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
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
"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
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
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
Hussain lambasted the government for not taking action
against people who supported Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer`s
"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,"
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,"
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.