Salman Ahmed, Junoon

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Salman Ahmed, Junoon

From the wrong end

By Nadeem F. Paracha


Trust former Junoon guitarist and rather self-duped solo act, Salman Ahmed, to continue with his cornerstone habit of shooting himself in the foot while always trying to jump on various social and political bandwagons to remain in the picture. The latest example is Salman’s rather theatrical letter that he wrote and circulated in the media a few days ago in which he ogled venom at the MQM, alleging how the party members threatened him in the ’90s for not playing for Altaf Hussain on his birthday.

The letter is another case of Salman’s knee-jerk tendency to jump in and proclaim himself as some kind of a mistreated hero when in reality, and as usual, all he really ends up doing is sounding silly and overbearing. Especially whenever he is trying to throw his weight to push a cause espoused by his idol, Imran Khan.

Imran’s commendable boldness in trying to speak and serve the truth on various political issues almost always ends up seeing him flounder and hesitate whenever certain sticky happenings of his personal and political past are raised by his opponents. On most occasions, he’s been found speechless or simply repeating that he never claimed to be a clean and pious man in the past.

This begs the question, if such is the case, then on what moral grounds is he trying to judge the ethical, political and social behavior of others? Salman is even worse. There is nothing consistent about him, and unfortunately, good as he was as a guitarist, he isn’t good as a thinker. His band, Junoon’s early cultivated image was of a group driven by left-leaning angry young men, unafraid to write politically-tinged lyrics with a persona and posturing that flamboyantly mocked the complacency of their more apolitical and corporate-sponsored contemporaries.

However, in 1996, when Junoon decided to record their long-awaited third album, Inquilaab, it was suddenly made clear that Junoon were no more about a political revolution, but a “spiritual revolution.” What caused the shift from the political to the spiritual? As it turned out, out went old dusty books by Faiz, and in came Salman’s new-found fascination with the great Iranian Islamic scholar, Ali Shariati.

An insightful writer, Shariati was to Irans 1979 Islamic Revolution what Rousseau had been to the French Revolution. So did this mean that by “spiritual revolution” Salman meant an Islamic revolution? But more so, did this also mean Imran Khan had been reading Shariati too?

After the success of Inquilaab, Salman returned and announced he was working on a “very important song.” The song’s name was Ehtesaab (accountability). In 1995, Imran had formed a lobby with ex-ISI chief and staunch Islamist, General Hamid Gul and a number of Gul’s well-placed Islamist supporters. The lobby was to “pressure the president into taking action against the Benazir Bhutto government’s corruption through a rigorous process of accountability.”

This is another case of Salman’s knee-jerk tendency to jump in and proclaim himself as some kind of a mistreated hero when in reality, and as usual, all he really ends up doing is sounding silly and overbearing. Especially whenever he is trying to throw his weight to push a cause espoused by his idol, Imran Khan

This is the same lobby which, when it tried to approach Abdul Sattar Edhi, was rebuffed by the great philanthropist as being reactionary, fascistic and anti-democracy. Edhi also went on record, saying that since he had refused to join this lobby, his life was in danger. Surely, the lobby’s aims were far wider than just accountability?

Soon it also became clear that the idea of the song Ehtesaab was to become a campaign tune for the lobby and eventually for Imran’s brand new political party, the Tehreek-i-Insaaf, for the 1997 elections.


Some journalists present at the press conference held to launch the video of the song confronted Salman, suggesting that since his band had made great use of the Benazir Bhutto government’s liberal cultural bluster by travelling regularly with the then PTV MD, Rana Shaikh’s moving media circus, he was being hypocritical in now attacking the same government at the behest of Imran’s party.

Salman had moved from being a Faiz-thumping rock revolutionary to a “spiritual activist,” to becoming an enthusiastic part of a clearly reactionary lobby. The truth is, the threats he got from the MQM that he so emotionally, dramatically and suddenly writes about in his letter, were not even half as serious. Secondly, most pop acts (including Junoon) were more prone to get deadlier threats from religious groups for playing in concerts. In fact the threats from religious groups were far more frequent.

However, in 1997, when after allying himself with Imran Khan and Hamid Gul’s shallow “born-again” agenda, Salman actually struck a deal with the Jamaat-i-Islami’s student wing, the IJT, which helped the band in organising a concert at Nishtar Park in Karachi. Now the question is, how come if the MQM, which is so powerful in Karachi and was supposedly anti-Salman, actually allowed him to conduct a concert in the heart of one of Karachis most pro-MQM areas, and that too with the support of its arch political enemy, the Jamaat-i-Islami? Whatever happened to the threats?

It was interesting to note that at the height of the growing pop-phobia in the country, when all sorts of religious groups were threatening the land’s pop acts from Abrar-ul-Haq to Sajjad Ali, Junoon’s Nishtar Park concert was actually provided with electricity from generators donated by nearby mosques.

Salman’s swing to the right did not hamper him from eventually turning Junoon into a modern corporate puppet of a cola giant, but more disturbing was the changing nature of Junoon’s audience. Because at the start of the new millennium, a bulk of Junoon’s audiences comprised mainly the emotionally reactive youth, singularly identifying with Salman’s growingly reactionary stands on various issues but totally incapable of grasping the awkward bundle of ideological contradictions he had become.

He remains a bundle of contradictions, now more desperate than ever, especially in the event of Junoon’s lead singer, Ali Azmat, finally walking out on him due to what Ali described as Salman’s “overbearing” and “exploitative” ways.

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