“Not every country can claim such beautiful and rich cultural heritage as exists in Pakistan,” US Consul General Nina Maria Fite said on Tuesday.
She was speaking to the media at the launch of a photo exhibition at the Lahore City Heritage Museum on The Mall.
The photographs showcased the work done to preserve historical buildings and heritage sites in the country under the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP).
The exhibition that opened to the public on Tuesday includes photographs of more than 15 AFCP-funded projects in the country, such as the Mahabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar, Hazrat Rajan Qattal shrine in Uch Sharif and the Sunehri Mosque in Lahore.
Consul General Fite said that the exhibition reflected the US government’s interest in preserving the cultural heritage of Pakistan. “We hope the projects have helped make a tangible contribution in preserving the rich cultural heritage in the country,” Fite, who is a trained architect, said.
She told The Express Tribune that the preservation work had been initiated after taking the local communities, the government and the relevant departments on board. “The aim is to help these communities preserve their own culture,” she said.
She explained that the AFCP decided which preservation projects to fund based on need. “Priority is given to those sites which are in urgent need of repair or preservation,” she said.
Humaira Alam, director of the Lahore Museum, said that there was a dearth of experts leading to delays in the restoration and preservation projects. She regretted that a dedicated archaeology department was only recently established in the University of Punjab, Lahore, some five years ago.
“Preservation in Pakistan needs more participation from the local bodies and organisations concerned. It needs an understanding of local culture, which only the local experts can bring about significantly,” she said.
Shahbaz Khan, a former Archaeology Department director general, said that immediate action was required in this regard. “Deterioration does not wait for resource allocation,” he said.
Khan, who has more than 36 years of experience in archaeology, said it was a “shame” that matters relating to culture, archaeology and preservation were always put at the end of the priority list. “But I guess that is the case in developing countries,” he said.
Appreciating the increased sense of responsibility by the developed countries to preserve cultural and historical monuments, Khan said that UNESCO had approved a charter in 1972 according to which the international community was encouraged to take an interest in preserving such monuments, especially in developing countries, despite being the property of local communities.
He said the first project funded by the AFCP was the north wing of the Wazir Khan Masjid in Lahore, back when he was the director general.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2012.