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-Photo by Fiona Hanson/PA Archive/Press Association
-Photo by Fiona Hanson/PA Archive/Press Association
I've been very close to the PPP for a long time – especially Benazir Bhutto – and I wholeheartedly support the idea behind Sindh Festival, especially that such events will surely help check the growing tide of extremism and Talibanisation in the country; but I am deeply disturbed by the choice of venue and the lack of transparency regarding the construction work at our priceless world heritage site: Moenjodaro.

Many people have used the festival for Bilawal Bhutto-bashing due to their political differences with the PPP and I disagree with that. Some have gone as far as to denounce all aspects of the festival due to their alliance with the political right (Zia's legacy) or to stoke Sindhi nationalism against the Bhuttos. While the intent behind the festival is noble, one cannot ignore the fact that Sindhi culture is much richer than a few displays of fireworks here and there. Sindh deserves serious attention. Our children are starving and many parts of Sindh look like post-conflict zones. A real cultural festival should be a tour of Sindh by Bilawal to understand what Sindh really is. Benazir Bhutto went to every nook and corner of Sindh, even under the most challenging circumstances. Without that intimate knowledge of the pain this land feels caused by negligence, feudalism and corruption, no amount of TVCs will leave a lasting impact.

I’ve seen Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Aseefa grow up in very dangerous and difficult conditions. They’ve had their ups and downs at a much younger age than Benazir herself. From Bilawal House in the early 1990s to London and Dubai, where Benazir and her children lived in exile away from their home, Pakistan. They always looked confident and calm and one could see Benazir’s poise in them. Now it’s surely natural that Bilawal and his sisters want to celebrate their culture and become one with this land.

What worries concerned citizens is the cost of this celebration. Not in monetary value but in terms of the potential damage to Moenjodaro and the potential hurt to millions of Pakistanis who need to be convinced that Bilawal’s advisors have not let him harm our heritage permanently. Those who advised against the use of venue like Kaleemullah Lashari, Member National Fund for Moenjodaro, who according to newspaper reports “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,” were unfortunately ignored.

Some people on social media say that those who have not even been to Moenjodaro are showing false concern. That’s like saying those who haven’t yet been to the Vatican cannot be Christians or those who haven’t yet been to Kashmir can’t support the cause. It’s simply silly. Yes, many will now go and that is an achievement of the Sindh Festival, but a desirable outcome would’ve been complete transparency about the choice of the venue and the process of building at the site. Now, we’re seeing reports in local newspapers that UNESCO had shared strong reservations on use of site, before the festival. On twitter, we saw Culture advisor Ms. Sharmila Farooqi assuring everyone that international experts were fully supporting the site selected by the festival. It’ll be very important in the coming days to see the extent of any damage or otherwise; verified by independent sources. Since the Sindh government is a party to the dispute, we ask for neutral investigation and a complete report about the post event scenario.

As a friend of the young leadership, I hope this issue will be resolved so that Moenjodaro is not used politically against Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for many years to come. PPP is already struggling with the legacy of corruption and misgovernance in Sindh; therefore they should avoid testing the ancient loyalties of Pakistanis.

Hailing from Larkana, Bilawal should be the first protector of Moenjodaro. Celebrating the culture of Sindh is not a matter of few weeks. Let’s hope Bilawal is not accused of the Roman - “Panem et Circenses” or “bread and circuses,” where the population was kept busy with superficial means of appeasement (festivals or games) while the core issues of the people were ignored.

Some friends feel vindicated by the UNESCO news but for many its cause of even greater concern and sadness. Moenjodaro is beyond politics. It has withstood hundreds of wars and invasions. Sadly, it might not withstand negligence of the organisers and caretakers of this world heritage site. Besides the construction of the stage, loud sound systems along with piercing lights might have caused irreversible damage to this gem.

Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Aseefa are our heritage – children of brave Bhuttos, who’ve served our land with blood and sweat. There is so much that these individuals can do. Right now they need to distance themselves from the legacy of corruption of the last government and start a new journey full of courage and promise. Already Bilawal’s brave stance against the Taliban is finding traction across Pakistan, and many have high hopes from his political journey.

This festival can be a blessing in disguise for Bilawal if he realises that the people of Sindh are not going to be bedazzled by glitz and glamour. They follow the Bhuttos because the Bhuttos give blood, sweat and tears for them. They see PPP as their chance to governance at the center (Islamabad) and if the people of Sindh feel the balance of potential gains is going the other way, they will step back and the tide of support for the PPP, that miraculously remains pretty much intact despite massive corruption during its government, will shift. Bilawal is a breath of fresh air for politics in Pakistan but the Moenjodaro mismanagement shows even this fresh air might be blocked by insincere supporters and advisors.

Sitting a few thousand miles away from home, I felt helpless watching those fireworks shudder the ground underneath them and the speakers blast powerful sounds at those tired old bricks. Imagine if because of this negligence, some small wall had collapsed on Live TV. Surely Bilawal’s budding political career would’ve faced colossal danger. Who are these advisors and managers who mislead the PPP Chairman? Surely no children of Benazir will knowingly allow any harm to Sindh and her children.

The concerned citizens of Pakistan, members and protectors of our ancient civilization expect positive steps towards resolving this issue. Only a complete transparency and honest investigation will put the issue to rest. We hope the Sindh Festival team led by the PPP Chairman will take the required steps and not allow this matter to fade into history.