Not many people know that there is a thriving community of museum professionals in Pakistan, who work tirelessly to keep the museums rolling. Organized under a national committee, these museum professionals are also a part of the international community of Museologists, called International Council of Museums (ICOM). Through a network of coordinated activities, Pakistani museum experts interact with experts from around the world and learn from the best practices in museum development. ICOM holds regular international conferences in which Pakistani members participate and share their expertise with thousands of other members globally. Such events and conferences have proved to be a huge learning experience for museum experts, as they get to learn about the challenges of museum management in other countries as well as share their issues with others. Exchange of research and documentation with international community is another important function performed by the national committee of ICOM.
COVID-19 has taught us many lessons in the year 2020 and we should also acknowledge the positive side of the crisis. This pandemic has made this world a global village in virtual terms, where anybody can remotely join academic discussions, attend conferences and seminars, participate in trainings while sitting thousands of miles away, scattered in different time zones but can learn collectively from one another. To benefit from this aspect, an international virtual conference on museums was organized by Pakistan National Committee of ICOM, in collaboration with ICOM-Turkey, ICOM-Malaysia and Kültürel Mirasın Dostları Derneği (Kumid) Turkey from December 12 till 15, 2020.
It is generally considered that virtual communication is a safe medium, little did we realize that digital academic communication across the globe could also be seen as a threat by the enemies of Pakistan and could be subverted and vandalized. There was a session during the conference, between museum professionals of Pakistan and Turkey, on the challenges of illicit trafficking of antiquities to be widely attended by culture experts, respective relevant government officials and museum professionals from across the world including Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Mongolia, Iran, Georgia and France. Right at the beginning of the event it was cyber bombed by a group of Indian extremists, who took over our virtual space for their own malicious propaganda while hailing their deities and country. They tried failingly to insist the panelists to raise slogans in favour of their country, otherwise, threatening to continue to bombard the virtual space with lewd content.
Badly abusing Pakistan, sharing immoral and indecent visuals to ruin the serious academic discussion that had nothing to do with any religion, country or politics, they forgot that they were badly exposing themselves to rest of the world. While we did not anticipate such an attack, we soon managed to pull back and regroup on a different frequency. At the same time, all the organizers, participants and speakers from around the world, condemned this act of sabotage. We understood that our unfriendly neighbours couldn’t digest the brotherly bond of Pakistan and Turkey and were hell-bent on sabotaging the conference. This episode proved to be undeniable proof of the viral presence of such covert networks engaging fifth generation warfare. All the organizers learnt a lesson that virtual spaces could be attacked and it’s a risk worth considering and mitigating while planning and programming for the digital world. However, despite the Indian mischief, the conference was a big success and the business at hand was managed with aplomb.
Museums play an important yet understated role in the education of children with impressionable minds. In Pakistan, museums are constantly struggling to improve not only their collections and displays but also to cater children, especially those with learning disabilities. One of Pakistan’s best-known female archeologists, Dr. Asma Ibrahim, who is the director of State Bank of Pakistan Museum, highlighted the activities of the museum, comprising interactive workshops and learning programs for children with special abilities, the most neglected segment of our society.
While public museums in Pakistan, such as Lahore Museum, Peshawar Museum or Taxila Museum are known to the general public, very few people know that Pakistani universities have also established their own museums to meet the educational needs of students from their departments of archeology. Not only the young archeologists learn to excavate for the museum, they get a chance to learn about museum displays and curation of objects.
Pakistan’s only museum established with the Private-Public Partnership (PPP) is National History Museum in Lahore, which chronicles the history of Pakistan’s inception, growth and development with hi-tech displays. Awais Malik, who serves as a manager, presented an exciting account of development of the museum in a very short span of years, for which every Pakistani should be proud of. Dr. Nadeem Omar Tarar who works for the Center for Culture and Development (C2D), analyzed the root cause of illicit trafficking of antiquities from Pakistan and presented a solution in the form of legalizing the trade of antiquities in Pakistan, which if implemented carefully and vigilantly, can help Pakistan to earn from its heritage
Prof. Dr. Zeynep Gul Unal, Turkey’s leading conservation expert presented a case study from Swat, Pakistan where they showcased the destruction of Jahanabd Buddha rock carving, which is probably the second most revered Buddhist site after the Bamiyan rock carvings. The face of the Buddha was filled with dynamite and blown up, today it has been reconstructed and conserved by the Department of Archaeology, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Her presentation included interviews and statements of the local community, who took complete ownership of their cultural heritage by safeguarding the rest through their own interventions.
In a marked contrast the false impression of a radicalized society in Swat, a film was screened during the virtual conference session by Dr. Fauzia Qureshi, renowned Pakistani architect and conservationist. The film showed how the local community, teachers and museum professionals took ownership of their cultural heritage, when Swat was under attack from militants in early 2000. They prevented massive destruction by discreetly packing and transporting museum objects to Taxila. The film showcased extraordinary stories of resilience of the local community of Swat who emerged as custodians of national heritage at a time of war. They managed to safeguard their cultural assets for the coming generations. A similar story was highlighted about an elderly scholar and collector from Swat, who buried all the antiquities, in his collection, in an adjacent piece of land to protect them from extremists as he understood that they are not there to kill them but to kill their culture. Such stories of resilience and love for one’s culture won the hearts of the international audience present at the virtual conference, which would not have been possible otherwise.HH
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