Lahore Literary Festival kicks off: Musharraf era crackdown on media has intensified
LAHORE: The Lahore Literary Festival (LLF), the biggest event of the city’s literary calendar and the eighth edition of the most awaited annual event of the country, kicked off at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall, on Friday.
Continuing its well-known tradition of hosting eminent writers, historians, artists and opinion-makers from Pakistan and abroad, the LLF has brought many internationally acclaimed and renowned personalities from foreign countries and Pakistan into the Alhamra halls.
The grand opening ceremony was started with the welcome by Razi Ahmed, founder and the chief executive officer (CEO) of the LLF, while the EU Ambassador to Pakistan Androulla Kaminara, chairperson of the Lahore Arts Council Moneeza Hashmi, and Aziz Boolani were also present.
The proceedings of the literary happening, after the inaugural ceremony, were followed by “My Name is Red”, Ahmed Rashid in conversation with the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature Orhan Pamuk.
“Global Retreat”, Vali Nasr (Iranian-American academic and author specializing in the Middle East and the Islamic world), Kaya Genc (renowned novelist) and Maleeha Lodhi (former ambassador) spoke about the world order in peril in the session ‘Global Retreat from Multiculturalism’, moderated by journalist Zahid Hussain. Maleeha Lodhi said the modern world was inclined towards multiculturalism, but the US was opposing the move. She said the five nuclear powers had always kept the world balance disturbed under the cover of veto power and had not been keeping up to the international treaties. She recalled that those powers had always displayed open bias in resolving long-standing issues of Palestine and Kashmir. She demanded radical reforms and opening up of the UN Security Council for including other countries in the decision making. She noted that despite Iranian requests, the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani could not even reach the UN agenda. She said the West had so far unable to counter the fast growing economic power of China.
Vali Nasr said powerful countries had been violating the global treaties with impunity. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) only serve the US interests which forced China to establish its own global bank. He said US President Trump had been opposing multiculturalism, misusing his powers in violation of all norms and rules, and even overriding the Congress.
In ‘Speaking Truth to the Power’, Zahid Hussain said the crackdown on media houses that began in Gen Musharraf’s era gained momentum with the passage of time. In the past, unwanted columns and hard news only evoked notices and fines, and if someone was arrested it was open as to who arrested whom and kept where.
Now, he said, a policy of ‘Divide and Rule” was in vogue. News and views were being censored without any remorse, while media houses were being closed down by slapping harsh economic bans.
Writer and rights activist IA Rahman said the media faced open challenges in the past, but laws were obeyed.
However, now journalists and anchors are got fired only on phone calls. Critic newspapers and channels are banned in the Cantonment areas. And towering magazines, which raised voice against the dictatorship and lawlessness, were closed down.
He expressed sorrow that nobody or organisation was coming out to help out the besieged journalists, and media has lost unity in its ranks.
He said the basic problem was that political parties were following media, whereas they should be leading. He said the tradition of dialogue was being abolished from everywhere in the sate including the parliament.
Hameed Haroon said journalists were being harassed, and threatened of being killed or disappeared. Their security has become most uncertain in the country. Agenda setting was being imposed on all media houses.
Talat Aslam said a political party of Sindh used to murder, kidnap and torture journalists, and rendering streets deserted for its vested interests. He lamented that under a so-called policy, the media had been divided on the lines of ‘Ours and theirs’.
There was a session of Pashto poetry where the legacy of Rehman Baba, a discussion by panellists, namely Abasin Yousufzai, Shahida Shah, Akbar Hoti, and Rubab Azmat was held. The session was moderated by Samra Fakhir.
An Urdu translation of Salima Hashmi’s ‘The Eye Still Seeks’ (Contemporary Art from Pakistan) was launched. The book was discussed by Nasir Abbas Nayyar, Arfa Sayeda Zehra and Salima Hashmi, and moderated by Khaled Ahmed.
A session was dedicated to Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s ‘The Merman and the Book of Power: A Qissa’, tracing the history of the Abbasids from the time a caliph come upon a talismanic book that binds the fate of two star-crossed lovers. Usman Tanveer Malik moderated the session.
Another book titled ‘Sawaal Kahani’ was also launched on the inaugural day and a discussion on the collection of Urdu short stories delving into societal and sectarian issues, with Masood Ashar and Nasir Abbas Nayyar.
Art critic Quddus Mirza had a conversation with Olivia Fraser to discuss miniature art. And, a session, with a discussion about the decades of unwavering journalism by Herald and Newsline was also held.
An interesting session on the journey on K2 called ‘One Man’s Climb: A journey of Trauma’, Tragedy and Triumph on K2 was held with a presentation by K2 and Mount Everest climber Adrian-Hayes, with an introduction by Amna Rizvan Ali, editor of Hello Pakistan.
This literary festival will have several panels and dozens of foreign delegates will be making their presence.
The LLF is also featuring a three-day exhibition by Asma Chishty of ‘Destinations’ magazine, showcasing the natural wonders of Punjab province, as well as a three-day interactive exhibit by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan.
The Lahore Literary Festival 2020 is free and open to the general public event. The first edition of LLF was held in 2013, and since then it’s held annually at the Alhamra Arts Centre.