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A policy too late

The national culture policy has been announced, one again holding the banner of a national identity that is more imagined than grounded

A policy too late

The national culture policy was announced by the minister of state for information at the end of the three-day National Artists Convention held in Islamabad last week. It seemed to be a gathering of artistes from all parts of the country representing their individual art forms. Many events were held where artistes spoke about the various issues related to their professions.

It was a little unusual that a separate policy for films was also announced. It is a little difficult to comprehend as to why the films were singled out of the vast array of cultural expression, and a separate policy laid out for it. Given this logic, there should have been cultural policies for visuals arts, music and theatre etc. to say the least. One reason that comes to mind, and a very Pakistani one, is that the work on the national culture policy had started and was almost in final stages when the former information minister had to leave due to the Dawn Leaks fiasco. The current minister, probably wanting something of her very own and not sharing it with her predecessor, decided to work on the films, and after about a year has her very own policy on films if not on entire culture.

It was a little unusual that a separate policy for films was also announced. It is a little difficult to comprehend as to why the films were singled out of the vast array of cultural expression, and a separate policy laid out for it.

As it happens these days, in any discussion, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) cannot be left behind. Behind every move, gesture, stated or unstated, there is the lurking miracle of CPEC waiting to happen. There was also a CPEC Cultural Caravan, cause for much celebration, raising the question whether our culture policy too was being dovetailed to the CPEC like many of our projects.

A month ago, the Khyber Pathkunkhwa (KP) government also announced its culture policy and the Punjab is believed to have worked on its culture policy but has yet to announce it. But, as in the case of KP, the relevant question to ask is why is the policy being announced now, just a few months away from the ending of the term of this government with no time left for its implementation. If the government had been sincere in its endeavours, it should have announced the policy much before this and given it a good run to prove its worth and open itself to review and corrective measures.

This issue was raised repeatedly in the Convention held to celebrate the announcement of the culture policy by eminent personalities from the world of culture and arts. They were also apprehensive that this policy, like the others in the past, appeared to be perfect on paper while there were many hurdles in its implementation. Usually where the government founders is in the implementation phase — it either lacks the will or a proper understanding of the issue or just poor logistics and these usually undo a policy. Often, it is shabbily realised or partially, staying in one place, rather than showing signs of any forward movement.

As the preamble rightly asserts Pakistan is a federation and any culture or its policy has to be reflective of this diversity. Then, since the main emphasis has been on the primacy of democracy as a system of government, the necessary freedoms have to be incorporated into the policy as well. The minister pointed to the contribution of Pervaiz Rashid, Jamal Shah and Ata ul Haq Qasmi in the formulation of the policy but failed to mention Dr Fouzia Saeed, till recently the Executive Director of Lok Virsa, for her seminal contribution from the very beginning when work started on the formulation of the policy by Pervaiz Rashid more than two years ago.

The details of the national culture policy are sketchy and not fully made public but the details of the film policy have been laid down elaborately. These include: film to be declared an industry (one has heard that before), establishment of a finance fund, setting up of a film academy, building of film studios, explore the possibilities of setting up studios under public private partnership, restoration of the department of films and publications, abolition of the duty on import of film equipment, film censorship fee and sales tax, seventy per cent rebate on film producers travel and consumables, providing land for such projects, eighty percent rebate on the construction of cinemas, inclusion of the artists in the health schemes, that only Pakistani films will be screened on national days (one wonders why), that there will be greater interaction between the cinema industries of Pakistan and China and that films will be shown in each other’s countries. One should not be oblivious to the fact that China is the biggest market for films in the world with the largest number of cinemas.

Some noises have been made in the policy about the heritage and its preservation and the need for the youth to be sensitised more to it all. In our history after the Bengalis, the Sindhis have been the most vocal and open about the assertion of their culture, while the other two provinces too have been making the right noises. The Punjabis crushed between the burden of carrying the weight of the entire nation and the struggle to craft an identity that is Punjabi, yet not Sikh and Hindu, have been forced to adopt extra measures to elevate themselves from their land and soil. The result has been that they have held the banner of a national identity that is more imagined than grounded. They have also been accused of throwing their weight around as the card carrying members of the nation’s ideology.

Other provinces have been accused of being parochial in the assertion of their more grounded cultural identity. Having said all this, the rise of fundamentalism and the emphasis on a single narrative derived from religion are the biggest threat to culture as well as the country; and the sooner it is realised by all quarters the better.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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