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Colourful Sindh Festival and the Shade of Grey


There is a shade of grey between the usual bashing of Bilawal and PPP by pro-Taliban Deobandi thugs and pro-establishment fake liberlas and the uncritical promotion of Sindh festival particualrly at Mohenjo Daro by some PPP loyalists.

In my personal view, genuine concerns of conservationists and Sindhi people (many of them, as a matter of fact, are sympathetic to Bilawal and the spirit of Sindh festival) must not be discarded. It’s not a case of with us or against us!

Personally while I support the Sindh festival and also clearly laud Bilawal’s bold rhetoric against Takfiri Taliban terrorists, there are three issues:

1. There is an element of superficiality to the Sindh festival and the anti-Taliban rhetoric. The main threats to Sindh culture, i.e., Deobandi and Wahhabi/Salafi cerlics and terrorists, remain untouched. Ahmed Ludhyanvi Deobandi, Hafiz Saeed Salafi and Fazlur-Rehman Deobandi have growing influence in rural and urban Sindh, and this growth remains unchecked.


Dr Ayesha Siddiqa asks:

“Do such events actually resurrect the pluralism of a society or are these mirages of pluralism that we tend to create to fool ourselves that things can be changed without bringing about structural changes?” (https://lubpak.net/archives/297955)

As a matter of fact, on the very day of the SindFest inauguration ceremony, while most eyes (of PPP’s supporters and critics) were focused on Mohenjo Daro, this was actually happening in Karachi, the political and cultural capital of Sindh: https://lubpak.net/archives/302939


2. The event was clearly a get together of elites and waderas instead of a show for Sindhi haaris and farmers. Instead of 500 members of mostly elitist backgrounds, I would have much more preferred to see 500 haaris, underclass and have nots of Khairpur, Nawabshah, Larkana and Lyari sitting in the show, being treated as VIPs by Bilawal and his team.

Who were the participants? Here’s how Rob Crilly describes them in his article in Telegraph:

Several hundred politicians, socialites and diplomats gathered at the ancient site of Mohenjodaro on Saturday night to witness an opening ceremony that combined imagery from the 5,000-year-old Indus Valley civilisation, that once dominated this part of South Asia, with dance beats and lasers. The audience was drawn from the country’s liberal elite, ferried in by chartered 737 from Karachi some 300 miles away, rather than the ordinary Pakistanis that Mr Bhutto Zardari says he wants to reach. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/10613192/Bilawal-Bhuttos-plea-for-Pakistan-we-are-not-the-Taliban.html)


In his recent note on facebook, Shahram Azhar writes:

Whose Sindh and whose culture? Culture is the manner in which we construct and reproduce our shared meanings. It is the process through which we define our identity and carve an understanding of the “self” through language, art, religion etc.

The process of constructing these meanings is not power-neutral since how we understand our self shapes our response to the world in which we live. Every national/regional culture conceals, within its shell, a culture of its elite and the culture of its subaltern groups. The gap between the two is a lot wider in post-colonial societies.

I think that Sindh Cultural Festival effectively points towards the fact that there is a lot LESS in common between the cultures of the Sindhi Hari and the Sindhi Wadaira, the Sindhi worker and the Sindhi capitalist, than the Sindhi ruling class would like us to believe.

It is only a matter of time before the oppressed in every regional sub-category of Pakistan (Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and KPK) realize that common appeals to “heritage” are one of the SOURCES through which the elite establish their economic, political and cultural hegemony over the poor. It is only a matter of time before the subaltern stands in unison facing the “keepers of culture” and pronounces: If “heritage” is the source of your power then it is a “heritage that we renounce”.

The above criticism cannot be amalgamated with and shrugged off as the right-wing or fake-liberal critique of the PPP and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. In order to revive the old socialist character of PPP, Bilawal is better advised to get rid of the elitist advisors and flatterers that currently surround him and instead develp direct links with the have-nots of the society.

3. The choice of site for the Sind festival seems to be ill advised.

According to a BBC report:

Farzand Masih, head of the Department of Archaeology at Punjab University, said such activity was banned under the Antiquity Act. “You cannot even hammer a nail at an archaeological site,” he said. “The laser and spotlights, secondly, will cause rapid decay at the site which is already exposed to many negative factors.” He added that he had declined an invitation to attend. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-25962278)

According to another news report:

Experts have warned the festival could put Moenjo Daro, a UNESCO World Heritage site built around 2,600 BC, in danger. Large wooden and steel scaffolding has been erected over and around the ruin, which UNESCO describes as “the most ancient and best-preserved ruin on the Indian subcontinent”, while heavy spotlights and lasers have been installed for a light show. The site has been transformed into a high security facility, with hundreds of police commandos surrounding the ruins. Some even stood atop the stupa, a Buddhist shrine, as workers hammered nails into a stage, an AFP reporter at the site said. (http://tribune.com.pk/story/666343/hundreds-swarm-moenjo-daro-ruins-for-sindh-festival-ceremony/)

An official statement signed by Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, Chairman of Management Board for Antiquities and Physical Heritage, Government of Sindh, confirms the threat to the 5000-year old ruins because of the ill-advised selection of the site for Sindh Fest. (http://mn37f51mvh00alp9.zippykid.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/7.jpg)


In other words, while I do not subscribe to the opportunist, right-wing bashing of Bilawal and his Sindh festival, I am concerned about the ill-advised choice of the site. PPP’s press release in this regard lacks in substance, the experts cited in the document are Sindh govt employees, pictures are themselves an evidence to the contrary. Contrast the pictures in this post with this statement in an official document released by the PPP/Sindh govt: “The stage and seating are not being installed atop the anicent ruins” said Sharmila Farooqi, advisor on culture to the Sindh CM.

I am also concerned about PPP’s lack of action to suppress the spread of Deobandi/Wahhabi ideology and radicalism in Sindh province. If PPP and Bilawal really wish to preserve Sindhi culture and values, first they need to clearly identify, arrest and punish the culture killers. In other words, Sindh government needs to nab Aurangzeb Farooqi and his Deobandi thugs who continue to kill and harass Sunni Barelvis, Shias and Hindus in Karachi, Khairpur and other parts of Sindh, and also stop JuD-LeT, ASWJ-LeJ and JUI from spreading Deobandi and Wahhabi/Salafi hate mosques and madrassahs in Sindh. Sindh is a holy land of Sunni Sufis, Shias, Hindus and is inclusive of all people living in this land including Muhajirs, Punjabis and Pashtuns. Its inclusive character must be preserved by translating at least some of the rhetoric into substantive action.










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Abdul Nishapuri


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  • Abdul Nishapuri — from facebook:

    The case of most lousy arguments is when we see some friends bashing PTI or/and PMLN and then using that generally valid criticism to try to prove that PPP is better than PTI and PMLN. Well, there’s no need to prove, at least to us, that PPP is more progressive than PTI or PMLN. However, the paramters being used for evalaution are wrong and in fact defeat the argument. The party (PPP) should be evaluated on the basis of its own performance and manifesto. That’s the only way to revive this party and make it once again relevant to the masses.

  • Unesco was against holding ceremony at Moenjodaro
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    2014-02-03 07:34:48
    ISLAMABAD: The Sindh Cultural Festival took off amid dazzling lights, but the din continues that it threatens Moenjodaro, the inaugural place of the festival listed with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a world heritage site.

    About a week before the launch of the two-week festival at Moenjodaro on Friday, the director of Unesco’s world heritage sites had described it as an ‘improper’ activity which could threaten its universal values.

    But adviser to the Sindh chief minister on culture Sharmila Farooqi said all precautions had been taken during the inaugural ceremony at the ancient site.

    Conservationists at the department of archaeology and museum said any human activity within 200 feet of any national heritage protected under the Antiquities Act 1975 was illegal.

    “The act states that not even an electric wire can pass above a national heritage, let alone installing floodlights and setting up stage on a site protected under the law,” said a senior archaeologist in Islamabad.

    The technical consultative committee of National Fund for Moenjodaro had also warned that the decision to hold inaugural ceremony at the site could cause irreparable damage to the fragile remains of Moenjodaro.

    Unesco official Jawad Aziz said the organisation’s world heritage sites director had contacted Pakistan’s permanent delegate to investigate the matter and take steps to prevent the site from any harm. “About five days ago we passed on this message to the Sindh government to safeguard the universal value of Moenjodaro,” he said, adding that they were still waiting for a response from the departments concerned.

    Asma Ibrahim, director museum of the State Bank and member of the Heritage Management Board, criticised the holding of the ceremony at Moenjodaro and said no-one had been allowed to enter the site for three days and access to it was blocked by hundreds of policemen.

    “More than 500 guests were invited to the event which continued till late night. There is no way to tell the extent of damage caused to the site. The remains of Moenjodaro are already fragile. Salinity has weakened the walls to an extent that they can collapse by even loud sound,” she said, adding that the mud-brick remains required extra care.

    Ms Ibrahim said she had tried in vain to convince Sharmila Farooqi to hold the ceremony outside the 200-foot protected area. The event had been held without obtaining a no-objection certificate from the Sindh department of archaeology, she said, adding that cases should be registered for violating the law.

    Kaleemullah Lashari, Member National Fund for Moenjodaro, wrote two back-to-back letters to the Sindh secretary for culture, tourism and antiquities warning of the damage to be caused to the ruins by the opening ceremony.

    In a letter written on Jan 30, a copy of which is available with Dawn, Mr Lashari urged the secretary to use vast lawns of the museum and offices for the ceremony, instead of protected areas of the site. “The world community does not endorse such improper activity and it will be an embarrassment if a wall of the remains collapses or any other fragile section of the remains is damaged,” the letter said.

    No conservation efforts have been undertaken at Moenjodaro for over 10 years. A better sense prevailed in 2010 when the government stopped the construction of a highway through the ancient remains believed to be as old as 4,000 BC.

    Sharmila Farooqi claimed that no harm was caused to the world heritage site. “Arrangements for the event were meticulous. All the officials concerned and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (PPP patron-in-chief) personally visited the site before the opening ceremony,” she added.

    But Asma Ibrahim said the damage could be assessed only after the government allowed access to the site which was still closed to outsiders and its caretakers.


  • This rural Sind party PPP is no good, nothing good has ever come out of this criminal family syndicate. These people are only good at sucking the life blood out of the poor but rural Sindhis. Well good for them, both of them deserve each other.

  • موئن جو دڑو پر مت رو
    وسعت اللہ خان 3 فروری 2014

    میں واقعی سمجھنے سے قاصر ہوں کہ موئن جو دڑو میں سندھ کلچرل فیسٹیول کی افتتاحی تقریب میں لائٹ اینڈ لیزر شو کے لیے الیکٹرک ٹاورز نصب کرنے اور ثقافتی پرفارمنس کے لیے ایک بڑا سا اسٹیج پانچ ہزار برس قدیم آثار کے عین درمیان بنانے اور اس کے روبرو پانچ سو وی آئی پیز کو بٹھانے اور ان کی حفاظت پر مامور دو ہزار پولیس والوں کو یہاں وہاں کھڑا کرنے سے ایسی کیا قیامت برپا ہوگئی کہ یونیسکو سے لے کے خود ساختہ سول سوسائٹی اور قوم پرستوں تک سب چیخ پڑے۔ آپ آج جا کے دیکھئے آثار ویسے کے ویسے ہی پڑے ہیں۔ گمان ہی نہیں ہوتا کہ یہاں یکم فروری کی شام کوئی رنگارنگ تقریب برپا ہوئی تھی۔
    موئن جو دڑو کے درمیان ہونے والی اس تقریب سے آثارِ قدیمہ کی پامالی پر تنقید ایسے ہے جیسے کوئی گنجا گھنے بالوں کی حمایت میں اٹھ کھڑا ہو۔جیسے باسی کڑھی میں خامخواہ ابال آجائے۔جیسے کوئی تمباکو نوش صحت مند زندگی کے راز بیان کرے۔
    حفاظت اس شے کی ہوتی ہے جسے اپنا سمجھا جائے۔ اٹھارہ کروڑ میں کتنے ہیں جو اندر سے سمجھتے ہوں کہ موئن جو دڑو، ہڑپہ ، مہر گڑھ ، ٹیکسلا کے آثار ، مکلی اور چوکنڈی جیسے تاریخی قبرستان اور افغانوں اور مغلوں سے لے کے تالپوروں تک کے قلعے ایسے ہی اہم اور متبرک ہیں جیسے ہمارے پرکھوں کی قبریں ، جیسے اولیا کے مزارات ، جیسے تاریخی مساجد ، جیسے ہمارے نانا ، دادا اور پردادا کی تصاویر اور ان کی تسبیحیں اور ان کے برتن اور ان کی باتیں۔۔۔۔
    کیا ہمیں یہ نہیں بتایا اور پڑھایا گیا کہ قبل از اسلام کی ہرنشانی باطل ہے۔تو پھر باطل نشانیوں کا احترام اور دیکھ بھال اور اس سے اپنائیت کے کیا معنی ؟
    مگر آپ میں سے کچھ ضرور کہیں گے کہ نہیں ایسا نہیں۔یہ آثار ، عمارات اور نشانیاں ہمارے خاندانی شجروں جیسے ہیں جو ہمیں نسل در نسل بتاتے ہیں کہ ہم کون تھے ، کیوں تھے ، کہاں سے آئے اور کہاں جارہے ہیں۔ہمارے پرکھوں نے کیا کیا اور ہم کیا کررہے ہیں۔
    اگر واقعی ایسا ہے تو پھر یہ فرمائیں کہ کتنے سول سوسائٹی بازوں نے ملتان کے دو ہزار سال پرانے سورج مندر کو بائیس برس پہلے منہدم کرنے والوں کا ہاتھ روکا۔بلکہ جن صاحب (پیپلز پارٹی کے مرحوم سینیٹر ملک صلاح الدین ڈوگر)کی قیادت میں یہ کارِ ثواب ہوا انھیں بلدیاتی و قومی انتخابات میں اس ثقافتی جہاد کا صلہ ووٹوں کی بارش کی شکل میں ملا۔
    آپ میں سے کتنے جانتے ہیں کہ وادیِ سندھ کی تہذیب کے نمایندہ ہڑپہ، جام پور کے دلو رائے ٹھیڑ اور چولستان کے پتن منارے کے آثار پر فصلیں دستک دینے لگی ہیں۔ٹیکسلا میں گندھارا تہذیب کے نمایندہ سدکپ شہر کے آثار کو جھاڑیوں سے بچانے کے لیے ہر سال ان جھاڑیوں کو آثارِ قدیمہ کے محافظ اہل کار آگ لگا دیتے ہیں۔چکوال کے نزدیک مہا بھارت کے زمانے کے کٹاس راج مندر ناقدرے موسموں کے رحم و کرم پر ہیں اور وہ جھیل سکڑ کے ایک چوتھائی رہ گئی ہے جو شیو دیوتا کے آنسوؤں سے وجود میں آئی جو انھوں نے اپنی بیوی ستی کی موت پر بہائے تھے۔۔مگر ان مندروں اور جھیل سے کچھ فاصلے پر کچھ عرصہ قائم ہونے والے سیمنٹ کے کارخانے نے زیرِ زمین پانی چوس لیا ہے۔اسلام آباد میں مارگلہ پہاڑی سلسلے میں ہوٹلنگ اور کمرشلائزیشن کے راکھشس نے ہزاروں برس پرانے دو غاروں کا محاصرہ کرلیا ہے جن کی دیواروں پر ہمارے آبا و اجداد نے مصوری کی۔
    مانا کہ مسلمانوں کی آمد سے پہلے کے ورثے سے بعد کی نسلوں کا کوئی تعلق واسطہ نہیں۔مگر خود مسلم ورثے کے ساتھ کیا ہوا ؟؟ پشاور کا بالا حصار قلعہ فرنٹیر کور کا صدر دفتر ہے۔اکبرِ اعظم کا اٹک قلعہ کمانڈو نگرانی میں ہے۔اور جب دور بدلتا ہے تو اس ملک کے آصف زرداریوں اور نواز شریفوں کو بھی یہاں بلا ٹکٹ مہمان رکھا جاتا ہے۔جہلم کے قریب شیرشاہ سوری کے قلعہ رہتاس کے دروازوں اور اندرونی تعمیر کو بارش اور نمی کھائے جارہی ہے۔
    لاہور کے ماتھے کا جھومر مغل فورٹ اور مغل فورٹ کا دل شیش محل۔جہاں چند برس پہلے تک غیرملکی مہمانوں کو ضیافتیں دی جاتی رہیں۔اسی فورٹ کا تاریخی دیوانِ خاص کچھ عرصے پہلے تک نجی تقریبات کے لیے دان ہوتا رہا۔پیسے اور تعلق کی طاقت سے مسلح ملٹی نیشنل کمپنیوں کے اشتہارات یہاں شوٹ ہوتے رہے۔مگر ایسے مواقع پر محکمہ آثارِ قدیمہ اکثر نوادرات و آثار کے تحفظ کے ایکٹ مجریہ انیس سو پچھہتر کو بغل میں دبا کر ضروری کام سے کہیں چلا جاتا ہے۔اور اسی قلعے کے ایک حصے کو بوقتِ ضرورت سیاسی قیدیوں کے عقوبت خانے کے طور پر بھی استعمال کیا جاتا ہے اور یہ وہ دور ہوتا ہے جب قیدی اور قلعہ اپنی حالتِ زار پر گلے مل کے چیختے ہیں۔
    اور سب سے خوبصورت ریاست بہاولپور کے وہ قلعے اور محلات کس حالت میں ہیں۔قلعہ دراوڑ باہر سے تندرست اور اندر سے ملبے کا ڈھیر۔اطالوی طرزِ تعمیر کا مظہر صادق گڑھ پیلس جہاں پچھلی صدی کی ہندوستانی و یورپی اشرافیہ کا کون سا نمایندہ مدعو نہیں ہوا آج مکمل طور پر بھوتوں کے قبضے میں ہے۔ شاہی ورثا نے اپنی دولت اپنے ہی ہاتھوں ایسے لوٹی کہ دروازے اور جالیاں تک اکھاڑ لیں۔اور جن عباسی محلات کو فوج نے گود لے لیا وہ میس کی شکل میں رات کو جھلمل کرتے ہیں۔
    سندھ میں تالپور دور کا شائد ہی کوئی قلعہ ہو جو نوحہ گر نہ ہو۔حیدرآباد کا پکا قلعہ موٹی دیواروں کے پیچھے ایک مفلوک الحال کچی بستی سے زیادہ کیا ہے ؟حیدرآباد کا کچا قلعہ سیم زدگی کی مسلسل حرمزدگی سے نبرد آزما ہے۔نوکوٹ کے قلعے میں سورج چڑھے آس پاس کے بچے کھیلتے ہیں۔ہاں ایک نیلے رنگ کا بورڈ ضرور دیوار میں جڑا ہوا ہے جس پر محکمہ آثارِ قدیمہ سندھ نامی کسی ادارے کی جانب سے قلعے میں توڑ پھوڑ کرنے والوں کو تادیبی کارروائی سے ڈرانے کی کوشش کی گئی ہے۔مگر مشکل یہ ہے کہ شام کے بعد اس قلعے میں بسیرا کرنے والے کتے بلیاں تحریر نہیں پڑھ سکتے۔عمر کوٹ کا قلعہ اور بھنبور کے آثار کہ جن کے تحفظ کا بجٹ انسانوں کی جیبوں میں اور حفاظت خدا کے ذمے ہے۔جمڑاؤ کینال کے آس پاس ریاست خیرپور کے زمانے کے جو پولیس قلعے بنائے گئے، ان کی چوکھٹیں تک چور لے گئے اور جو لکڑی اکھڑ نہیں پائی اسے جلا ڈالا۔
    اور یہ جو ہر مہینے دو مہینے بعد بندرگاہ یا کسی ایرپورٹ پر قدیم مجسمے اور نوادارت پکڑے جانے کی خبر چھپتی ہے یہ کیا ہے ؟ اور جب پولیس کو ان نوادارت کی عارضی کسٹڈی دی جاتی ہے تو جتنے مجسمے حوالے کیے جاتے ہیں کیا وہ اتنے ہی اور اسی حالت میں واپس ملتے ہیں ؟ اور یہ جو وادیِ سندھ کی قدیم تہذیب اور گندھارا پیریڈ کے مجسمے اور نوادارات یہاں سے وہاں تک کے عجائب گھروں کے کمروں اور گوداموں میں پڑے ہیں۔ ان کی آمد ، موجودگی اور غائب ہونے کا ریکارڈ کتنے عرصے بعد اور کون اپ ٹو ڈیٹ کرتا ہے۔ان میں سے کتنے اصلی بچے ہیں اور کتنے اصلی نہیں ہیں۔کتنے نجی عجائب گھروں میں کون سے نوادرات کہاں کہاں سے آئے ہیں ؟
    اچھی بات ہے کہ حکومتِ سندھ نے وفاقی حکومت سے موئن جو دڑو کی علامت ڈانسنگ گرل کو انڈیا سے واپس لینے کا مطالبہ کیا ہے۔ یہ ڈانسنگ گرل آ بھی گئی تو اسے اسلامی جمہوریہ پاکستان کی تہذیب و ثقافت کی جدید تشریح کے کس خانے میں رکھا جائے گا ؟؟؟
    جب جرمن نازیوں نے پیرس کا محاصرہ کرلیا تو انھوں نے شہریوں کو یقین دہانی کرائی کہ آپ کے ورثے کو ہاتھ نہیں لگائیں گے۔لہذا جب ہم پیرس میں داخل ہوں تو مزاحمت نہ کرنا۔نازیوں نے اپنا وعدہ نبھایا اور پیرس کو جوں کا توں رہنے دیا۔نازیوں نے جن جن ممالک پر قبضہ کیا ان کی آبادیوں پر وہ تمام مظالم کیے جو قابض قوتیں کرتی ہیں۔مگر پینٹنگز کے ذخیرے تباہ نہیں کیے بلکہ انھیں احتیاط کے ساتھ برلن منتقل کردیا۔جب اتحادیوں نے برلن پر قبضہ کیا تو شہر کھنڈر بن چکا تھا مگر مقبوضہ پینٹنگز کا بیشتر ذخیرہ تہہ خانوں میں محفوظ تھا۔۔۔
    اقبال کا دل تو اپنے آبا کی کتابیں لندن میں دیکھ کر بہت تلملایا۔لیکن خدا کا شکر ہے کہ انگریز برِصغیر کا جتنا ثقافتی و تاریخی خزانہ لوٹ کے لے جا سکتا تھا لے گیا۔ورنہ یہ سب کب کا غتربود ہوچکا ہوتا۔اگر یہ بات کسی کو بری لگتی ہے تو لگے۔مگر پھر اپنے بچوں کو یہ کہہ کر سمندرپار نہ بھیجے کہ ہم تو جیسے کیسے جی رہے ہیں تم تو اپنا مستقبل خراب نہ کرو۔
    ارے ہاں۔۔۔جو لوگ سندھ فیسٹیول کے نام پر موئن جودڑو کے آثار کی پامالی و بے حرمتی پر آٹھ آٹھ آنسو رو رہے ہیں ،کیا وہ اگلی عید الفطر پر ان آثار میں ون ویلنگ کرنے والے سیکڑوں مقامی من چلوں کو روک پائیں گے۔سنا ہے کئی نوجوان شرط لگا کر موٹرسائیکل بدہسٹ اسٹوپا کی بلندی تک بھی لے جاتے ہیں۔


  • Mohenjodaro – Our Sindh Correspondent: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has vowed to undo the mess that his parents and grandfather created in Pakistan, Khabaristan Today has learnt. Bilawal was discussing the Sindh Festival in Moenjodaro which according to the PPP chairman was the “first step towards eradicating the legacy of his immediate ancestors.”

    “I might be going all daredevil on the Taliban recently but I realise that Mama, Papa and Grandpa had their part to play in nurturing religious extremism in this country. I’m all out to undo the mess that they created and festivals like the one in Moenjodaro, is one of many such projects planned to counter fundamentalism.”

    Bilawal mentioned how his grandfather rammed Islam in 1973’s constitution and capitulated in front of the Mullahs by excommunicating Ahmadis in 1974 and banning alcohol in the country. “Clearly his own political career was dearer to him than the future of religious minorities in Pakistan. We can blame Zia all we want, but Grandpa set the ball rolling by declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims. Succumbing to the Mullah is probably his most influential legacy.”

    The PPP chairman then brought his parents under the gun, “We must not forget that it was Mama and Naseerullah uncle that actually created the Taliban. And of course Papa presided over the Swat deal in 2009, after we’d actually defeated the Taliban. So my immediate ancestors have created some serious mess that I will try to undo.”

    When asked how he was planning on going about undoing the mess, Bilawal said, “When you have people like Nawaz and Imran, it’s not particularly difficult to sound like an anti-Taliban revolutionary. I’ll let my tweets and Super Sindhi Man shirt do the talking.”


  • The privatisation of culture
    Afiya Shehrbano Zia February 9, 2014 Leave a comment

    After the slow and reluctant realisation that neither Islam nor the Army are likely to save Pakistan from itself, many from our elite class now invest hope in this abstraction called ‘culture’

    The privatisation of culture
    Money defines culture and associated class interests.
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    An editorial in a self-acclaimed liberal newspaper celebrates the start of the 5th Karachi Literature Festival. It claims that the KLF revives the dying cultural habits of middle class Pakistanis. It laments how in the absence of Pakistani state support, this free-to-all, (predominantly English language, exclusive hotel and text-based) peoples’ event has to be rescued by corporate and foreign embassy sponsorship. On the back page of the same paper, the ongoing Sindh Festival is advertised as a public event to revive pride in our culture. Both festivals promote the idea of public culture as a political instrument and yet, are defined according to a certain market logic.
    Clearly, money defines culture and associated class interests. Under the Sindh Festival, the Mohatta mushaira, fashion festival, ghazal night, film festival are priced events. Free access to the beach that we fought for some years ago, is now the venue for a paid Basant event, as is the Baradari for a paid sufi music event a site for which conservationists fought so as to prevent private functions, such as weddings, from being held there.
    Then there are the left-over cultural events. Free, low culture events for the masses and priced, high culture ones for the privileged fewer. Art, music, donkey derby, fishing and cricket tournaments may be observed for free. But public sites may be privatised and monetised if done for a ‘higher’ cultural purpose and if organised by the right member of the elite.
    Public culture is very different from the privatised lens through which festival organisers in Pakistan see it. That is why the main bent of these events is really a continuation of the latest trend — to privatise everything, including culture. Then it is masked as for the benefit of the people — as if we are all equal consumers.
    This notion that all cultural activity is a symbol of a progressive vanguard that resists a barbaric rearguard was a theme mastered by the Musharraf regime. Urban elite latched on to this willingly.
    In our current environment, with the virtual death of the social sciences or academic events, in the flood of repeat development conferences and in the successful replacement of a reading culture with a talk show culture, the Karachi Literature Festival makes perfect sense. This is because it masquerades as the intellectual panacea for the cultural ennui Pakistanis are suffering due to the ‘social and security situation’. It is apt that the KLF has become the meta-narrative of ‘literature for a cause’, as it merges several disciplines and lumps them together in this postmodernist merger called the Karachi Literature Festival.
    There is nothing wrong with having a big party of intellectuals that is the envy of the collective Defense and Cliftonian drawing rooms but to pretend that this is to promote something called culture, peace or development is to be delusional. It is essentially a corporate event that promotes its multinational sponsors and whose target audience is the bourgeois elite of a city. Make no mistake, this class needs the education (and the capitalist logic of peace to safeguard their interests) but why does such an event pretend to be anything more than that?
    Culture as Resistance
    After the slow and reluctant realisation that neither Islam nor the Army are likely to save Pakistan from itself, many from our elite class now invest hope in this abstraction called ‘culture’. This is meant to serve as the shield that will protect us from the capture of public, intellectual and economic spaces by the counter-cultural forces represented by an amorphous thing called, ‘Talibanisation’.
    This notion of all cultural activity as a symbol of a progressive vanguard resisting a barbaric rearguard was a theme mastered by the Musharraf regime. Pakistan’s urban elite latched on to this willingly. Whenever this myth is challenged, it is dismissed as negativism. In reality, the idea that high culture is political resistance is simply a ploy, to deflect the guilt of the liberals who like to believe they are solving socio-political problems through charity, entertainment or consumerism. This is like the Paris Hilton alternative to solving an economic crisis by shopping even more. This delusion is amplified even more by that oxymoron which multinationals use to bluff local elites all the time — corporate responsibility.
    Some years ago, a critic took exception to my critique of the celebration of any cultural activity no matter how elite and narrow as, “intellectual adventurism” on my part. Admittedly, this is the most polite crime one could be accused of and somehow not quite the insult it may have been meant to be. In any case, in the form of a letter to the editor, this is what she wrote in response to my article; “Your whole premise is that KARA [film festival] is a mere cultural activity and has no political resonance. Cultural practices, however trivial, traverse into the political realm…”
    I have no idea what that means. Dancing at a private wedding in Karachi is ‘trivial’ but does not “traverse into” and has absolutely nothing to do with the political realm. However, dancing at a private wedding in Kohistan, if captured on video and made public, has deadly political implications. In between these instances, dancing at the Arts Council or at a demonstration at a press club while celebrating women’s day, is an act of political subversion and is not trivial, either in intent or in political terms. Similarly, the holding of a mushaaira or even a book launch in Peshawar is political because of the specific context, site, location and background. Also because of the controversy associated with the author. These are not trivial in intent or goal — they are distinctly political, unlike apolitical cultural activities.
    So the letter writer goes on to admit, in a sort of contradictory manner that, “Any cultural acts of resistance are a contextual affair. The context, however, cannot be narrowly defined.” Say what? The context of Kohistan is very specific — can we really compare dancing in Karachi, Kohistan and Swat and argue that we cannot narrow down and distinguish between each context? What qualifies as political resistance in one context does not translate into the same in another. This kind of limited thinking is unfortunately, common. One Pakistani English language novelist spent an evening arguing with me over how drinking alcohol in a defense society drawing room qualified as ‘liberalism’ because of the ‘context’ — that is, given that we are all such prisoners of forced State abstinence.
    Ultimately, the letter writer reduced the entire argument down to our intellectuals’ favourite resort — personalisation. She suggested outright that mine was “a personal feud” with the organisers of the film festival and this became the topic of much drawing room gossip thereafter. Death of ideas by Social Exclusion rather than exhausting intellectual engagement is a game that the upper classes excel at. The KLF is the perfect venue for social inclusion of the literary upper class where we surround ourselves with self-congratulations, applause and class camaraderie — maybe some disparagement of state and government but no self-irony, introspection nor debate.
    Maybe there is some irony in a festival that is for social butterflies which features a The Diary of a Social Butterfly but that’s probably about the extent of it. There is always some token Indian author but no recollection or representation of our Persian nor Bengali literary historicism.
    The public event of Faiz mela struggles for contributions from us, the film festival collapses after Musharraf’s enlightened moderation is replaced by a democratic civilian governance but the literature festivals thrive with considerable foreign investment and multinational sponsorship.
    Ironically, many of the moderators and speakers are self-avowed anti-imperialists and critics of such high brow culture yet, they lend legitimacy to such activity that masks itself as progressive activism. On the one hand, Pakistani activists and NGOs are targeted by ‘radical’ commentators and left sympathisers for being collaborators of imperialism because they have transnational linkages and/or, depend on donor funds, yet they are silent over the upright left leaders who actively participate at and lend political legitimacy to such corporate events.
    This year the KLF has announced three prizes — the Coca-Cola Best Non-Fiction Book Prize; the Embassy of France Prize for the best English fiction and; a Peace Prize for the book that best promotes peace, regardless of literary worth.
    Sufism — The Mickey Mouse Fight Against Taliban
    In 2009, Aaker Patel writing for The News wrote this; “The BBC carried a report last month titled ‘Can Pakistan’s Sufi tradition resist the Taliban?’ No, it can’t. Sufism can no more fight the Taliban than Mickey Mouse. Sufism is flight. It is escape. Those of us who have watched the ecstasy unfold at Nizamuddin Awliya and Baba Shah Jamal and a million heretical shrines in India, Hindu and Muslim, know that most of us can only be weekend Sufis. Sufism’s message of wahdat ul-wajood leads us away from doctrine, and that is an intellectual journey.
    Sufism cannot fight because it makes no demands, and it has no daily ritual. It also respects Sharia, and can live besides it quite comfortably. The great Chishti Sufis of Delhi were namazis.”
    Farooq Sulehria in his excellent article makes a similar argument against the misplaced notion of pluralistic Sufiism and Sufi festivals as the antidote to religious militancy.
    In addition to agreeing with Sulehria and Patel, I’ve also maintained that there is no evidence that sufi Islam as coopted by the state, the corporate sector or peaceniks will be any less patriarchal than any other branch of Islam. What is the material base of Sufiism?
    Not a member of this club
    Sulehria also makes the point that when dictators become discredited, so does the culture that they patronised and this is the process of de-authenticating some cultural expressions.
    Right up until the Lawyers’ Movement, collaboration rather than resistance was the liberals’ agenda under Musharraf’s dictatorship. Festivals under his regime were symbolic and literal historical examples of this trend. Of course, they were always cultural activities but not acts of political resistance. Why try to put this false mantle on and redefine them?
    The trouble with expanding the realm of politics to include all ‘trivial’ expressions of culture is that it falls to this level then. It dilutes politics itself.
    Those who despair of critique and call upon a united stand against the “barbarians at the gate”, like my letter writing critic, have this to say;
    “During the Zia era, a political culture gained momentum when like minded people had the clarity of purpose. I’d rather that you use your gift of expression and intellect in a manner that contributes to what I presume to be a common cause.”
    This is what our elite dream of — commonality, consensus, conformity, conservatism and a whipped up dollop of cultural cream to top it off. Under the Zia era, culture did not ‘gain momentum’ at all — it was crushed, retarded and buried under censorship and vigilantism. That cultural activities became a vehicle for women to reclaim public space and expression, was because they were motivated by and used it as an act of political resistance.
    Despite the courage and contributions of that generation of resistance activists, I maintain that we have not recovered nor expanded our victories. Instead, we have privatised these on every level. Gender rights, cultural activities, intellectual dialogue — all of these have retreated into published reports, conference rooms, drawing rooms, chat rooms, twitter, facebook, private screenings and now, literature festivals by the sea. The hallmark of these events is limited audiences, limited themes, self-appeasement, applause and an insular feel-good sense that we are doing something.
    Sure, it’s something. But for whom and what ‘common cause’? The upper class Pakistani public intellectual is really most comfortable in the private sanctuaries of like-minded gatherings. Challenge them to a debate, disagree, critique or ask thorny questions and you are disrupting, being adventurous, deliberately provocative or just plain difficult.
    No wonder the KLF has nominated a peace prize for the book that promotes peace. This despite the fact that the most successful revolutions in history have been inspired by revolutionary, not peaceful literature.


  • This ‘culture’

    Farooq Sulehria
    Tuesday, February 04, 2014
    From Print Edition

    70 54 13 1

    This ‘culture’When official and unofficial Talibanisation is eating up every available space for artistic expression, it apparently becomes difficult to summarily dismiss spectacles staged in the name of culture. It becomes even more problematic to critically analyse a cultural activity when it has to be rescued from the charge of vulgarity as has been the case with the PPP-sponsored Sindh Festival at Moenjodaro.

    My problem with the Sindh Festival is not some random kiss or tasteless dances that have offended the clergy and the urban Taliban’s sensibilities. I take issue with Bilawal Bhutto’s attempt to commission ‘culture’ in its most banal and trivialised form to build an image for himself.

    In the first place, juxtaposing sufism and Talibanist barbarism is problematic in itself. Not every sufi order, or individual sufi, has been as pluralistic as is often romantically projected. Also, most sufi orders have a history of conformist reconciliation to authority. Such dissenting voices as Sarmad Shaheed or Shah Inayat have been few and far between. Moreover, institutionalised sufism delineated by pirs in control of lucrative gaddis and shrines symbolises ignorance, backwardness and exploitation. Lastly, the centrality assigned to otherworldliness in sufi philosophy is a recipe for disaster from a working class perspective. It teaches escape when what is required is to struggle and fight back.

    What, however, is indeed problematic is the de-authentication of culture when it is exploited to serve anti-people rulers. The Musharraf dictatorship also made a vulgar attempt to tap ‘sufi culture’ to build a counter-Taliban image to hide its para-Taliban character. Ironically, the National Sufi Council created by the military genius of Gen Musharraf was provided with Shujat Hussain as its chairman!

    When military dictators and such corrupt, inefficient governments as we have in Sindh, employ this ‘sufi culture’ for their ulterior political motives, it stands de-authenticated and discredited. De-authenticated because humanist, ascetic sufi teachings cannot be subscribed to either by dictatorships that are constructed upon conservatives such as Shujaat Hussain or the Sindh government consisting of exploitative feudal lords.

    When dictators and politicians are discredited, the ‘culture’ they have subscribed to is also discredited. Most importantly, whatever appears to be going against the officially-sponsored culture potentially becomes a symbol of resistance. In the absence of progressive alternatives, it should not surprise anyone if the Sindhi youth, disgusted by the PPP government, begins to enlist with the Taliban as an act of resistance. In other words, the PPP-sponsored ‘sufi culture’ may boomerang.

    I have almost similar problems with ‘Lit Fests’, as they are fashionably called. While the ritualistic one in Jaipur has recently concluded, its Karachi clone is about to start. While only a Taliban fanatic can oppose such an event especially when book reading is on the decline, the elitist – hence exclusionary – character of literature festivals is hard to ignore.

    The worth of a ‘Lit Fest’ is determined by the celebrities it attracts. It is like judging a film by the revenue it generates. Equally problematic is corporate sponsorship. Last year, I had the chance to attend the Jaipur Literature Fest (JLF). A life-size hoarding at the entry gate had listed over 50 sponsors of the event, most of them multinationals. These imperial authors of Indian misery wash their sins at the JLF annually.

    I would be interested in knowing if any author, celebrity or otherwise, has ever boycotted a Lit Fest on the question of multinational sponsors plundering the entire south.

    What, however, is the worst aspect is not even elitism and commercialisation. It is their unorganic, alien character. These Lit Fests may manufacture celebrities. But it takes a progressive writers movement to produce a Faiz or a Manto.

    The writer is a freelancecontributor.

    Email: mfsulehria@hotmail.com


  • Mr Zardari, tear down this wall

    Aakar Patel
    Sunday, March 08, 2009
    From Print Edition

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    Allama Iqbal imagined Pakistan as a utopia in northwest India where Punjabis would do ijtihad and read Nietzsche. The Quaid-e-Azam ordered a Pakistan where religion would cease to be a matter for the state. But both men saw something magnificently dormant in the character of India’s Muslims, which would flower in isolation.

    Iqbal returned from Europe in 1908 ashamed by the fall of Islam. He thought its return to glory could come through expelling the polluting influence of Indian culture. Iqbal understood our culture. In 1904, he wrote the song that still defines our culture best (Tarana-e-Hindi), and he translated Gayatri Mantra, the talismanic chant of the Upanishad, from Sanskrit. But Europe taught him that our culture was unable to compete. Muslims needed to break out. In 1910, he wrote Tarana-e-Milli.

    Jinnah didn’t understand our culture much, but he thought that Muslims were a separate nation from Hindus, and could become modern once they were separated from India’s archaic culture. Both the poet and the lawyer thought that the solution to progress was to stop being Indian.

    Iqbal died in 1938, Jinnah died in 1948. It would be illuminating to see their reaction as they flipped through a current issue of Nawa-i-Waqt (would have to be translated for Jinnah), the guardian of the ideology of Pakistan.

    The Pakistan of Iqbal won against the Pakistan of Jinnah. Jinnah’s imaginary Pakistan was sent into the night with a pat on the head by Liaquat and the peerless Shabbir Usmani chanting their Qarardad-e-Maqasid, 60 years ago this month.

    Now full-dress Sharia is upon Swat and the Punjabi’s head is cocked towards the frontier in curiosity. The world holds its breath.

    The danger of Talibanisation to Punjab does not come from the Pakhtun and his gun. Pakistan is 60 per cent Punjabi. Pakhtuns are only 15 per cent of its population and 20 per cent of its army. The danger to Pakistan comes from its inability to resist the pure ideas of the Pakhtun, of whom the Punjabi especially is enamoured. Talibanisation is happening in the mind. There is no resistance to it for two reasons: one is the lyrical call of Sharia which Muslims are drawn to in their quest for utopia. This will not change.

    The second is the deliberate amputation of its own culture by the Pakistani state. This can change. Those who think Pakistan can resist the Taliban intellectually should look at the sequence on culture that unfolded after 1947.

    Jinnah, one could say, stifled the voice of culture by giving Urdu a monopoly in 1948. Those who followed him beheaded it by banning freedom of religion (Liaquat in 1949), Indian cinema (Ayub in 1965), alcohol (Bhutto in 1977) and immorality (Zia in 1979). Under Nawaz Sharif in 1992, Pakistan banned the economy citing Riba, but the deranged state saved itself by lying, acting on the instinct of self-preservation, which by now was in short supply. The jihad in Kashmir under Benazir and then Musharraf completed the project of India as foreign and enemy and Indian culture as ‘kufr’, in the Pakistani mind.

    But what is the culture of Pakistan? Do Pakistanis own a tradition of music and dance that is separate from India’s?

    Mehdi Hasan and Ghulam Ali (who told me this on a flight to Bombay from Ahmedabad) enjoy performing in India because Pakistan’s middle-class is mostly illiterate about raag and taal. But this is our inheritance from the Sam Ved and from Amir Khusro. Why should it be disowned by Pakistanis?

    High culture is rooted in tradition, and that is the first thing the religious state attacks. There is no culture of north Indian classical dance, Kathak, in Pakistan. Dance in general is absent (though apparently it is quite popular with Mehsud men, presumably grooving to the rhythm of pop-popping Kalashnikovs) because physical expression tends to be sensual and therefore deemed un-Islamic.

    Culture is expression: the expending, the release of emotion that is drawn out through the desire for expression. Through words, through movement, through emotion, through music. Its expression is unique to cultures and in north India and Pakistan we have our unique culture: Indo-Persian (with stress on Indo).

    Culture does not directly resist extremism; it only makes extremism difficult to penetrate by diverting the mind. The only way to fight extremism is through reason, but South Asians are not particularly good at reason because we don’t understand its vocabulary. Culture softens us, not in a bad way, and makes us less suicidal, which is a state where pristine religion leads us through its demand of purity.

    We have no capacity to soften religion through reason because of our dependence on the great jurists of the 8th and 9th centuries. Iqbal spoke of the possibility of ijtihad, but how much ijtihad can happen in Pakistan, and for that matter in India, in defiance of Imam Azam?

    The BBC carried a report last month titled ‘Can Pakistan’s Sufi tradition resist the Taliban?’ No, it can’t. Sufism can no more fight the Taliban than Mickey Mouse. Sufism is flight. It is escape. Those of us who have watched the ecstasy unfold at Nizamuddin Awliya and Baba Shah Jamal and a million heretical shrines in India, Hindu and Muslim, know that most of us can only be weekend Sufis. Sufism’s message of wahdat ul-wajood leads us away from doctrine, and that is an intellectual journey.

    Sufism cannot fight because it makes no demands, and it has no daily ritual. It also respects Sharia, and can live besides it quite comfortably. The great Chishti Sufis of Delhi were namazis.

    But the Talib cannot live beside Sufism. He will bomb the shrine of Rahman Baba. And now he has brought his war to Lahore’s Liberty Chowk. The message will come through to Punjab as it did in Swat: peace through Sharia.

    How will Pakistanis resist the Talib’s hypnotic call? The problem in Pakistan is not that the Sri Lankan team got attacked; terrorism is truly global and affects us all. The problem is that Pakistanis are the only people in the world still unconvinced about who did it. Even intellectuals who are published in its newspapers convinced themselves through a convoluted or paranoid logic that ‘Muslims cannot do this’.

    What should be said instead is: this is not us. And it really isn’t.

    We have one of the world’s richest cultures of literature, music and dance. Pakistanis need to embrace it; it lies across the border. Bollywood is not just a film industry; it is the dispenser of Indo-Persian culture, and its voice; it is not in Bombay by accident. Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor would spend more time in Lahore’s courts defending themselves against fahashi, as did Manto, than on sets shooting. This difference in environment is not limited to cinema.

    Pakistan can legitimately claim to have produced better classical poetry than India. But why? Independent Pakistan’s great poets, Faiz and Faraz, sang of protest, because they had much to protest about. Independent India’s great poets, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar, Shailendra and Anand Bakshi sing of love, because they operate in the natural cultural environment of South Asia. Pakistan’s poets do not. But its being across the border doesn’t mean that what’s produced in Bollywood is not Pakistani culture. It was before 1965.

    Musharraf opened up Pakistan’s media, Zardari should open up India’s media to Pakistan. Not the news channels, the entertainment ones. He should leave in place the ban on India’s news channels (for that matter, being deprived of their news channels for a while would benefit Indians also). And he should open the borders more generally.

    Pakistan should not wait for this to be reciprocal. After the savage attacks in Bombay, India will not immediately let Pakistanis freely onto its soil. But Pakistan should open itself up to India’s people, culture, tourists (they will come in droves) and trade. This does not mean surrender. Pakistan should remain a strong, sovereign Muslim nation.

    But it must let loose its secret weapon on the Taliban. And that is our culture, our Indo-Persian heritage. We built it. We own it; we should own up to it.

    Forget Tarana-e-Milli. Let’s sing Tarana-e-Hind-o-Pak. Allama Iqbal would approve, and so, I suspect, would Jinnah.

    The writer is a former newspaper editor who lives in Bombay. Email: aakar. patel@ gmail.com
    – See more at: http://archive.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=166244&Cat=9&dt=3/8/2009#sthash.7bW62QoR.dpuf

  • Bilawal Bhutto on Pakistani politics
    Renaissance man
    Feb 6th 2014, 22:20 by J.B. | MOHENJODARO

    MODELS in skimpy outfits, dancing around a fiery cauldron in a strange homage to an ancient, pre-Islamic past…is not most people’s idea of how to launch a political career in Pakistan.
    But Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 25-year-old heir to one of the country’s two great political parties, has picked shock tactics and showbiz pizazz to introduce himself to the country he hopes one day to lead.

    Last week the son of Benazir Bhutto, who was twice the prime minister before her assassination, launched a festival to celebrate the culture of his home province of Sindh. It is his first real foray into public life and the first time he gets to call all the shots. His previous outings and speeches had largely been stage-managed by the old guard of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which was first led by his grandfather 1967.

    The two-week programme is packed with all sorts of jolly entertainments, including Sufi music concerts, donkey-cart racing and kite-flying on Karachi’s beachfront. All have been carefully chosen to annoy Pakistan’s rampant religious right as much as possible.

    Saturday was the big opening event. A few hundred guests were flown from Karachi for a glitzy opening ceremony on the ruins of Mohenjodaro, one of the world’s oldest cities.

    With the city’s giant citadel illuminated as a backdrop, the crowd was treated to thrusting Bollywood-style dance routines, big musical numbers—and that curious, pagan tableau of models, who were attempting to represent a civilisation that faded away 2,000 before the rise of Islam.

    It was slick, fun and utterly disingenuous. Billed as a fiesta designed to raise funds for the preservation of a vulnerable 5,000-year-old ruin, it horrified conservationists who complained the event would damage the site. And many of the acts were only loosely connected to the Sindhi culture Mr Bhutto Zardari wants to promote.

    But it succeeded in thrusting Mr Bhutto Zardari into the limelight at a time when he remains on the edge of formal politics. Although the PPP is nothing without the Bhutto brand, it is not yet his to toy with. His father, Asif Ali Zardari, remains predominant. For the time being Mr Bhutto Zardari is officially the PPPs “patron in chief” and he says he will not contest a parliamentary seat until 2018.

    To advertise the festival his home town of Karachi has been plastered with his image, including posters depicting him as Superman—his highly idiosyncratic marketing campaign has pinched as its logo the famous “S” from the suit of Krypton’s most famous extra-terrestrial.

    His team has produced some equally mischievous videos, including one of him in full mock-dictator mode, portentously declaring a “cultural coup”.

    Most of all, the festival has been an excuse to set out Mr Bhutto Zardari’s stall as the only front-rank politician in Pakistan who is prepared to condemn militants unequivocally, along with their allies among the right-wing religious parties who would heartily disapprove of all the fun his guests were having at Mohenjodaro.

    “The government has to establish the writ of the state, the government has to fight for territorial space,” he told The Economist.

    “But the societal space and the cultural space that we have ceded over time—that we need to start reclaiming, and that is what I hope Sindh Fest and efforts like this will become.”

    It’s a bold and refreshing message in a country where most politicians have been intimidated into silence.

    But it is not clear whether championing a beleaguered liberal secularism is the answer to the many problems of the PPP, which has been in a sorry state since losing power in last May’s elections.

    Wiped out in a landslide victory by the country’s other great party, the Nawaz Sharif faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), it has shrunk back into its heartland of rural Sindh province.

    A lacklustre performance by its MPs (still only just clinging on to their status as the second-biggest party in parliament) has seen the leadership of the de facto opposition pass to Imran Khan, the right-wing former cricket star who is often accused of going soft on the Taliban; his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party won more votes than the PPP.

    The party is still dominated by an old guard now strongly associated in the public mind with corruption and incompetence. During Saturday’s show Mr Bhutto Zardari was flanked by one prime minister who had been sacked by the Supreme Court and another facing corruption charges.

    Like his mother before him, he will eventually have to get rid of the oldies and bring in his own people.

    A larger problem is rapid social change in Pakistan, which has tended to help the right-wing religious killjoys he despises. Millions of people have been dislocated from their traditional lives in the countryside are flooding to the cities. Their mass movement coincides with the rise of austere Islamic sects inspired and financed by the petro-dollars of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

    A survey of 18- to 29-year-olds conducted in 2013 found that young Pakistanis are very conservative, with 64% describing themselves as religious or conservative and 38% wanting to see the introduction of Sharia law.

    Mr Bhutto Zadari’s riposte: that religious parties have never succeeded in winning more than a handful of seats and the PPP would have done better last year if it had been free to campaign without death threats from the Pakistani Taliban.

    “There is a disconnect between the elected representatives and the voice of the people,” he insists.

    Nonetheless, sceptics wonder whether Mr Bhutto Zardari, an Oxford graduate who spent most of his life abroad, and in Pakistan is encumbered by an oppressive security detail, is aware of how much the country has changed.

    The pious, business-friendly nationalism of the PML-N under Nawaz Sharif would appear better suited to vote-getting. The current prime minister, who campaigned on a fanciful plan to talk the Pakistani Taliban into peace, has succeeded in dominating the vote in populous Punjab province, where the PPP will have to regain support if it is ever to win again.

    Mr Sharif’s daughter, Maryam, is being groomed for a life in politics. Although she lacks the charisma of Mr Bhutto Zardari, she proved herself to be an effective and popular campaigner during last year’s election.

    Nawaz and Benazir spent most of their careers, from the 1980s until Ms Bhutto’s assassination in 2007, locked in a political struggle. Bilawal and Maryam are next in queue.


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