Personal Political: Dear Abhijeet, please come to Pakistan

Yes, we do have theatre in Pakistan. Sania Saeed in 'Mein Adakara Banoongi'. Many other listings at

My monthly column Personal Political in The News on Sunday (Political Economy section, as ‘Going beyond ‘nothing’ in Pakistan’) and in Hard News, New Delhi

Good music too: Zeb and Haniya. See their interview at

Oct 24, 2010 Personal Political

Going beyond ‘nothing in Pakistan’

Beena Sarwar

“There is nothing in Pakistan,” said the Indian playback singer with finality. “They have no auditoriums, no facilities, there is nothing there. Everything is here (in India).”

Another example of the misconceptions about Pakistan, I thought, waiting to respond. The playback singer, Abhijeet Bhattacharya, and I were participating in a talk show for NewsX TV in New Delhi. Participating from a hired studio in Karachi, I could hear, but not see, the others.

When I tried to reply to this comment, the Indians couldn’t hear me, although I could still hear them through my earpiece connected to a phone line. I was no longer on air. NewsX had booked a live uplink from Pakistan for 20 minutes, which was over. Symbolic?

Mr Bhattacharya, please do come and visit Pakistan before pronouncing judgment. Like other visitors from India and elsewhere you might be surprised by the vibrant cultural scene, which includes cutting edge art, fashion, music, dance, media, literature and theatre (partial listing at Danka You might be moved by the outstanding voluntary work in fields ranging from women’s and human rights to education and medical care.

Experiencing all this, and the warmth and hospitality of Pakistanis, you’d realise that the people did not approve the policy initiated by military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq with US and Saudi support during the Afghan war, of cynically turning a war of liberation into a religious ‘jihad’. The current elected government clearly does not support such policies. For it to succeed, the political process, that has been interrupted all too often, must be given a chance.

Fashion Week Pakistan, Karachi, April 2010

And yes, we do have auditoriums – although it’s possible to have a lively theatre scene without them as theatre activists proved during the Zia years, when they used backyards and open spaces in poor localities (some groups still do this to raise awareness). The few auditoriums we have remain solidly booked all year round. Indian journalists, who saw a local production of ‘Mama Mia’ in Lahore, couldn’t believe the talent (live music and singing) on display and the slickness of the production. Other Indian journalists were left somewhat dazed by a fashion show in Karachi.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult for Indians and Pakistanis to obtain visas to visit the other country. It’s a time-consuming, lengthy, frustrating procedure held back further by increasing ‘security’ concerns. Visas that are granted are restrictive: city-specific (not for the entire country), single entry, limited validity. Enter and exit from the same point, using the same mode of transport. Report to police within 24 hours of arrival and departure.

We allow only two journalists from the other country to live and work with us, restricted to Islamabad and New Delhi, requiring special permission to go elsewhere. Despite our shared border, languages, food, music and culture, we don’t even grant each other tourist visas.

Our cell phones, on roaming elsewhere in the world, stop working when we step into each other’s country.

We’ve banned each other’s newspapers and television news channels – ridiculous in this Internet age. India doesn’t even allow Pakistan’s cooking, sports or entertainment shows or live link ups; Pakistan allows live linkups and Indian soap operas – but for fear of a backlash, the beleaguered government is cautious about allowing relief or aid workers from India to help with the aftermath of unprecedented floods.

Meanwhile, the arms race continues. In an age of remote-controlled nuclear weapons and drones, how much sense does it make to keep armies amassed at the borders? Our people – one-fifth of the world’s poor — need schools, hospitals, shelters, infrastructure, not more missiles and bombs.

The European states came together, despite the bloodshed and bitterness of the past, because it made economic sense to do so – as it does for India and Pakistan. Recognising this, Indian and Pakistani businesspeople endorsed economic ties at a well-attended meeting organised by Aman ki Asha in New Delhi earlier this year.

Let people meet, travel, and engage in commerce and trade. This is essential in order to counter negative stereotypes about each other. Reinforcing the negative stereotypes only strengthens the militant rightwing on both sides. That nihilism is something that neither Pakistan, nor the world can afford.

5 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Swat Crisis and beena sarwar, Pakistan Long March. Pakistan Long March said: Personal Political: Going beyond 'nothing in Pakistan' « Journeys … […]


  2. […] This cup of tea was served by: Journeys to democracy […]


  3. I think it is somewhat irresponsible to inviting people to visit Pakistan. Let’s face the truth. With a country near the brink of catastrophic failure and arguably the most dangerous place in the world, one would have to have a death wish to come anywhere near Pakistan. It hurts to say that. But, one has say the truth so innocent people don’t take these words too seriously and try and visit Pakistan.



  4. Hi,

    this is my first comment here. Have been reading your blog off and on since your exchange with Dilip d’Souza. Don’t set too much in store by that comment you are reacting to.

    While i dont know too much abt theatre and plays I can certainly vouch that Pak pop is very popular here and your singers and bands like Junoon and Strings do very well here.

    It’s even commented on in right wing blogs when they call for bans on “all things Pak” ie. right wing blog readers in India want their fix of good Pak pop music excluded from any such bans.

    Now, it may be true that a thinner slice of Paki society can go to those fashion shows and they can only be held in fewer places in Pakistan (than in India). It maybe true that those who oppose fashion shows in Pakistan may visit more violence on the organizers of such shows if held in areas where they can get away with it. But I leave that to you and your regular readers to judge for yourselves.

    I hope I havent triggered any defence mechanisms 🙂 I can think of places in India where fashion shows can get targeted. The basic core of both our countries is fairly conservative and the fashion shows are in a sense only window dressing?

    I think we do a little better here maybe thanks to Bollywood really pushing the envelopes but this could also be my Indian-ness speaking 🙂



    • Thanks for your comments and the very valid points you make 🙂 Just to make it clear, I don’t at all hold that playback singer as a standard for what ‘Indians’ think. I know there are many who don’t fall for that kind of rubbish. I guess the bottom line point I was making was that the governments need to relax the visa regimes so that people can freely travel and interact, to remove misconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes. At this moment, there aren’t even any tourist visas between India and Pakistan.


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