Folk dancers and singers wearing traditional multicolored dresses took the stage in southern Pakistan on Saturday at one of the world’s most ancient archeological sites for a festival that organizers say aspires to promote peace in a nation where political violence has left about 40,000 dead in recent years.
The festival at Mohenjo Daro aims to publicize the cultural heritage of the country’s south.
However, it drew controversy when some archeologists said the event posed a threat to the site’s unbaked brick ruins dating to the third millennium BC.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, organized the event at Mohenjo Daro, associated with one of the world’s first urban societies, the Indus Valley civilization.
Saturday night’s event was inaugurated by the 25-year-old politician, who now heads the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). His father served one term as the country’s president, but it has been the younger Zardari who has become the public face of the party. It is especially strong in Sindh Province, the family’s homeland and the location of Mohenjo Daro.
The festival has been seen as part of efforts to raise the younger Zardari’s profile on the national political stage.
Zardari selected Mohenjo Daro “to promote local culture, peace and tolerance,” government official Saqib Ahmed Soomro said.
About 500 guests were in attendance — many flown in from the port city of Karachi. About 2,000 police officers provided security, although militant attacks are relatively rare in that part of Sindh.
The festival drew controversy when archeologists said they fear the stage and other event infrastructure could damage the delicate mud ruins.
“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.
Organizers say there is no risk to the ruins.
“There is no risk to Mohenjo Daro because of the festival. Rather, it was never decorated the way we have done now,” Soomro said.
He said he supervised arrangements for the festival to make sure no harm was caused to the site.
Zardari visited the site on Thursday and said every step was being taken to protect it, and people would not be allowed to roam freely over the ruins.
Zardari’s attempts to promote culture have won some praise.
“People are living in a state of depression due to continued violence, and there is a need to provide them more opportunities of entertainment,” defense analyst Talat Masood said.
“The world knows us in connection to acts of terrorism which routinely take place in Pakistan. Tonight, the world will see another face of the country,” said 20-year-old Anwar Baluch, one of the guests.
Mohenjo Daro, meaning “Mound of the Dead,” is on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. Excavations since 1922 have uncovered only one-third of the site.