THE cost being borne by Pakistan and its citizens as a result of the country’s involvement in the ‘war on terror’ is fairly well-documented. Amongst the less visible victims, though, is cultural activity. Given the opposition to the arts by rightwing elements who have, at times, even resorted to attacking venues showcasing cultural activities, the latter are becoming increasingly rare. It is not just the extremists’ threats that have extracted a toll. The challenges that those who work in the field of culture must contend with include a hostile economic environment in which few sponsors have the desire to lend their name to an activity that could invite the attention of an unruly mob, even if not an outright attack. And in several instances, city authorities have discouraged if not altogether forbidden cultural events on the grounds that ensuring security is far too difficult a task.
Nowhere is this most evident than in Lahore, once the hub of cultural activity and host of the country’s largest international performing arts festival. While those who work in this area are doing their best, the terrain they negotiate is increasingly hostile. That the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop has organised a four-day international film festival, then, is welcome news. The group has been the subject of a raging controversy in recent months because of its role in a USAID-funded project Sim Sim Hamara. While that is yet to be cleared up — and RPTW should do whatever it can to bring out the facts — it should be acknowledged that the group has played an important part in keeping cultural activities alive in Lahore. Such efforts need to be replicated in other parts of the country. Part of fighting back against the extremists is to carry on doing business as usual.