Last week I was in Quetta in connection with a seminar on the Mother and Child Programme. Whoever heard that I was heading for Quetta looked a little askance and thought I needed my head examined as though I was going to some risky jungle and did not perceive all the dangers that stood lurking in such a proposition. But, whatever else one may say about the military, their offspring like me do develop a certain affinity with all the cities that they have lived in and perceive everywhere as home. Thus, all the security nonsense was scoffed at and flight reservations made for Quetta.
The visit turned out to be as good as I thought it would be. For one it was going down memory lane and while the city is now marred by ugly barricades and such stuff – the ordinary people, the fabulous and abundant dry fruit, bright sunshine in the chilly December mornings were all as good as I remembered them. The people of Balochistan do not want to be ignored and forgotten by the rest of us. They too want to develop and have equal opportunities for growth and be a part of all that is mainstream. (For starters, there should be better air connectivity between our provincial and federal capital cities). The current provincial government is trying its best to move forward and make a difference. Three provincial ministers came to the seminar. All of them young, energetic and committed to making a change. The minister for Health, Mir Rehmat Shah Baloch, spoke at length about remaining undeterred by any threats and promised to provide better healthcare for each and every corner of the spread-out province.
Coincidentally, Amjad Islam Amjad was there for an event and it was wonderful to exchange opinions with him as he was staying at the same hotel. Amjad Sahib felt that there should be more efforts at exposure and familiarizing of the culture, customs and folklore of each province for the students of all regions of Pakistan. While this advantage is afforded to the families of the Armed Forces, it is denied to the great majority leading to poorer understanding of one another. He lamented that while the children going to expensive private schools in big cities are all happily familiar with fictional heroes like Harry Potter they were quite ignorant of popular legends and heroes of our different regions. We have to make focused efforts at amalgamation and integration from basic levels now to be able to see the results in the future.
December every year also reminds us of the break-up of Pakistan. We have travelled the distance of 42 years and have, to a great extent, realized all the reasons for why it happened; objectively, dispassionately and realistically. We saw that with the passage of time the bond that existed between us and our Bengali friends before the divide, resurfaced and, in fact, healed. But, for some odd reason, our Parliament felt compelled to pass a resolution against the hanging of a Jamiat-e-Islami cleric in Dhaka who was convicted by their court for war crimes. While the JI here has no qualms in vociferously protesting against the drone attacks because it deems it interference by the US in our internal affairs, it does not see the protestations against the court verdict of an independent country in the same light. What help did it do? It revived all the bitter and ugly memories of 1971. It was like reliving the nightmare of that terrible time as one saw the largescale burning of the Pakistan flag and the storming of Pakistan’s High Commission in Dhaka. Even as I write these lines an advisory has been issued to Pakistanis in Bangladesh against going out to public places. Was there any need for this at a time when we are trying so hard to mend fences with all the neighbouring countries? What’s more, it has brightened the chances of Shiekha Hasina winning the next elections. The foreign office will have a lot of work on its hands if that happens in BD and Narindera Modi wins in India! We will really be sandwiched between friends then!
Now about the upcoming Sindh Festival in February. It is a given that the politics of South Asia remains hostage to inheritance and political parties and positions are inherited like property. Families like to keep things confined to them. It is not the best thing to happen, but for the moment it continues on this pattern and unlikely to change in the very near future. So while we mourn and groan about the 25 year old Chairman of the PPP, he and his sister Bakhtawar anchored the launch programme of the Sindh Festival in Karachi and in the process also finally found work which is appropriate for both of them and the country.
They are Benazir Bhutto’s children and the renown that this brings to them places them at an advantageous position. The idea of promoting the indigenous arts and culture of the province of Sindh and Pakistan is laudable and the Bhutto–Zardari name will help in making it a reality. It is the considered opinion of many that festivals such as the one planned has nothing but positive outcomes. It showcases our heritage, it releases creative energy, it harnesses talent and generally projects the soft image of the country. I also thought it is a good idea to celebrate Basant in Sindh too. Basant, or the heralding of Spring and the kite flying festival, which is so loved across the board in Punjab has been banned for a number of years by the Shahbaz Sharif government because of deaths in accidents. It is unfair. Just as it would be inappropriate to ban driving of cars because of road accidents it is unfair to ban a joyous festival for that reason. The answer lies in making stringent rules and ensuring everyone abides by them rather than this arbitrary ban. So BBZ here is wishing you a fabulously successful projection of Pakistan through the Sindh Festival in February.
The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.