By Ali Imran
WASHINGTON, May 5 : Heal Not Hate : The words spoke out aloud to visitors as they entered the spacious hallway at the Pakistani embassy last weekend.
Written in bold letters on the forehead of a rickshaw, a common mode of travel in Asian cities, the ringing words emanated the message that an overwhelming majority of moderate Pakistanis want to send out in the face of gnawing militancy.
The beautifully decorated rickshaw was brought from Karachi, Pakistan’s mega industrial and port city, which is also home to one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the region. However, in recent years a deadly mix of tensions and violence along ethnic, political and sectarian lines has deprived the city of the peace and solidarity necessary to finding creative political and administrative solutions.
But rickshaw was just one part of the rich Pakistani culture, which went on display with its many colors and splendors. Throughout Saturday May 4, the riot of culture was a big attraction as visitors crowded the embassy on the occasion of annual Around the World Embassy Tour.
In collaboration with Passport D.C., the Pakistani embassy arranged a series of events to showcase colors, cuisine and creative arts of the country, offering a unique opportunity to visitors to experience its rich heritage as well as some contemporary works.
While the compound of the embassy arrayed traditional dresses, ornaments, handicrafts and popular cuisine, it was the hallway of the embassy, which housed the most prominent of all attractions – the colorfully decorated rickshaw.
The rickshaw also had written on it “Live and Let Others Live,” emanating a message of moderation in the face of ongoing struggle between forces of democratic freedom and extremism. In Pakistan, rickshaws, buses and trucks are colorfully garnished with paintings of historic buildings and sometimes personalities, scenic valleys, rivers, birds with couplets of poetry also being a common features of these moving pieces of art. These beautified vehicles, decorated by both self-taught and trained artists, are gaining popularity after their exhibitions and the Internet transport their images around the globe.
The words written on the rickshaw appeared to have meanings at many levels – ranging from individual to community, to provinces/states to nations and even at the much larger level of civilizations. They also could be interpreted as calls for respect for rights of all, particularly in conflict zones, where nations, tribes, ethnic and sectarian groups chose the way of violence instead of reconciliation and tolerance.
Pakistan, a post-9/11 U.S. ally in the fight against terror, is passing through a tumultuous time as militants carry out daily bombings to vent their frustration at the country’s democratic development.
But the political parties, both on right and left of center, the civil society organizations, the media and the people are bravely defying the Taliban threat as they continue Pakistan’s march towards sustained democracy
“We wanted to show the real Pakistan to the people — we have presented real things, real creativity, things from everyday life — this is what Pakistan is — we are pleased that the visitors are appreciative and enjoying the diversity of Pakistani culture shown here,” Asad M Khan, Deputy Chief of the Mission, said.
He was making the point that the country – so often subjected to negative media portrayals in the context of anti-terror fight along Pakistan-Afghan border, is full of life, cultural diversity and creative achievements.
The embassy also showed films and documentaries, highlighting the struggle of Pakistanis for rights of women, and its heroic figures like Malala Yousafzai, who have stood up against extremist threats for the girls’ right to an education and its sportspersons who shine in various disciplines.
Large posters and paintings exhibited on both sides of the ground floor and the large hall above it showed some of the finest modern and Mughal architectural monuments and natural beauty of the country’s massive northern mountain ranges and valleys.
Classical music maestro Ustad Dilshad Khan and his son Ustad Samar Khan entertained the thronging American visitors with instrumental performance of some of the popular numbers.