Sources

Porn In Peshawar: Adult Cinema Thrives In Hotbed Of Pakistani Fundamentalism

In Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's most conservative province, billboards showing women are regularly torn down and music shops have been repeatedly bombed. So how is it that under the noses of Islamist forces, adult movie houses continue to flou

Peshawar, a city of contradictions (Mirjee)
Peshawar, a city of contradictions (Mirjee)
Zofeen Ebrahim

PESHAWAR – The half-lit room smells strongly of hashish. On the screen, a woman wearing too much make up and a clingy, provocative outfit sways her hips suggestively. The audience, made up exclusively of men, hoots and whistles. The music stops and the onscreen action starts to heat up. The crowd loses all its inhibitions. The whistles turn into hoarse moans and the chairs start to vibrate intensely.

The location is Peshawar, the capital of the most conservative province of Pakistan, and the men are watching a porn film, right under the nose of the religious political parties, the Taliban and the government.

In this province and, in particular, in Peshawar, the music shops and cafes are often the targets of bomb attacks by religious extremists. Advertising boards that show women are regularly torn down. But surprisingly, in this repressive climate, adult cinemas still manage to prosper.

"Every showing is full," says Lala Fida Mohammad Khan, a former movie producer who got out of the conventional film business because "no one wanted to watch clean films, they don't sell anymore." Mohammad Khan now manages a small cinema in Rawalpindi, a town near the capital Islamabad.

"Everyone knows what goes on in the cinemas. We organize three screenings every day. On Sundays there is even one in the morning. During the Aïd-el-Fitr festivities which mark the end of Ramadam, we increase the number of showings to five," he remarks.

But this freedom has a price. Mohammad Khan explains that cinema owners must pay hundreds of thousands of rupees in bribes to protect themselves and prevent their businesses from being shut down by the authorities.

In Peshawar, the Shama cinema belongs to the Bilour family. Some members of the family belong to the Awami National Party, a left-wing party with secular tendencies that holds a majority in the province. "They had three cinemas, one of which was attacked several years ago," said Mohammad Khan. "They then turned two of them into shopping centers, and the one that's left shows pornographic films."

Nostalgia for the golden age of "Pollywood"

The town as a whole has just nine movie houses left. And according to Aijaz Gul, a film critic, they all show adult films – except one, which is owned by the Pakistani air force. Since the Taliban established themselves in the region, two cinemas have been attacked from the street and several cinema owners have been held for ransom. "They had to pay enormous sums to be freed, but they have still not abandoned their profession."

"Pollywood," the Pashto language film industry that produces these movies, has always been known for its erotic and pornographic content "even though other genres of films used to be produced as well," says Aijaz Gul. The industry slumped over the past couple of decades following a peak in the late 1970s. Scriptwriter Younus Qiyasi has about 20 films to his name, but he decided to give up filmmaking in the 1980s, after "vulgarity and obscenity had become its trademark features."

Mohammad Khan remembers Pollywood's golden age nostalgically. The screenings would sell out days, or even weeks in advance. And most importantly, women were also amongst the cinema-goers. "There was of course a strict separation between men and women, but at least the women went," he recalls. But now, with this type of film, even if it's not porn, no woman would dare to enter the semi-darkness of the Peshawar cinemas.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Mirjee

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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