Folk dancers and singers wearing traditional multi-coloured dresses gathered Saturday at one of the world’s most ancient archaeological sites in southern Pakistan for a festival that organizers say aspires to promote peace in a nation where political violence has left some 40,000 dead in recent years.
The festival at Mohenjo Daro aims to publicize the cultural heritage of the country’s south. But it drew controversy when some archaeologists said the event, sponsored by a top Pakistani politician, poses a threat to the site’s unbaked brick ruins dating to the 3rd millennium BC.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated 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. Benazir Bhutto was killed in a 2007 gun and bomb attack widely blamed on Pakistani Taliban militants, and Bilawal has made opposition to militancy a pillar of his platform.
Saturday night’s event will begin with a speech by the 25-year-old politician, now heading the Pakistan People’s Party, associated with the Bhutto-Zardari family since the beginning.
Zardari selected Mohenjo Daro “to promote local culture, peace and tolerance”, government official Saqib Ahmed Soomro said.
But the festival drew controversy when archaeologists said they fear the stage and other event infrastructure could damage the delicate mud ruins.
“It is nothing but insanity”, says archaeologist Asma Ibrahim, a member of the Management Board for Antiquities and Physical Heritage of 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 to make sure no harm was caused to the site.
Zardari visited the site Thursday and said every step was being taken to protect the site, and people would not be allowed to roam freely over the ruins. On Saturday evening, hundreds of guests, including foreign diplomats, were attending the event.