This is apropos of Yasmin Lari’s letter ‘Chitral Mosque: expert view’ (Dec 1). She has stated that upon the request of the chief secretary, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, she had “agreed to provide guidance and advice on an honorary basis in order to save the historic structure”.
She further wrote that it was “wholly contemptible and shameful act to wilfully damage the heritage structure” and urged “the KP government to take appropriate action against those responsible”.
Conservation is considered teamwork of the government, community members, civil society organisaions and, lastly, conservation experts. There has been a persistent critique of Heritage Foundation by others involved at various stages of conservation, alleging that it wants to ‘hog the limelight’ rather than take other stakeholders into confidence.
Sadly the buck does not stop here. The most archaeologically rich and heritage-embellished province, namely Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is being wilfully degraded by both state and non-state actors. Ironically, the role of ‘experts’ in systematic demolition of our prized assets is equally controversial.
It was kind of Ms Lari to have spoken out against this outrage, but various heritage experts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are wary that despite a huge international profile, HF has little to offer in terms of capacity-building of local experts and other stakeholders. According to Architect Mansoor Ahmed from the Institute of Architects, Pakistan, who briefly worked with Ms Lari on Sethi House, “those working under her have a bitter taste, as she would like to lead from Karachi and not permit local expertise to flourish”.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa civil society organisations have been organising various advocacy events with Ms Lari but found inconsistency on Heritage Foundation’s part in developing a long-term commitment. Many buildings and sites jointly identified by local civil society organisations, along with Ms Lari, ended up without a positive outcome like the Mohafiz Khana (circa 1856). Therefore, the Chitral mosque and other disasters cannot be ruled out in the future unless HF takes other stakeholders into confidence and develops a ‘collective’ approach rather than ‘doing it alone.’
The Citizens for Clean Environment has demanded of the Peshawar High Court to take suo motu notice of the criminal negligence in defacing of the 100-year-old Shahi masjid in Chitral. It has demanded setting up of an independent commission to investigate this wilful destruction of the iconic symbol of Chitral’s heritage.
(Published in daily Dawn on Dec 8, 2012).