Event aims to raise funds for preservation but also boosts profile of Bhutto's son

Pakistani ruins endangered by gala

AFP-JIJI

Hundreds of people swarmed the ancient ruined city of Moenjodaro to attend an inaugural festival commemorating Pakistan’s cultural heritage Saturday, days after experts warned that the event endangered the UNESCO site.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, opened the two-week festival, which is part of a campaign to conserve the heritage of his home province of Sindh.

“We need to urgently raise funds to preserve Moenjodaro,” he said in brief remarks inaugurating the event.

Experts warned on Thursday that the festival could put Moenjodaro, a UNESCO World Heritage site built around 2600 B.C., in danger.

Large wood-and-steel scaffolding has been erected over and around the ruin, which UNESCO describes as “the most ancient and best-preserved ruin on the Indian subcontinent,” and heavy spotlights and lasers have been installed for a light show.

The site had been transformed into a high-security facility, with hundreds of police commandos surrounding the ruins. Some of them stood atop the site’s stupa, a Buddhist shrine, as workers hammered nails into a stage, a reporter at the site said.

“We have done all the work very much to international conservation standards,” said Saqib Soomro, a top official at the culture department.

Zardari, clad in a black jacket over an off-white traditional Pakistani shalwar qameez dress, arrived Saturday in a caravan of four vehicles.

A number of foreign visitors, some wearing traditional Sindhi Ajrak outfits, were also among the approximately 1,000 guests waiting for the grand gala to begin.

Performers queued up to pass through security gates, with an equally large number of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) top leaders also waiting for entry.

The PPP, led by Zardari, suffered a heavy defeat in the 2013 general election. Observers say the cultural gala, which has been advertised for weeks on national television, is partly aimed at raising the 25-year-old’s political profile.

The ruins, discovered in 1922 by British archaeologist Sir John Marshall, are 425 km north of the port city of Karachi and represent one of the largest settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization.

They are one of Pakistan’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites that are deemed places of special cultural significance.

But many of the country’s historical sites are endangered by vandalism and urban encroachment, as well as a booming trade in illegally excavated treasures.