in nearly two decades in a bid for peace.

Junoon, arguably one of South Asia's hottest rock bands, will play on Sunday on the banks of Lake Dal with towering snow-capped Himalayan peaks and ancient Sufi shrines as its backdrop.

"It is a concert for peace in the region," Prasad Rao, whose non-governmental South Asia Foundation (SAF) is organizing the event, told Reuters.

"We are expecting 5,000 to 10,000 people and this is going to be a mega-event," he said, adding that President Pratibha Patil, scheduled to start a three-day tour to Kashmir on Friday, is expected to attend.

DREAM COME TRUE

Junoon, which means obsession in Urdu, belts out rock tunes inspired by Sufism, a mystic branch of Islam, and social issues.

Singer Salman Ahmed said performing in Srinagar has always been one of the band's goals.

"It was 10 years ago, May 1998, when I first went to India. We performed all over South India, north India. There I said, 'I'd love to go to Srinagar.' The common perception ... was that not in our lifetime we would be able to perform there," he told Reuters.

"Although Pakistan and India are sovereign countries, we have to look at this region as South Asia. And for South Asia to prosper, we need peace," he said from Karachi.

"So I think it's long overdue that we keep building these confidence building measures. And I think Junoon's performance is a very significant confidence building measure," he added.

The concert comes days after India and Pakistan, which have fought wars over Kashmir and still dispute its status, said they had put their flagging peace process back on track.

Scenic Kashmir, South Asia's Sufi heartland, has been blighted by years of violence, and its easy-going society suppressed by a ban on entertainment by separatist Muslim guerrillas. Officials say tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been killed or gone missing since the insurgency began in 1989.

But the militants' influence over daily life is now waning -- traditional theater and music are being revived and alcohol is becoming more readily available in the valley.

"Something great is happening to Kashmir after a pretty long time," said Arshi Gouse, a 20-year-old student.

"I am sure Sufi rock band, Junoon, will love to perform in Sufi Kashmir ... we will rock," he added.

Few, and mainly little-known, Pakistani musicians have performed in Kashmir after India and Pakistan started their peace process in 2004. Violence, involving separatist militants and Indian troops, has declined since then.

"I hope the performance of Junoon in Kashmir will pave the way for expressing the emotions and love and friendship in the region," said Amit Wanchoo, 29-year-old lyricist and leader of "Immersion," Kashmir's first and only five-member rock band.

"Most of the issues in this world lack expression and nothing better than music can express them without hurting any one."

(Additional reporting by Aftab Borka in Karachi)

Reuters/Nielsen

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