HYDERABAD: After a controversy involving a Heritage Foundation of Pakistan's (HFP) project at an archaeological site in Makli, Thatta surfaced last month, the NGO has demanded an international review of all preservation projects in Sindh.
"If you wish to save Sindh's heritage, please invite United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to review the state-of-world heritage at Makli [where the HFP is carrying out preservation] as well as the work carried out by us [HFP] and others [organisations engaged in conservation]," reads a letter addressed to the Sindh chief minister.
HFP's chief executive Yasmeen Lari sent this letter to the CM on February 29, after the CM formed an inquiry committee over the foundation's project of preserving the 400-year-old tomb of Sultan Ibrahim at Makli. The project costs $260,000 and is being funded by the US Ambassador Fund for Cultural Preservation.
Preserve the past for the future
The committee comprised Sindh Culture and Tourism Department's director archaeology Qasim Ali Qasim, architecture and heritage experts Kamil Khan Mumtaz, Yasmeen Cheema, Shahab Ghani and Marvi Mazhar. The inquiry was ordered after the Endowment Fund Trust's (EFT) trustee and secretary Abdul Hameed Akhund alleged in a written complaint to the government that a part of the tomb has been damaged during the rehabilitation.
Lari informed the chief minister that she came to know through newspaper reports that her project has been stopped. "Akhund's letter should have been sent to us and only after getting our side of the story a decision should have been taken," she wrote, adding that she was being blackmailed because she had gone to the Supreme Court against Akhund.
Lari's human rights case in the Supreme Court concerns the Mohatta Palace Museum and government-funded organisations, such as the EFT, which was established with Rs1 billion funding from the provincial government. She pleaded the court order tenure appointments citing that Akhund is continuing on certain position since as early as 1997.
According to Lari, Unesco wanted to remove Makli from the World Heritage List but the HFP's preservation efforts prevented Makli from being degraded to the Endangered List of Unesco. "A high-powered team of Unesco visited all our work at Makli on February 19, this year, and was in praise ... including conservation work on Sultan Ibrahim's tomb."
Responding to a query, Sindh chief minister's special assistant for culture Sharmila Farooqi refused to comment on the HFP's demand for a Unesco review. "I haven't seen the letter as yet. When I receive the letter, I will respond in writing after going through it," she added.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Akhund said Lari's demand to have Unesco inspect the sites was not genuine. "What does the Unesco team have to do with Moen jo Daro?" he asked. He questioned why Lari showed reservation to have independent experts inspect the Makli site. The HFP can continue the work after an inspection, he said, adding the demand to have Unesco review of Sindh's sites was nothing but an attempt to divert the government's attention away from an inspection of Makli.
Criticising HFP's work in other parts of Sindh, Akhund claimed that, "She [Lari] refused to submit a conservation report to the Sindh government saying that she only reports to the US department."
Additional input by our correspondent in Karachi.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2016.