Aim is to preserve, promote cultural heritage: Bilawal

The controversial Rs 450 million Sindh Festival, being held at the ancient Mohenjodaro heritage site in southeast Pakistan, opened on Saturday amid fears among archaeologists that it could damage the ruins.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party that rules Sindh, is organising the high-profile event at Mohenjodaro, where one of the largest settlements of the Indus Valley civilisation existed almost 5,000 years ago.

“This evening, the entire world will be sent a message that we are capable of taking care of our own heritage,” said Saqib Ahmed Soomro, secretary of the Sindh government’s Culture Department.

The opening of the 15-day event was attended by Bilawal, his sister Bakhtawar, former Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf, several lawmakers and diplomats, and members of foreign media organisations.

In an interview to Newsweek Pakistan, Bilawal said the budget for the event was Rs. 450 million. “The broad aim of the festival is to preserve, promote, and protect our cultural heritage, which is also under threat. The festival is also a process where we hope to help fight for the societal space that has been ceded to the extremists,” he said.

A Pakistani private news channel Saturday evening showed Bilawal and his Bakhtawar singing a folk song to promote Sindhi culture. The song had been recorded ahead of the much-publicised festival, seen as part of efforts to raise the younger Zardari’s profile on the national political stage.

“It is nothing but insanity” says archaeologist Asma Ibrahim, who is a member of the Management Board for Antiquities and Physical Heritage of the Sindh government. She says the stage and sound and light show could damage walls. Farzand Masih, another senior archaeologist who heads the University of Punjab’s archaeology department, says he was not attending the festival in protest.

On Saturday evening, hundreds of guests, including foreign diplomats, were attending the event. One of the guests, Anwar Baluch, 20, says he saw the ruins first time.

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