Civilizations leave their footprints in the form of cultural heritage. Many of the historical occasions, battles, and life styles, are preserved, in the form of artifacts and archeological sites. These objects and places symbolize the process of development, which has occurred throughout generations. We, the humans, have come to know about different fields associated to life by learning through cultural heritage. If it had not remain intact, we could have been so ignorant, and unfamiliar with the things, such as education, medicine, battle strategies etc., that have made human survival possible. Utility of it has made advancement possible. Discoveries, and innovations are nothing but perks of it. For this reason, it bears an immense importance and therefore requires immediate conservation measures.
Pakistan is bestowed with diversity, not only in terms of seasons but also culture. Being a signatory of Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, it is an obligation to make efforts for protecting the legacy, by considering it as a right of future generations. The Convention was originally adopted in 1972, by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), while Pakistan ratified it in 1976. It aims to ensure the implementations of measures that can promote the protection of heritage sites, through technical and financial support. Different classifications, such as monuments, natural sites, buildings and geological landscapes have been defined as natural and cultural according to first article of the Convention. It also elaborates about the features and conditions required for addition or removal of sites, or to extend or restrict the boundaries of sites in World Heritage List. Furthermore, it explains about the source of financial assistance, World Heritage Fund that has to be provided to countries who are contributors to the list.
According to UNESCO, currently Pakistan’s six cultural sites are enlisted in the list which include Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro, Buddhist Ruins of Takht-i-Bahi and Neighboring City Remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol, Fort and Shalamar Garden in Lahore, Historical Monuments at Makli, Rohtas Fort, and Taxila, while 18 sites are part of Tentative List. Nomination and selection of sites for the list is not an easy process. World Heritage Committee has devised ‘Operational Guidelines for Implementation of World Heritage Convention’. Based on those guidelines sites are selected and are made part of the list.
Despite the measures regulated by UNESCO’s assistance, cultural and natural heritage of Pakistan is disappearing at consistent rate. The cause of such loss is that all of the heritage sites in Pakistan are not well-protected, except for above six. They are impacted by natural as well as anthropogenic reasons. As Pakistan is vulnerable to natural hazards such as floods, intense rain, and earthquakes so most of the ancient building, temples, palaces that are not well-managed suffer. Similarly, developmental projects often result in demolishing some major buildings of historical value. Another reason can be the element of poverty. For example, even in Taxila though it is one among the World Heritage List, still it is not secured. Believing that these ancient sites can be rich resource of treasure, people have been destroying the notable sculptures and stupas. Security issues, such as terrorism, within territory also trigger the loss for example the attack of June 2013, on Jinnah’s residency in Ziarat by militants of Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). It not only burnt the building, but also the belongings of Founder of Pakistan.
At the time of partition, in 1947, Pakistan was not in position to formulate a proper new act of its own so it adopted Ancient Monuments Preservation Act (AMP), 1904 but later on in 1968 it designed Antiquities Act. It did not completely abhorred previous Act as it comprised of parts of AMP in adapted form. According to this act, buildings that were older than 1957 were regarded as ancient. Also, it gave authority to federal government to act as custodian of antiquities and buildings. The act was then amended in 1975. It then elaborated the issues regarding possession and transport of antiquities. Same act was later amended in 1992 and ultimately in 2012. Currently, as per 2012 amendment the provisions of the Act apply to Punjab only. As a result of Eighteenth Amendment of Constitution of Pakistan, powers were devolved among provinces so every province was considered responsible to protect its heritage sites. But still the status of management of such sites by provincial governments is questionable.
Research projects being carried out by different organizations are helping to promote knowledge about importance of culture, arts, history and development. For example Center for Culture and Development is playing a leading role in Punjab. Some of its important projects include, restoration, improvisation and promotion of Pakistan Railway Heritage Museum, Golra, Islamabad, Heritage Mapping of Rawalpindi, and Digital Documentation of Sheikhupura Fort. Similarly, Heritage Foundation of Pakistan is active in Karachi, while cultural departments of Khyber Pakhtoon Khwah and Balochistan are striving to secure their historical remains.
Recently World Bank has also come into play to promote the protection of religious sites. It is believed that religious tourism can boost up the economy of the state, so religious institutions, such as temples, Gurwaras, and mosques shall be given top priority while managing cultural sites. These institutions attract pilgrims from all over the world, and Pakistan is endowed with such a vast versatility. According to one of the news report, of The Nation, World Bank aims to initiate a project worth of 60 million dollar to facilitate pilgrims’ visit in Pakistan.
Culture is now being regarded as fourth pillar of sustainable development. So, emphasis needs to be made towards preserving and safeguarding this important component before it is too late. Though different legislations, acts and rules do exist in Pakistan for cultural heritage but these all shall be revised and updated on regular basis. Engaging youth by making them learn about their heritage through curriculum can play an effective part. Awareness campaigns and capacity building workshops can help in training the people to adopt conservation measures. Regardless of the roles that governmental and non-governmental organizations are playing to secure the historical value, the power of common man cannot be underestimated. Strategies in legislation should be so incorporated that people recognize ‘they are entrusted with a task of securing identity-of their nation and state’.