Feb 10, 2009

Mapping Pakhtunkhwa

A MILLION-DOLLAR Unesco project for mapping cultural and heritage assets in seven districts of the NWFP was recently launched in Peshawar. This is good news as the promotion of culture and heritage can lead to healthy economic opportunities for Pakistan’s violence-prone province — once the centre of the golden Gandhara era.The Taliban’s crude culture reflects the extent of the morbid degeneration to which this ancient civilisation has been subjected under the Islamic state of Pakistan.Considering the circumstances, this landmark exercise can result in the creation of a cultural repository of local knowledge and resources. In an emerging, borderless modern society, it is crucial to document local traditions and historical sites which are rapidly deteriorating or disappearing.The effort becomes more productive when local communities are involved in identifying and mapping out resources that they consider meaningful. This participatory approach gives a communal sense of belonging to cultural roots, besides, empowering them.“When local people gather information and become key holders of intangible and tangible cultural assets, it can lead to prosperity and progress. Cultural mapping is based on the premise that efforts to save cultural heritage cannot keep pace with the process of deterioration and may ultimately lead to the extinction of some invaluable cultural assets of a country,” said Mr Jorge Sequeira, Unesco director in Islamabad.He added, “It is important to recognise that in losing cultural heritage we are in fact, losing appreciation for cultural diversity, which results in increased conflicts and wars. Therefore, culture has to be recognised as a binding force towards unity and social cohesion among and within nations.”Unesco’s various normative instruments are geared towards reversing this process of deterioration of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The 1972 Convention on Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is a resolution to protect natural and tangible cultural heritage.Similarly, there is the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Unesco’s latest Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions demonstrates a commitment to protect and preserve the diversity of culture and various forms of cultural expressions.The Norway-funded project, ‘Mapping of cultural assets in NWFP’ complements these resolutions. The first step towards preservation is inventorying natural and cultural assets that are beyond fine arts such as values, systems, beliefs, traditions and ways of living. The ideal inventory not only records these but also locates them on geospatial maps.Ironically, the project-launching ceremony got delayed by more than an hour as restless guests waited for someone from the officialdom in Peshawar, the capital of Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP), to formally inaugurate the event.The arrival of the expected chief guest, Chief Minister Amir Haider Hoti, never materialised. The message by a PRO was finally conveyed to the bewildered hosts from Islamabad that the chief minister was obliged to visit flood-affected victims. Therefore, he could not be present at the ceremony and the “show should go on” without official representation from the province!The same evening, headlines news informed us about the catastrophic rain and floods that rendered thousands homeless and many dead. TV images showed hordes of government officials and ministers converging on the disaster scene. The very next morning, the electronic and print media reported hundreds of stranded and helpless people complaining about the total lack of assistance from government functionaries.This happens to be the bane of our national existence. The PRO-guided provincial and national governments excel in making headline news each day about the countless services rendered by state representatives and functionaries. But even media gimmickry cannot alter negative perceptions. Therefore, this was yet another futile exercise, with ground realities speaking volumes for the insensitivity towards public welfare.Granted the ANP government has very limited political space with nominal financial resources and the sword of militancy hanging over its head. It is being deliberately provoked by the establishment that wants to browbeat it into keeping a low public profile. What needs to be realised is that only an accountable leadership which imbues in the public a sense of ownership can prevent the inevitable consequences of inept governance. The priorities need to be set right.After a long, fruitless wait, the Unesco team began the proceedings with prominent personalities from Punjab and Islamabad from the departments of culture, tourism and museums. Not a single cabinet minister or bureaucrat from the provincial culture department and who had been duly invited thought it fit to attend. Their commitment to a very important aspect of development with immense economic opportunity was seen to be lacking.Culture, heritage and tourism play a very critical role in social cohesion for a prosperous future. Some prominent experts from Punjab were heard commenting on how unhappy they were at not having a single provincial representative to share the platform with — since the entire exercise was meant for their benefit. Had the MMA government been in office this lapse could have been forgiven.For the ANP-PPP government to fail to seize this golden opportunity to impart a sense of ownership of the project was unbelievable. The representatives of Pakhtunkhwa clearly reflected their lack of commitment to the cause of conservation of cultural assets. The federal representatives and experts emerged as winners on our home turf while we lost.

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