Karachi paints another canvas with words
Last Updated: Sunday, February 06, 2011, 17:50
Islamabad: Just into its second edition, the Karachi Literature Festival has become a converging point for book lovers and Pakistan's leading literary figures who have gathered to discuss weighty issues confronting the country.

Pakistani fiction and non-fiction writers, already big names on the international literary circuit, brainstormed about Pakistan and its future as assorted audiences of the young and not-so-young tuned in.

An Indian contingent too marked its attendance at the festival through three of six invitees were denied visas.

Academician Pervez Hoodbhoy warned of a "clerical tsunami" and pooh-poohed the "liberal elite" for failing to step out of their cosy homes to witness "the mass of discontent" in the wake of the assassination of liberal politician Salmaan Taseer by one of his police guards.

Participating in a discussion on "Taking Stock: Where is Pakistan Now?", Hoodbhoy said one doesn't have to go too far to see the messages being broadcast from mosques and warned that Pakistan could become a faith-based theocratic state.

"The question now is what kind of a theocracy it would be?" he asked.

Ahmed Rashid, author of a bestselling book on the Taliban, said Pakistan's entire national security paradigm has been bogged down by its India-centric policy, where the country continues to indulge in an arms race instead of competing in trade and technology.

Rashid said Pakistan missed out on two important opportunities to bring about a complete change in its policies.

The first time in 1992 when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the second time after the 9/11 terror attacks in the US.

"The biggest event we missed was globalisation," he said, noting that Pakistan's ruling elite, including former premiers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, did not capitalise on the message of that era.

Rashid said the end of the Cold War passed by Pakistan without any noticeable changes in policy because the country was too focused on its own internal power struggles.

"After 9/11, the message was clear that Pakistan can no longer continue to use militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad for its purposes," he said.

In another heated discussion on "Reimagining Pakistan," the panel brainstormed if country was a national security state and whether it should be a welfare or a "human security" state in future.

Security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said a state built in the name of religious identity cannot be expected to remain static.

Author-journalist Zahid Hussain was optimistic even though, by his own admission, the state was not taking any steps to stop fundamentalists from broadcasting their twisted messages.

Hussain lambasted the government for not taking action against people who supported Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer's killer. "Instead of taking any action, our own Interior Minister Rehman Malik went on air to say that he too would have shot someone dead if he or she committed blasphemy," Hussain said.

Keynote speaker Karen Armstrong, whose books on Islam have sold well in Pakistan, said she was in the country to launch a "movement for compassion".

She discussed how people could incorporate compassion, tolerance and kindness in their daily lives.

"We are bound together closer than before... We cannot live without each other".

However, even Armstrong was forced to acknowledge that building compassion is difficult. "We are addicted to and dependent on our prejudices," she said.

Her speech was followed by a performance called "Aaj Rang Hai" by the students of noted dancer Sheema Kirmani.

Clad in white and accessorised with colourful dupattas, the dancers whirled on stage to thumping music.

Despite the charms of the southern port city that has become the venue for the literary festival, popular fiction writer Kamila Shamsie said she would not make Karachi a backdrop for her novels.

"I may come back to writing about Karachi again, but for now, I have become rather impatient with the idea of nostalgia," she said.


First Published: Sunday, February 06, 2011, 17:50

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