A two-day cultural festival, Caravanserai: Kabul in Karachi, highlighted the multiple factors influencing geo-political stability, culture, music and media among other topics with panel discussions focusing on issues such as “reporting from Afghanistan”.
Initially scheduled to be held in Kabul, the festival was moved to Karachi for security reasons.
Aimed at providing a platform to various voices from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, festival director Dr Francesca Recchia, said: “We had thought of starting in Kabul, however, because of the multiple challenges, we decided to take a detour and start instead from Karachi.”
In a phase of great geopolitical instability, cross-border dialogues and people-to-people encounters can help bridge a gap that governments and diplomacy are struggling with, she said.
Recchia said that such cultural events are significant occasions to promote the exchange of ideas as well as facilitate the process of discovering other people’s habits, values, rituals and social norms.
“International cultural festivals have become an important feature of the cultural landscape of South Asia and our ambition is to add a new and different voice that, over the course of the next few years, will become a prominent feature in this geography, along with Jaipur (India), Karachi and Lahore (Pakistan),” she said.
According to her, Caravanserai stands out as it is the first of its kind – it has a clear regional perspective as it focuses on artistic and intellectual expressions from Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.
She went on to say that Kabul in Karachi is a preview of the forthcoming Caravanserai Regional Cultural Festival that will take place in Kabul later this year.
“Through poetry, panel discussions, photography, music and visual arts, Caravanserai concentrates on the cross-border exchanges and the shared desire to invest in culture in order to promote a greater access to freedom of expression,” she added.
Asked why Karachi had been chosen as the city to host the festival, Recchia said: “The city has a diverse population, hosting immigrants and refugees from all across the region. It is often defined ‘the largest Pashto city in the world’ and it has a numerous Afghan community. We thought that such a vibrant, diverse and hospitable city will be the perfect place to host Caravanserai.”
The two-day event also included panel discussions that included journalists from across the region.
Akbar Zaidi and LA Times correspondent in Afghanistan Ali Latifi, discussed the two cities, Kabul and Karachi, and portrayed them as having “immense heritage and multiple identities”.
Latifi tried to explain the city of Kabul to the audience and how it has generated interest more so in the past few decades due to political instability. “Despite this, there is very little understanding of the country, especially in the western media of what happened in Afghanistan before 2001.”
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper meanwhile reported that both speakers talked about the transformation of their respective cities and how the remembrance of the ‘good old times’ tends to undermine the progress and transitions cities have undergone over decades.
Another panel discussion, “the art of storytelling” brought together journalists Saba Imtiaz and Mohammed Hanif, who are also fiction writers, alongside Latifi to share their personal experiences of writing reportage or long-form fiction.
On the second day of the festival, a panel discussion on “reporting from Afghanistan” brought together Afghan and Pakistan journalists who told of their experiences and their challenges – especially for female journalists in Afghanistan.
They also discussed challenges faced by Pakistani journalists.
Despite their challenges, both parties agreed the role of media was critical in shaping public mindset especially that of the youth.
They said this festival was a good start for journalists from both countries to get together and to work more closely with each other.
Two photo exhibitions were also part of the festival. Suchitra Vijayan’s exhibit was titled Borderland Project and Annie Ali Khan’s exhibit was titled Pilgrims of the Indus Highways, which gives one a glimpse into the lives of Pakistan’s truck world.