By Mehr F. Husain
February 7, 2014
W HILE peace talks remain a miracle to be seen and the pressure for war intensifies, another form of communication is emerging in Pakistan. A gentler yet louder message is being broadcast for the world to hear: Pakistan, home to a young nation ( polls indicate more than half of the population is under 35), can no longer be solely defined by terrorism.
This new kind of communication started in October 2013 in the KPK province when Imran Khan hosted a T20 cricket match as a peace initiative.
The stadium, which had not hosted a happy event for too long a painful period, was packed with families desperate for some form of entertainment which did not include political shows, televised or otherwise. It was clear the people were fed up with politics and craved an activity that was not a matter of life and death. That match gave them a glimpse of what it meant to participate in an activity as normal, peaceful Pakistanis.
Come 2014 and the future of the country doesn’t look too good. Currently, the government is desperately pushing for peace talks and the nation is divided over how the Taliban ought to be dealt with— interestingly both the state and society are reluctant to engage the TTP in a war. But, more importantly, this is a country grappling with a severe identity crisis.
This has largely come about because of experiments conducted by past rulers, including
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who tried Islamic socialism, Zia ul Haq who used religion and Musharraf his enlightened moderation.
Nothing has helped the Pakistani people find a unifying identity, creating an existential crisis which has been exploited by those promoting an Arab identity.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has spearheaded a festival which seeks to remind Pakistanis and inform the international community of Sindhi heritage and what it entails. He labels it as a ‘ cultural coup’ which aims to remind the Pakistani people of who they are, what their history is and what their traditions are as a means to combat the rising Talibanisation of the people and reject the idea of an ‘ Arab’ identity. This has involved hosting an event amongst the ruins of Mohenjodaro, one of the world’s first urban cities.
While KPK sent out the message for peace, Sindh is sending out a message of tolerance and love consisting of a kiss on stage and celebrating an indigenous culture, all of which has been broadcast bravely provoking questions about how a peaceful festival can bring about negative reactions from people who are silent in the face of mass murder, genocide and terrorism. It essentially communicates to the Taliban and their sympathisers that they cannot take what is not theirs, nor can they rewrite an ancient history or redefine an already established identity.
But the festival has brought about criticism and scorn.
Instead of taking pride in such an initiative, it has exposed the reactionary mindset of people.
Conservatives have argued that song and dance are not part of Islam, while defenders of the festival were quick to argue that such traditions are better than murdering innocents in the name of Islam. Others note that the festival was a political gimmick by the PPP and that funds used should have been put to better use as hospitals or schools. But in a land where hospitals and schools are being destroyed on a regular basis by the TTP, it becomes even more important to remind a confused nation of who they are.
Fact of the matter is, the people of South Asia have always and will continue to communicate via cuisine, language, traditions, customs, music and dance. Then what could be a better way to connect with a disillusioned youth in the same manner that defines them? But the reality is that instead of unifying the country, a peaceful initiative like the Sindh Festival has exposed how broken and fragmented the country has become leaving the people unable to celebrate life.
Mehr F. Husain is a journalist based in Lahore IDENTITY
Source: Mail Today